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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. john

    95% of muslims are ignorant of the content and meaning of the Koran. This leaves them suseptable to the 5% who are evil and desire the idolatry of the faithful to make their lives meaningful.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Owen

    In order to avoid idolatry, Muslims have made idols of the treatment of the Koran and images of Mohammed. They supposedly accept the Old Testament. Perhaps they would do good to read the book of Isaiah.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Christian!

      At the point of a gun the USA should force mainly Islamic nations to accept the first amendment as their own and make them enforce it.. 🙂 🙂 🙂
      and at the same time tell the Religious Reich to shut up for a minute or two and take a deep breath or something 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Conrad

    The majority of Islamic countries are ruled with an iron fist by totalitarian regimes that are quite skilled at directing anger away from themselves and outward towards–you guessed it!–The Great Satan! If the US were not the fall guy, some other country would be. It's a wonderfully effective trick, pulled off on a smaller scale by Uncle Adolph when he got Germans to believe the Jews had lost WWI for Germany. Look at it this way: The West has developed societies that allow individuals to develop, better themselves, and live relatively free lives; we have free speech, can vote, and are more secure than the rest of the planet. Someone inside one of those totalitarian countries gets angry that they do not have hat kind of life. Normally, this would lead to rebellion and overthrow of their own dictators; but those dictators manage to turn the anger outward and the US gets blamed. Throw in a dose of religion and it gets worse: even though the dictators were ousted in Libya and Egypt, religion can still be used to deflect internal anger.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Christian!

      The USA should force those nations at the point of a gun to accept the first amendment as their own ... 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  4. kamal

    -Joseph, Mary's husband, married 12 to 14-year old Mary!Was he too a pedophile?

    -Go read you bible and the history before you say something that you will regret one day.

    –You will be accountable in front of god of every word that comes out from your mouth or you write.

    -Please, do some due diligence and read before you can take position. Go read the Koran, the bible and the torah and do a comparison.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Brandon

      agreed. you would think it was that simple but the media brainwashes everyone. They have been showing Egyptian people standing outside with signs and people think its all about the movie. They are actually condemning the violence but any sign that is held up has a negative connotation to American citizens

      September 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Thegoodman

      "Was he too a pedophile?" If he existed, yes. (There is no evidence Jesus of Nazareth ever even lived).
      "Go read you bible and the history before you say something that you will regret one day." I regret nothing I've said. I have no bible. I have only evidence, reason, and logic; none of these are present in any religious text.
      "You will be accountable in front of god of every word that comes out from your mouth or you write." How do you know this? Aside from a circular argument of a different guy said it who wrote it into a book which you read.

      There is no Allah, and Mo was no prophet.

      -Please, do some due diligence and read before you can take position. Go read the Koran, the bible and the torah and do a comparison.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  5. Let The Truth Be Told

    Mohammed was a man and stated so. He died in his grave turning to dirt as all other men. JESUS is risin and alive! Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus is the light of the world. Our lord and saviour. Mohammed as well as every other knee shall bow, every mouth shall confess, Jesus is Lord.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • ....

      BS

      September 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • THACO

      You cant quote your religion as justification in a logical discourse about someone else's religion. Apples and oranges and all that.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Christian!

      Amen my brother! Amen! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  6. Thegoodman

    "If you believe your religion is worth killing for, please start with yourself."

    September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Christian!

      The only one I need killing was Jesus who died for my sins ...he is risen from the dead and I am witness .. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  7. Sam

    @DAVE.. thats it protect him you POS

    September 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  8. kapid

    That's the islamic way of argument. You islamic world prove logically where the author/movie maker went wrong. Use ur kidneys not your brain.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • mike

      What? You may want to use your own brain when writing your thoughts...

      September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Kate

    It seems to me if they are willing to kill someone over it, they are already worshiping him as a god...

    September 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Christian!

      touche' Kate touche' 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • THACO

      People kill for many reasons. I don't see the connection to Mohammed worshiped as god.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  10. bobjones

    CNN: Killing journalism one article at a time.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Christian!

      😦 nuts... 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  11. David

    Your article is disgusting. Attempting to justify an act of war and murder against American citizens is tantamount to treason. This is the worst excurse for journalism and a new low for CNN.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • A.Safiri

      I don't understand either. i have seen many many time people drawing pics, cartoons, , movies, etc making fun of Jesus and You don't see Christians organizing massive attacks, Yes, it is nor right, but this people seriously do not act to the "religion of peace" they claim to represent.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • bwhitten

      Really? You are a disgrace to yourself, Americans, and America.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Christian!

      there are other perspective beside your own friend .. you need to go back to your closet and come up with an idea to destroy the Islamic way of thinking ... Do U have an answer?????
      NO! 😦 I thought so ! 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Spirituality

    With love, comes the fear of losing the love. You would be more concerned about your brand new car than your old junky. Make sense? Similarly, Muslims love their Prophet of God. If sincere non-Muslims read about him from authentic sources and not from fake anti-Islamic hate websites, you would become a Muslim as well. Human emotion of love is a powerful one and people react to insults in different ways. Unfortunately, in the media you see only the ones that riot on the streets. The rest of the 99% of Muslims that react peacefully by sending prayers and following the ways of the Prophet in their lives will not be shown in the media. Because what bleeds, leads in the media...

