By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors
(CNN) – Violence over depictions of the Prophet Mohammed may mystify many non-Muslims, but it speaks to a central tenet of Islam: that the Prophet was a man, not God, and that portraying him threatens to lead to worshiping a human instead of Allah.
“It's all rooted in the notion of idol worship,” says Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University. “In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong."
“The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him,” Ahmed says. “So he himself spoke against such images, saying ‘I’m just a man.’”
The prohibition against such portrayals was on stark display Tuesday, as mobs in Egypt and Libya attacked U.S. compounds in response to a film that vilifies the Prophet Mohammed, who founded Islam in the 7th century. The attack on the U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, was orchestrated by extremists who used the protests as a diversion, U.S. sources told CNN Wednesday.
The attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi killed J. Christopher Stevens, Washington's ambassador to Libya, as well as three other Americans at the compound.
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The film that’s believed to have inspired the violence depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer, going a big step beyond violating the basic Muslim prohibition against depicting the Prophet, even in a favorable light.
There are questions about who is behind the movie. Initial reports identified a supposedly Israeli-American real-estate developer named Sam Bacile, but it's unclear if that person even exists. A member of the film's production staff told CNN that the producer's name was listed as Abenob Nakoula Basseley.
In Sunni mosques, the largest branch of the faith, there are no images of people of any kind. The spaces are often decorated with verses from the Quran.
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Mohamed Magid, an imam who leads the Islamic Society of North America, says the Muslim prohibition on depicting prophets extends to Jesus and Moses, who Islam treats as prophets.
“Pictures and images are prohibited from being worshiped,” Magid says.
There have been historical instances of Muslims depicting the Prophet, says Omid Safi, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina who has studied the issue.
"We have had visual depictions of the Prophet in the form of miniatures and pictures in the Iranian context, the Turkish context, the central Asian Context,” says Safi, author of the book "Memories of Mohammed." “The one significant context where depictions of the Prophet have not been image-related has been in the Arab context.”
“As you go farther east, away from the Arabian Peninsula, you find depictions of the prophet in art,” said Johari Abdul-Malik, the imam for Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. He noted that images of the teachings of the prophet were sometimes used to bridge gaps in illiteracy.
But even depictions of the Prophet by Muslim artists has been a sensitive issue.
Akbar, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom, says that Muslim artists in the 15th and 16th centuries would depict the Prophet but took pains to avoid drawing his face.
“It would be as if he was wearing a veil on his face, so the really orthodox could not object – that was the solution they found," Akbar says.
In a Muslim film called “The Messenger,” which circulated throughout the Muslim world in the 1970s and 1980s, the Prophet is depicted only as a shadow.
Adbul-Malik said that in the Quran, there is “no statement from the prophet requesting his image not be recorded.” The passages relating to a ban on creating images of the prophets come from the hadith, recordings of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and his closest companions. The hadith is not viewed on the same plane as the Quran but as important to understanding the Quran.
Scholars of religion say Muslim opposition to portraying Mohammed wasn’t generally violated in earlier centuries because of a gulf between much of the Muslim world and the West.
In the age of globalization, non-Muslims and critics of Islam have felt free to depict Mohammed, including in offensive ways.
In 2006, a Danish cartoonist’s depiction of the Prophet wearing a bomb as a turban with a lit fuse provoked demonstrations across the world.
Akbar says that until relatively recently, depictions of Jesus tended to be reverential, but Christianity has had a decades-long head start in dealing with negative portrayals of Jesus in film and art.
Why are most religions so afraid of people thinking and questioning? Is it because such actions would lead to a lack of followers?
That's exactly why. Religion is a cancer, plain and simple.
Gotta be awesome, leave it to a jew to get a bunch of innocent americans killed.
