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Anger and violence over anti-Islam incidents
September 12th, 2012
12:06 PM ET

Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Islam • Violence

soundoff (4,725 Responses)
  1. infamiss1

    I just wish they all would die... please.. .relieve the world... please...

    September 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • .

      Yeah xtians are suck jerks!

      September 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      Amen

      September 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I don't think Christians or Muslims are all that bad, I actually have issue with their religions, not with the humans that practice any specific religion. It will take many generations for religions to move to the fringe, but it is inevitable.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  2. iamacamera1

    They are outraged because they are intolerant bigots and we have no reason to do business with them. I have some choice words about Mohammed. Pedophile, terrorist, egomaniac, and those are the non-profane ones.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      No they are not, it you who is bigot, self centered, word tolerance is based on word toll, to weigh, and you argument does not balance hindu, ignorant, visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • DracisFL

      @hinduism source of hindufilthyracism – are you using babblefish or babble-d*u*m^b*a*s*s

      September 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  3. Christ follower

    On the Anniversary of 9/11; our Ambassador and 3 of his staff was brutally killed because of a movie insulting Mohammed. And that 11y.o. girl in Pakistan who was almost killed for allegedely burning a page in the Quran. Islam IS NOT A religion of PEACE!

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • .

      Yeah, the brutality of religion is part of humanity. You know like when the xtians stole and murder Native Americans, enslaved African Americans, burn witches at the stake, deny rights gays. All religion is bad for humanity including yours!

      September 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  4. Get a clue

    We should have put an end to the PLO when they took hostages at the Olympics in the 70's. Now we have no spine and put up with this nonsense. All this fighting is over precious metals, oil, gold, etc......... none of this has anything to do with religion. IT's time to cull the herd and reduce this over populated planet. CAn we go back to survival of thie fitest?

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  5. Reasonable Man

    This whole article is a smoke screen. The reason for the coordinated attacks in Cairo and Libya was to get back at America for killing Osama Bin Laden, and they chose the day they knew would have the most impact, Sept. 11. Plus, it doesn't make sense to say that if Allah cannot be depicted because He is God, then Muhammed cannot be depicted because he is a man. Seems to me they are lumping him in with Allah by banning any depiction of him.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  6. DracisFL

    .... isn't it funny how the Liberals were never in the corner of Christians when Christ was Mocked. But CNN makes sure they roll out the Islam Apologist every time they show their violent ways.. which is becoming quite often. BOO CNN !! Bunch of Libtards...

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I don't know about other liberals, but I tend to say the same thing about Christians as Muslims. I believe that ALL religions are a drain on the world. I doubt that religion will ever die out completely, but I can't wait for religions to become the fringe of society, as it is destined to be.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  7. albert

    This is total Hippocratic on the part of Islams. They worship Mohammad anyway. Killing people in his name, that is worship. Mohammad is Satanic, is is not even worth the price of pigs blood. Some of them worship Osama Bin Laden. You can worship things without an idol, which is exactly what they do. Plus they are showing how weak they are. They have a choice to either worship an idol or not. Cowards!

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Reasonable Man

      I hope you aren't taking aim at the Hippocratic Oath, which is what doctors supposedly take. You know, I think you meant hypocrisy.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • albert

      Yes I meant hypocrisy (stupid spellchecker!)

      September 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Steve

    This is not about Muslims, it's about ignorant barbarians who think they're Muslims. We have the same ilk here claiming to be Christians, and so it goes.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • DracisFL

      Yeah those Christians storming foreign embassies and murdering ambassadors is becoming troublesome ?

      September 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Reasonable Man

      False equating of Christians and extremist Muslims. If Christians attacked for mocking Jesus, there'd be no Bill Maher.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      Bible bangers storming embassies, killing people etc., over media insulting Christ? When? What a PC idiot.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  9. Presto88

    I dont care why those in Islam decry using the image of Mohammed. It does not justify the killing of others...these radicals know nothing but violence and hatred. This is "their" fault not America's...the blame lies squarely with them. You see insults of Judaism and Christianity all the time.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, crime is hinduism, crime, and hindu criminal has to pay for his hinduism, crime, no excuses.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      about 'hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.' Do they let anyone into this country?