    September 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Scarface86

      I have read from "the source" and from the Bible, and I am neither a Christian or a Muslim. Nice try.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • bwhitten

      Ah, no. I've read the Koran and no thank you.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • nmk

      is the quaran an authentic source to you?
      Qur’an 9:7-9-Don’t make treaties with non-Muslims. They are all evildoers and should not be trusted.
      Qur’an 9:12-14-Fight the disbelievers! Allah is on your side; he will give you victory.
      Qur’an 9:5 Kill the nonbelievers wherever you find them.
      Qur’an 2:191-2-Kill disbelievers wherever you find them. If they attack you, then kill them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Joe800

      ..please stop spewing the peaceful muslim nonsense. one percent of a billion muslims being 'radical' is 10 million people!!...murdering, bombing animals is what they are. dont care how many percentage are murdering bombing animals, the other 99% should rid themselves of the radicals....

      September 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  13. It's Mythology Fool!

    The only part they got right was 'There is no god'

    September 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Anti-Sophist

      I don't know if there's a God or not, but I just have to laugh at the arrogance of those who "know" that there is no God. The presumptuousness of those who think that the three pound chunks of meat, chemicals and electrical impulses we carry around in our skulls are capable of "knowing" all of the mysteries of the universe is comical. We can't cure cancer or HIV, we can't find a way to live in peace, we can't comprehend the notion of infinity, and we can't even feed all of the earth's people, but we can "know" that there is no supreme being? Give me a break! Those who claim they "know" God exists, I expect, would at least attribute their "knowledge" to belief, but those who "know" God doesn't exist, "prove" it with their own, man-made, inherently flawed, scientific method. The greatest minds once "knew" that the world was flat and the sun circled the earth.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  14. Insider

    Becasue he looks like Rosie O'Donnell, sounds like Pee Wee Herman and acts like Gomer Pyle.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  15. a two way street

    if passionate protests broke out in the middle east to denounce the actions of 9/11, then maybe people in the west would respect these muslims a little bit more. respect is a two way street. respect is earned. how can anyone respect people who take the lives of innocent people because they got offended. i have never killed any one who has offended me or hurt my feelings.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Closet Atheist

      ... yet our secretary of state, hillary clinton, is out calling the video "disgusting and reprehensible". Yes, it was insensitive. But here we go pandering to the muslims again... which, in a sense, validates the use of violence. Just my interpretation... but I get a weird feeling about it....

      September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  16. Jase

    Well if they don't want to respect some of the things people in the U.S. think are extremely important (like freedom of speech) then why should anyone care about hurting their beliefs by portraying their prophet. They are clearly not thinking straight and need to realize it. Until they do I highly doubt anything will be changing anytime soon.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  17. Sam

    Most comments on here are disgusting and really show complete ignorance and racism. Didnt anybody learn anything from that danish moron and his cartoon, then from that loser pastor jones in florida. So it's like geez lets make a movie this time and see what happens... talk about throwing oil on a fire! Sam Bacile should be charged with something.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Dave

      Oh? And what crime did he commit?

      September 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • It's Mythology Fool!

      So you support blind ignorance and fascism. Why don't you move to the middle east then and live with your mythology laws.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • FADUTA

      What did we learn – Sam? Nothing that we did not already know. It is called "free speech". Didn't you learn that somewhere? I am very pleased to see the comments regarding crazed/moronic muslims; and on CNN of all places. I hold to know religion myself but there is NO comparison between islam and seemingly ALL other religions when it comes to tolerance.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Scarface86

      You're right we should have thought police just in case someone attempts to another's feelings. We all have to feel good about ourselves and must not be offended.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Heath

      Your logic is reversed Sam. Free speech should become louder, not quiter, in the face of murderous bullies. The inviduals you listed are not the problem; free speech is not the problem. Violent intolerance is the real threat that most be resisted through even stronger free speech.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Patrick Portland

      Hmmmm...with that ridiculous mentality, I'm pretty sure you're in line for a job at Odummers State Department. You, Obama, & Hillary can take turns apologizing to these ropck throwing camel jockeys while totally ignoring the bigger issue at hand – THEY MURDERED 4 INNOCENT PEOPLE...who cares about a stupid film or cartoon – it's called freedom of speech. Time to move over there is you have forgotten what it's like to have freedom f expression & religion.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Joe800

      ...so a make believe, not real, not actually happening, not real (get it) movie justifies murder by muslims?..so, then what do we get to do to the murdering muslims since what theyre doing IS REAL?..do we get to fire bomb, machine gun and destroy them?..fine....lets show them what the American war machine can really do when it wants to.....