The guy who make the film has made many false statements so far. He claimed to be Israeli; he is not. He claimed to be a real estate agent in California; he apparently isn't licensed there. He mentions fear for his family in Egypt. There are less than 100 Jews in Egypt. It is being reported that he is Christian, Coptic Christian, a group which is being persecuted in Egypt. Time will tell, but likely he is a member of that group, Christian.
Your comment is anti-Semitic. It's just plain wrong.
The muslims reaction means nothing to you then? What kind of boob are you. That's like apologizing to someone that beats you up on a street corner and saying that you should not have been there. It was not his fault that they are a bunch of PIGS that cannot control themselves.
Spare us the Anti Semite nonesense.
Palestinians are Semites. Most modern Jews (especially Israeli's) are actually of European descent.
Everybody kills someone for one reason or another so don't blame Jews. No one made those Muslim fools act the way the do.
The people who murdered these innocent Americans are responsible for their deaths and no one else.
Your comment is anti-Jewish. Looks like the guy is Christian after all. His interviews have many contradictions. He isn't Israeli. He is likely Christian since he has family in Egypt, if that is, in fact, true. His statements don't add up. Whatever else he is, he is a fool and a moron to ridicule others' religion.
Looks as if these attacks were planned for a long time, by well-armed people, and not a spontaneous protest, but an attack to remind the world of 9/11.
Tax Damned Churches NOW– haha – Forget about the Christian Crusaders d-head.. Those are just human beings.. I am talking about our Mr. Prophet who is the examples for morons like you.. d-head.
As a huge proponent of the Arab Spring it saddens me to admit these actions in Egypt and Libya today make me wonder "Was it all worth it?"
Religion needs to go away already.
John, Arab Spring is a media creation. It's true that there were protests in Egypt, for example, but that was a small group of the population there. The military used them to get rid of Mubarak, who was going to put his son in power. The protestors were used; and the military remains in control. Elsewhere, the "Arab Spring" has led to persecution of other groups within the society. "Arab Spring" was tribalism; just that and not a change for the better.
Like you, I hoped for better.
Stop with blaming the media. Change happens over time. The U.S. didn't get this way overnight and we're still trying to accomplish things. Change will come in the middle east. As soon as the oil runs out they wont matter.
Media. To those people who said Muslims are stupid. It's funny how Islam happens to be the worlds fastest growing religion with 1.2 Billion followers. I guess there's something ticking in there heads that isn't in yours. Islam only promotes peace, what you guys are under is "The danger of a single story". I have no sympathy for those who ignore to read into Islam, yet able to make comments which nearly zero knowledge about Islam. Just keep up the right wing comments.
Largest growing religion?
Largest growing cult. Not all Americans believe in Jesus and all that jazz.
Many of us think you, the Jews, and the Christians are just three heads of the same evil beast.
You pollute the minds of children with bronze age lies, and are proud of it.
Please keep slaughtering each other, your hatred for each other may be the last chance at a sane planet we have left.
Once you lunatics are all dead, hopefully we shall have enough left in the rubble to rebuild, WITHOUT all of your silly Gods.
Why are people so stupid? Who cares if it offends a certain religion?
All that proves is that more and more idiots are fooled into joining the death cult every day.
After all, Arab empires managed to preserve mathematical and scientific texts from Rome while Europe underwent the Dark Ages. Look at the Timbuktu manuscripts, they have important academic texts that are ironically being burned by Malian Al-Qaeda.
You're a textbook example of the bloodthirsty, intolerant nut.
Do you sympathy for the dead Ambassador and the other 3 embassy officials?
Emre and the Media – For those who don't know how Islam is spreading is of numerous reasons..
1. Once you are a muslim, you are trapped. There is no way out. You will be killed.. You want examples. how many do you want. No religious freedom, so you cannot get out.
