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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. Miss

    GET OVER IT!!!! I have my opinion and you have yours. i am so sorry you do not agree with me but that is life. I believe in what I believe in. At least I do not go out and bomb people and kill people I do not even know in the name of some religious figure you were taught as a young child to worship. Right or wrong killing people that do not agree with you is wrong in so many ways.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Agreeing and disagreeing is nature of human, but to depict in negativity is hinduism, criminality, deserving of equal punishment.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • abderrahim

      Applause

      September 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • justice

      Through Jesus, Everything is possible. I love my neighbor as I would want him/her to love me, And all God's people said, "Amen!"

      September 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  2. John

    ..."The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him,” Ahmed says.
    Yeah, that plan worked out well. Isn't that what this whole thing is about? And if it's not okay to depict a physical image of the guy, why is it okay to name just about every male after him?

    September 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Susette

      The prohibition of portraying Muhammad only furthers the narcissism of "the prophet". Islam is a perfect example of why religion is destructive.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  3. WilliamA

    I had an Imam tell us that if they took 49 of very well studied Imams and brought them together, they as a group could not depict Prophet Mohammad in an absolute way. He went on to say that the wisdom and good from the teaching from the Prophet were thousands of times more powerful and good than what we as man could ever depict by artwork or some form of physical being. Thinking about it as a Christian, this holds true for both God and Jesus as well.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • I agree and let's kill each other over it

      Agreed, as long we get to go all jihad on everybody who thinks the same way about a different invisible, nonprovable deity.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Allah, Al, the La, limit, H, most high absolute, truth absolute, essence of existence proven by Quantum physics. The constant. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • duke of earl

      and too bad none of them actually exist

      September 12, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  4. Rajaish

    Killing of US ambassidor is fully justifiable.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Idiotic idiot

      Killing muslim children is perfectly justifiable

      September 12, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Victim of hinduism criminality of hindu Jew's, filthy self centered by and their hindu gentile criminal slave government of USA.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • justice

      Lets kill every first born baby
      lets burn every book...
      Moses let my people go......!
      And finally an eye for an eye and we are all blind!

      September 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • abderrahim

      in what religion, that is not islam, Mohamed (S.A.W) will knoned by protecting his neighbours jewish and christian even when the others were kiling his familly and friends, why his did not take them and kill them too. and in islam no one pay for a mistake of an other. is not because a sick persone we will star killing others.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Who cares, Abderrah? Why are muslims killing people over a cartoon?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • duke of earl

      so is farting inside a mouse, er moose, er you know what i mean

      September 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • justice

      What if th US Ambassador was Muslim?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • abderrahim

      yes no one care and that why we are here. we seeing people get killed for cartoon on the name of relegion. we seeing hole country get erased form the map on the name of relegion, and we seeing us barking and arguing about stupid think while 1 gallon of gas is now alomst $4, wak up they playing with us

      September 12, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • justice

      I love me some Muslims.

      OBTW is that a speck in your eye? Please pardon the plank in mine, but yours looks oh so painful.!

      September 12, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • abderrahim

      justic: alright Miss. I will do my best next time

      September 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • justice

      ust makes me want to say WHAT!

      September 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Susette

      I hope you do not enjoy the freedoms of my beloved America. But as a muslim male I'm sure you don't have to concern yourself with oppression, misogyny,domestic violence and all those wonderful attributes that "the prophet" espoused upon females. You are a scko and the reason islam needs to go away. There is no place for its hate

      September 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • justice

      Then, in your opinion, would killing Rajaish be justifiable? I would say no! But there may be detracters in the public domain.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Susette

      @ justice...I don't believe in killing anyone for any reason, including Rajesh! But, he is a bad muslim and won't get his 72 virgins in paradise...peace be upon him.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  5. abderrahim

    Cted, you are right on that point, but free speech give you no right to insult others (that what our mothers teach us at the young age) as I dont care about what you doing or worshiping why you have to change my side, if dont agree about it just dont care, isnt simple