      September 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Anti-Sophist

      Yes, let's criminalize thought and free speech! Let's make it a crime to offend. Let's let the majority, or the strongest, or most violent dictate what and how we worship, think and speak. I hope you can't (or don't) vote, Sam.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Christian!

      The Danish Cartoon exposed the Muslim religion to the ENTIRE WORLD.. Terry Jones also exposed the Muslim religion to the ENTIRE WORLD ! This is why we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press and the first amendment which should be forcibly imposed on Muslims nations....if a religion cannot survive secular laws then maybe the religion is no good... Really I mean if a God in the heavens cannot accept insults from ignorant men, then he must be pretty bad off ...imagine that! 🙂 🙂
      Jesus died on the Cross and rose again from the dead ( I am witness).. Christians with no weapons overcame the persecutions of the Roman Empire , for near 300 years without arms ...NOW THAT'S A GREAT FOUNDATION!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  18. none

    The prophets who were brought for the Children of Israel: Moses and Jesus (May God's Peace and Blessings Be Apon Them Both)

    The prophet who was brought for all humanity and mankind: the final messenger Prophet Muhammad (May God's Peace and Blessings Be Apon Them Both)

    September 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • MPLS70

      Mohammed wasn't a prophet, he was an epileptic with delusions of grandeur. Oh, and an imperialist.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • WisdomVS

      NON-blessed one... your view of religion is so screwed up.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Christian!

      Sorry Charlie, Muhammad doesn't cut it ... his works shall be destroyed... all of them 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  19. Kayle

    Killing the Ambassador was wrong and we all agree on that (even Muslims) and the killers must be punished, but it's funny how it is ok for Americans to kill other people in the name of "Democracy" but it is not ok for Muslims to protest for the one person that they all love.
    and the important question is WHY do people keep provoking Muslims? don't they understand that Muslims don't care much about their lives as much as they care about Allah and Prophet Mohammad? leave them alone and nothing bad will happen to you. Don't say "NO" before you try it!
    You are not leaving the Muslims alone so they would leave you alone.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Dave

      It's fine for them to protest. It's not fine for them to murder an innocent man who'd done nothing more than try to help them, in return for a movie he had nothing to do with.

      The fact is, they all know their "prophet" was a sick pervert, and they don't like reminders.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • none

      Thanks Kayle. A sensible and rational voice in a sea of such ignorance and hate.

      Are our countrymen really this stupid?

      September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • MPLS70

      None, only the muslims are stupid. Your religion is for sub-literates.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Jase

      Americans will never give up their right to free speech. And that's a fact that will never change. If Islamic people feel just as strongly about the portrayal of their Prophet then I am pretty sure we are at an impasse. No one will ever win.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • animals

      dont keep provoking them? you guys are exactly like animals. you poke a bear at the zoo and it attacks you back. the bear cant think because its an animal and has not evolved to think rationally. the bear has no conscience. similarly, it seems as though you hold muslims to the same standard we hold zoo animals to. it seems as though you think that muslims have not evolved to think rationally. your own words condemn you.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Joe800

      We should allow everyone to wallow in their own misery and filth. If you chose to live under the rule of allah, so be it. If you chose to live under kim il jong,gong, long, whatever, fine. But do not expect to flee the oppression and violence of allah by coming here. Change your own home, free yourself of allah. Do not expect us to assist you with technology, medicine and food and water, let allah provide. America fought to be where we are and you need to get your own.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Christian!

      the answer is Y can't Muslims take a joke ... 🙂
      if their prophet is great and their God why can't the defend themselves... Jesus needed no one , He rose from the dead..

      The martyred Christians of the first 300 years in the Roman Empire needed no one to defend them... their legacy continues to this day and they are well received in heaven Revelation 6:9-11... 🙂 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until {the number of} their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also....
      Their souls are n heaven..

      September 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      "f their prophet is great and their God why can't the defend themselves."

      For the last 2,000 years the xtian gods has needed defending, often by the sword. Wake up!

      September 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Marco

      Kayle, what will you do when muslims demand you become a dhimmi (or convert to islam)? Where does it stop for you? Do you think muslims leave *you* alone? I think not, like most religious groups they want their views imposed on others. They want sharia, and sharia includes the principle of having dhimmi's.

      No muslim was forced to see the cartoons. No muslim was forced to see this movie. And yet they complained, and the vast, vast majority with absolute certainty never even saw the movie. They were angry because others told them to be. Do you really want to give people, who so easily get upset and are so easily led into violence, so much free reign?

      September 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  20. Davidbiz

    This is exactly the problem. God didn't create religion...man did! Man uses the fear of the "afterlife" question, to manipulate, control and increase corporate coffers. This is a perfect example of a man manipulating millions, promising virgins, wealth, whatever you want, in the "afterlife" in order to justify hate, torture, death and destruction in THIS one! God, Allah, whatever you want to call him/her...would be disgusted at how we use their purity and essence of love to defile the true message!

    September 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
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About this blog

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.