2. Islam popularise to have multiple wifes.. With no education and literacy the only thing they can do is manufacture kids. I know how it is in Afganistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, East Africa and so on. 50 or 60 kids in a 1+ multiple wife family.. This is how you grow. LOL
"Islam only promotes peace, what you guys are under is "The danger of a single story"". You lost all credibility at this sentence. No religion that kills people because they judge a HUMAN (not a GOD) in a negative light is aiming to promote peace. If anyone aims to promote peace, they would be full of forgiveness more than anything else, not hatred of the trivial. Forgiveness should be the cornerstone of any religion aiming to promote peace.
"fastest growing" is a very dubious claim. It doesn't mean much, and says even less. If I were to start a religion and convince one person other then my self, then I'd have grown my religion by 100%. Heh, Fastest growing my patoot, Hope your followers are happy with 2nd place.
(thank you XKCD)
You facts are not justified to began with. Judging from your statements, you have no religious belief. Yet when you says us American's , you forget the "One nation under "god"..." . How can you convince yourself of such emptiness in this world, when you see how unique the human body was made such as the eye. Muslims left in the bronze age? Funny to say almost in every scientific field, Muslims were the first to create and bring forth these ideas "Golden Age"; and judging by your comments, you don't see who fuels this war. The United States committed a WAR CRIME when they entered without permission from NATO Iraq in 2003, killing millions of people. I think this should be enough for you to think about.
As long as it's fast growing over there, I couldn't care less about Islam. If Islam is such a peaceful religion, why don't you go back there to enjoy the peace. You know you're more likely to end up in PIECES.
I am far from a right winger but cut the no true Muslim crap, and the tu quoque argumnents everytime muslims go on a rampage for perceived threats or disrespect to their religion.
The murderous truth is out there for all to see not only today but after the Danish cartoon imbroglio and the murder of Theo Van Gogh for daring to portray Islam in a negative light. The Arab press is filled witt anti semetic garbage on a daily basis that would do Der Sturmer proud.Show me one Islamic country where there is equality of religion just one. From the blasphemy laws in Pakistan where close to 7000 Hindus and Christians languish in prison for life for blasphemy to the murderous Iranians who have slaughtered close to 25,000 Bahai since their glorious revolution to current Egypt where the ancient Christian Coptic religionis under daily seige. Muslims and by extension Islam is full of crap for its false vanity and perceived sensitivity.
Yes Islam does allow for multiple wifes, but under certain conditions. You must have the approval of your other wife to marry another wife. I find this to be more acceptable, then "the hit and run" that happens in America, when there is a high chance to not even know who your father is.
When I emphasized the Danger of a Single story, I was referring to seeing one part of the whole picture. Allah (swt) when means God in english, is known as "Al-Rahman", the most forgiving, Muslims believe that we are not perfect and we make mistakes, thus God has given us the Ability to ask for forgiveness. Great example would be the prayer that is performed 5 times a day, in other worlds bowing down and asking for forgiveness.
Your comment shows how ignorant you are trying to ignore the reality behind the words. When refer to fastest growing, I speak in a large scale thus stating "1.2 billion people".
There would be peace in Muslim countries if other countries didn't always interfere, such as the Gaza war, they took Arab land for no reason, and gave it to Israel?
Emre, you made a boisterous claim in an effort to impress upon us some sort of envy or awe. I called you on it, and now you are backpedaling. The claim "fastest growing" does not imply that its based only against other large scale religions, it implies "then all other religions", which is easily falsifiable.
Furthermore you are trying to imply that because its popular that means its correct; that is an argumentative fallacy, specifically Argumentum ad populum AKA. Appeal to the Popular. Its a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many people believe it.
They still worship Mohammed. After all, they all name themselves after him. If thats not idol worship, I don't know what is!
How many people in Central and South America are named Jesus?
Lots, but you've totally missed the point.
No I have not, You said they idol worship him by naming thier kids after him, the same could be said for those named Jesus if you think that process is why they name him. Or they could just find it a nobel name and chose it for that simple reason.
ah hah! ... but its not against their faith to portray the image of their savior if you are referring to those people as Christians. Muslims have just found a loop hole to worship a 'man'.