    September 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Oceanlife

      I am sorry but did you say freedom of speech doesn't give one a right to offend people? Have you watched Jon Stewart, Letterman, Leno lately? How about movies? They make fun of Christians (aka: "offend" them ALL the time!! Here is something I found interested on this vey article: "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." REALLY? GIve me a Break! Islam has been around for thousands of years. These people are Plain Ignorant! They will Never Change! Liberal Hollywood makes fun of Jesus Christ on a daily basis. You don't see Christians blowing up Govt Officials–do u?? Islam: the religion of peace! LMAO. You can't say that with a Straight face can you?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  6. justice

    600 years late to the game. Whatever! Catch up.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  7. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unh5XfRWxo8&w=640&h=360]

    September 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Aycan Gencoglu

      Thank you for the video Iqbal . I learned a lot about my own religion. Thank you.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • dhondi

      ALLAHU SNACKBAR

      September 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  8. Rod

    Is1am... Just the worst idiocy to ever befall mankind.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      by hinduism, stupidity of a hndu, stupid. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • MobySchtick

      Christianity is a close second or third.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  9. abe

    that is stupid, why we re arguing about what every one has to worship, dont you see it is just a game, look down your feet, the price of gas is now almost $4, every single thing win up 3 time price, what you talking about people!!!!! why it sub to us to pay for someone else agenda, let isreal and M. east solve there problems them self they are old enough, and let focus about our economy F. off

    September 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Good idea, visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      I agree on letting Israel solve their own problems with Middle Eastern neighbors, but gas was higher under Dubya than it is even now (I think about 8 years ago).

      September 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  10. Cted

    I don't get it. If non muslims portray mohammad can' the muslims just not look? or not watch the film? If the danger is that you will start to worship him as a idol, then who cares if someone of another religion depicts him? THEY are surely not going to worship him, and if the muslims don't look/watch then THEY are fine... so what's the problem?

    You have a right to hold sacred whatever you want to hold sacred, including the image of mohammad. You do not have the right to tell me what I have to hold sacred.... it's that simple.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • abderrahim

      you are right on that point, but free speech give you no right to insult others (that what our mothers teach us at the young age) as I dont care about what you doing or worshiping why you have to change my side, if dont agree about it just dont care, isnt simple

      September 12, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Jo Hargis

      I wish everyone would just leave everyone else the hell alone, and let them worship what they want, and respect each other's religion or even lack of religion. There's a crap ton of so-called Christians out there [coughrightwingcough] who would do well to sit for a moment and think how they might feel if someone made a movie about how Jesus was a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer. The street goes both ways. They'd be screaming in fits of rage if someone put a film up about that in the US. I'm not condoning the violence, as that's never the right option, but geez, if the right wing faction in this country turns out to be responsible, as it is starting to look might be the case, then they've got the blood of our diplomats on their hands. And for what? Gutter level fun? Drama queen satisfaction? reveling in the pig slop? Were the lives of four Americans really worth the "fun" of antagonizing a foreign population?

      Some people need to take a hard step back and take a look at what kind of people they are.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No, that's exactly what "freedom of speech" does and is. What good is freedom of speech if it's not really free, dipsh!t? That's like going to the "Everything's a Dollar" store and half of the items are over a dollar. Freedom of speech means it's free to say something, and you're free to disregard it. And besides, why can't Allah take care of himself? Why does he need his followers exacting vengeance for him?

      Fvck the prophet. Fvck mohammed up his azz with a pitchfork. If Allah doesn't want to punish the infidels, then respect his decision and you leave them alone, too.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      my reply was to abderahim

      September 12, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • duke of earl

      they're just as screwed up as the RC Church, and their boy-buggering priests, thats why

      September 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • abderrahim

      Moby Schtick, I am not tring to revange alah or somone else,if you follow a relegion you will know what that mean, but let any other country make any bade movie about "jesus" and let see what will happen

      September 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      abderrah, people make mocking movies and tv shows about jesus all the time. You know what all the christians do about it? Nothing. Or they go hold signs up somewhere. that's it. People who think it's a good idea to kill another person over a drawing should be shot in the head for disrespecting god's will to let that cartoonist continue living.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • abderrahim