      September 12, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  10. janet

    As more of the world becomes multicultural, it seems to me that there is no room for the kind of fundamentalism that demands that others obey their rules. I don't care if it's born-again christians, catholics, orthodox jews, or muslims. You cannot force your rules on others. If you don't want an abortion, don't have one. If you don't want to draw pictures of mohammed, then don't do it. If you don't want to shave, then don't. If you don't want to wear a bikini, then don't. But you cannot expect those with other beliefs to go along.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • DracisFL

      ... well said

      September 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Reasonable Man

      Problem is, if a major principle in your religion is that you must force others to obey, you have a hard time getting them to be tolerant of others. Extremist Muslims cannot coexist with anybody who does not believe exactly as they do.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  11. larry5

    It's all a bunch of baloney. Muslims are just looking to start a fight. Any excuse will do. Muslims and humans can not co-exist and it's the Muslims that are the problem.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinism absurdity of a hindu, absurd.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      So, let me get this right Larry, Muslims are not human? Hmmm, do I need to give you a biology lesson?

      September 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  12. stephen l. walkinshaw

    as an non-beleiver, as ya'll like to call us. we hope ya'll kill each other at a rapid pace. the world would so nice with you sick-o's in it.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  13. Abu jafar*

    We are ready for jihad

    September 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • MobySchtick

      That's the point.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • albert

      That is easy to say hiding behind your computer. You are just like the coward Mohammad. Here is is idol (_0_)

      September 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Don G

    This article repeatedly refers to Muhammed as a prophet. He may be a prophet to his followers, but to everyone else, he is Islam's FOUNDER. There are aspects of the founder's life that are worthy of criticism. Was he a murderer or not? That is a fair question, but the US press has been intimidated from even discussing it.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      He is at least an historical figure, unlike Jesus, for whom there is NO physical evidence whatsoever of his existence. Having said that, I do not agree with the Muslims and their reaction to such nonsense; however, I do understand that they have been essentially brainwashed since birth to believe the way they do.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • albert

      What history books are you reading? There is ample evidence that Jesus existed. There are eyewitness accounts of this. Not to mention written history. Now whether or not you believe him to be the Son of God is another story. You are very ignorant.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • MobySchtick

      albert, there is exactly ZERO evidence for the physical existence of Jesus.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @Albert, I challenge you to name ONE first century historian that wrote about Jesus. ONE! There is NO physical evidence of a historical Jesus, fact is there is more evidence that he was created out of the "lives" of many other deities, much older. Jesus left NO writtings of his own, and the gospels weren't written for at least decades after his death.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @albert, I would invite you to e-mail me at martinkinard@hotmail.com if you would like me to provide you with some REAL reading materials about the history of the Jesus Myth.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  15. Bob Stringh

    Here CNN goes again: offering excuses for Conservative or right-wing Islamic actions. But let it be the actions of a radical Christian group and it will be on their "recommends" list for months.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  16. Citizen Jones

    When you die, what religion will you find on the other side? None. In the spirit world, religion is not required. As you cannot hurt a spirit, the crap of earthbound intolerance goes by the wayside.
    Those who have created all the problems in the name of their so called religion will only have to come back until they learn better ways to live.
    Love your fellow man. They have they same problems as yourself. Give rather than take, smile before you swear. Learn why life requires each of us to be ready to extend a helping hand, NOT A SWORD.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      What we will find on the "other" side is the same thing we found for the eons before we were born – NOTHING. This is the reason why LIFE is so special and important to live this life NOW.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • sharkfisher

      So citizen jones has died and can tell us all about the other side? He really needs to be somewhere that he can't hurt himself or others.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  17. Robert

    Sooo this is all because Mohammad was gay? so what? Don't ask don't tell...what sup with that?

    September 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  18. Rick

    (Bacile said he wanted to showcase his view of Islam as a hateful religion.) LOL...He sure proved it.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Rick

      I guess the Truth hurts..

      September 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  19. CaraW

    These Muslims are always such big babies about everything.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  20. DE

    Nothing like good old time religions to obtain peace in the world.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.