How many German kids are called Adolph?
Once the evil is understood, the Muhammed name and the Jesus name shall fade just as quickly.
@derek. Shakira is right. You just refuse to accept her point though it contradicts yours, and you are just saying nonsense afterward.
kt... no nonsense here. Just common sense which you dont seem to have.
They are animals who contribute nothing to the world
And you contribute hate, so is that better than nothing?
They do nothing but encourage the moral decline of the world by encouraging idol worship and the dissemination of sinful ideas.
Stinking film makers.
Moral decline??Not allowing women to drive, hiding them like shameful secrets, killing everyone including other muslims who think slightly differently than them. Hatred is the number one muslim trait. Hardly any muslim nations tolerate any religion, any deviation from their religion. The true evil in this world is the muslim world.
@rh truth is not hate. Stop hiding behind foolishness
Enough, all ready. I'm convinced conservatives are ignorant.
Islam saved the Jewish culture in Europe. Islamic knowledge have the world algebra. It was an Islamic leader who let the Jews return to Jerusalem after the Jews had been driven out by the Christians. Islam saved the knowledge that made the Renaissance possible.
1000 years ago!!
As a Muslim I find the movie offensive however I will not go out and kill anyone, burn any buildings down out of anger. There is no justification for that type of behavior and plays right into the hands of those who say Islam is a violent religion. Those morons put a bad face on the rest of the 1.4 billion who are peaceful but angry at this movie.
The sad part is that it seems so easy to blame minorities, of any nature, all for crimes of a few, but ignore all the Christians and Jews who have committed atrocities.
Charles Manson had long hair, so all people with long hair are mass murderers. The 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons, so everybody who takes flying lessons is a hijacker.
I think you hit the nail on the head. Just because we don't like something does not give us permission to riot or murder. Having a group outraged or upset does not give them the right to do the same either. In this case, the response is no where near the original 'offense'. The situation will be looked at through the lense of.. we fought to free Libya and this is the repayment?
Sorry but we have many ignorant hate fulled people in this nation. They lack the intelligence and education to figure out if 500,000 people out of 1.3 billion followers of Islam were involve, this amounts to less than half a person per 10,000 people who follow Islam.
NO ONE knows what happens when we die and ANYONE offerings such knowledge is a liar who probably wants your money....
Why did God decide to hinder the Great Christian American Empire by putting all those muslims on top of the largest oil reserved in the world?
He works in mysterious ways....
Joke will be on the Arabs when they discover North America actually has the largest oil reserves. I for one relish the thought of that future.
The true differnce is real believers verus those who give it lip service but truly don't believe in God. THe reason some Moslen react this way is because you have insulted God himself. The actually believe this and not as in the Western world were religions has become a sham and changes as the society changes. If it is a true religion for God then how can anyone just makes changes to fit thier own personal desires. That's the big difference between the two
I try to overcome what I sometimes consider prejudices against Muslims. Then...there they go again and I have to start all over. If they have a problem with that image, maybe a campaign to show the West what a peaceful loving prophet Mohammad was would be more effective than killing innocent people.
Believe what you see Kirby. I could understand if a fool or two responds in a dumb way but it seems to spread from country to country. They don't have any leaders over there with the courage to tell them to stop acting like fools.
Muslims defame other religions and commit heresy under the teachings of those religions all the time. Yet we don't see this kind of reaction to Islam. No one demands that they follow the rules of other faiths. Off the top of my head I know of no other religion that demands that everyone, everywhere, follow their rules. It's absurd and it's time for Muslim leaders to say so. Don't just condemn the violence. Say that when others outside Islam say and do these things it isn't important. It isn't heresy. It isn't defamation. It's not important at all.
So people say Muslims need to condemn the violence now you say that is not enough, wth.
Very well put Steve D!
@Shakira, if they took that logical position to start with, there would be no violence to renounce.