      Moby Schtick, yeah you right I totaly agree, how ever support killing a persone for a stupid cartoon need a Bedlam, but in other hand we need to respect others and let them alone. full stop

      September 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  11. Drink my Kool-aid

    Hilarious Mohammed cartoon
    http://www.solopassion.com/node/411

    September 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  12. Joe

    I can understand the Muslims position to a certain extent. My "branch" if you will, of Christianity practices a somewhat similar belief concerning graven images. But to kill someone for it, especially nonbelievers, is useless. It would make as much sense if I grabbed Muslims off the street and killed them in retaliation. Again, useless and meaningless. Violence for its own sake. These are not true believers. Not children of the faith. These are criminals, terrorists. Murderers.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Muslim's have never made a cartoon of any figure of any faith out of respect, can you deny the truth, visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      hinduism absurdity: Who cares? Muslims don't have a sense of humor like everyone else! They should be removed from the planet as they are holding us back.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • duke of earl

      don't say that to the NRA and George Z; owning a gun, and killing is a right all americans-and asians, and europeans, and people of all races and beliefs should have and protect

      September 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • boobie

      come on. there are a number of reasons for the rioting. i do not condone ANY violence of any kind whether it is from rioters or soldiers. but, first off, it seems to me that the death of the ambassador was from suffocation. ie he was in the compound that was attacked. It was not deliberate to go after him. The libyans were immediate in their condemntion of this. Look at what happens in LA, New York or any other city when there is a riot – people get killed by accident while others are venting. But I do think that there are other undertones in the rioting – not only the film, but the authour being a Jew/Israeli-US citizen who raised his money (5 million) from Jewish Donors throughout the US, the blank slate that the US gives to Israel in doing whatever it pleases, the US presence and support of monarchies and dictators in the Mid East, etc. A little more complex than what is being reported!!

      September 12, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  13. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX3UHNhQ1Zk&w=640&h=360]

    September 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  14. abc

    Dan Gilgoff, Eric Marrapodi, turn off the CNN apologist routine already. We aren't interested.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  15. nope

    Come on, somebody something so I can 'nope' it. Please?

    September 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • duke of earl

      OK

      September 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  16. Drink my Kool-aid

    Did anyone see the cartoon of Jesus taking a hot steamy dump on Mohammed's chest? Then they made stinky man butt expanding love while covered in sh•t. Funny.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, stink of a hindu, skunk from hindered gutter called india. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • old ben

      That's disgusting. –did it have a scratch 'n sniff strip under it?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Surely no such thing ever existed or else we would have already heard about the executives and artists responsible for broadcasting or publishing such inflammatory, insensitive materials already having been killed or at least threatened by Muslim extremists.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  17. AlienShark

    I don't like discrimination and false characterizations. Not every
    Muslim is a terrorists. Not every Jewish person drinks the blood of
    Palestinian children, Not every black guy is a criminal...come on
    people.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      Not every alienshark is a song blazer...or is it?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  18. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    hinduism islam my absurdity of intellect ism absurdity of islam stupidit ism hindu false god ism to believe in absurdity of false prophet mahound. my mother ism hated to have me ism iam so stupid ism. truth absolute not I know ism hindu absurdity of islam from false prophet ism. for more visit my @$$h0le with your fist ism.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      OK. But no dogs!

      September 12, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      saladandchips.com has a dog...

      September 12, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  19. New Yorker

    ISLAM WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD !!

    MAY ALLAH LEAD EVERYONE TO ISLAM!!

    September 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      May you grow a brain so you may realize that "god" is a figment of your imagination!

      September 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Limit is the truth and truth absolute is the God, a hindu, ignorant have no knowledge of truth absolute God. but his hinduism, ignorance in his hindu Judaism, filthy secularism. pig ism.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Susette

      That would be dreadful...I pray I don't come back as a muslim woman in my next life. Hell would be a better option. Islam sucks for females

      September 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • justice

      Thank you Jim Jones! Can I have aother cup of Jungle Juice?

      September 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  20. Dan

    One religion is as silly as the next.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:57 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.