Thank you. Well said and agree 100%.
sensitive? lmfao that may be the understatement of the year. they are acting like animals, stop excusing this behavior.
This seems to be a race to the moral bottom, with Mr. Im Bacile making a moronic and provocative movie, and the response of "righteous" Muslims to kill indiscriminately. A pox on both their houses.
'The film that’s believed to have inspired the violence depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer'
Ummm, so does the Quran?
If they are so concerned with people worshipping Mohammed then they should be quick to point out his faults and remind people he is just a man. This film did more to prevent people from worshipping Mohammed than any religious leader ever did.
True, albeit a movie full of lies by a Jew who hates Islam.
Shakira, EVEYONE HATES Islam!
Muslims go to the extreme on issues such as this because they do not want to end up like you jesus worshiping, 1st commandment breaking, heathens, bound to a tracked car destined to end up in the fire of hell.
khan: True that "Jesus worshipping heathens" might have some in their religion that don't "Love the Lord with all their might, mind and strength" but is it really worth breaking the other commandments (Thou shalt not kill) to prevent people from breaking a different one? The difference is one religion teaches their followers, the other tries to control their followers.
If someone in the middle east burnt the bible or made a video making a joke about Christianity and Jesus in the way this moron of a cheap, sick video maker did, we would all be up in arms. While I agree that those that participated in the riot and the killing should be prosecuted, desecrating what someone else believes in is not right. We have to learn that when someone in this country does something that is offensive to someone else in another country, there are consequences. We are not more important or superior to anyone else in this world that others "just have to understand it was a joke" when we desecrate what is very important to them. The blood of that ambassador and the other 3 Americans is on the hands of that video maker besides those that killed. I hope he rots in hell . Being given the freedom of speech doesn't mean you get to abuse it and insult others.
You must not recall "The Life of Brian"
No we wouldn't kill people who burn out Bibles. We just pity them we don't kill them.
I don't think Muslims would ever make a video or cartoon making fun of Jesus. After all, he is regarded as one of their prophets as well and highly revered by them.
Actually aj, free speech DOES give you the right to insult others, as long as the insult doesn't present itself as fact and falsely cause harm to a LIVING PERSON'S self or reputation. Mohammed's been dead for a long time, and while I didn't see the movie, it probably presents itself as opinion - which is free speech. Obviously from where you come from the concept of free speech has not been embraced (or understood, for that matter), and probably results in arrest and imprisonment (and maybe worse).
May you rot in hell for your stupidity, how dare you equate perceived insult with murder you vile piece of excrement.
Why is it such an issue? Because Arabs are insane barbarians.
I wouldn't exactly call a people who consider it a cultural norm to kill your wife because you think she might have potentially had an opportunity to commit adultery any sort of civilized.
The dark ages ended for the rest of the world several hundred years ago.
And all Norwegians kill tens of young people because they don't like tolerance.
And all Americans go shooting up movie theaters.
Stop with the bigotry, and just MAYBE mainstream Muslims will think Americans don't all have their heads up their azzes.
And this is why religion is silly. "My god is better than your god, my god is the only god, my god this, my god that. Wait, you don't believe in my god? We can't be friends anymore and I'm going to murder you and everyone you know." It's ridiculous. A few generations down the road, they're going to look at the religions of today and say the same thing we do about the Greeks and Romans, "Aww, what cute myths." People shouldn't need an imaginary friend in the sky to tell them what's right and wrong. Especially when the imaginary friend in the sky says it's ok to kill other people. Maybe that's not a voice worth listening to.
It's certainly not about 'my god is better than yours'. Islam, Judaism and Christianity all have the same God. And in fact most Muslims would tell you that EVERY religion was once Islam and has since been corrupted, which is why Mohammed showed up, to clear all the confusion up.
Thank you for being a voice of reason.
If the argument isn't about Gods, then human kind will find something else to debate and argue about. Unfortunately, that's a fact.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.