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. CNN panders to Islam

    CNN. You have become quite pathetic. You really think of yourselves as "intellectuals". You are just a bunch of wannabes.

    December 26, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  2. tommy21

    hey look u come to our country for whatever reason, money, amnesty, freedom, liberty, etc...ADAPT OK! we need not adapt to u

    October 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  3. An Agnostic Atheist Viewpoint

    I think the world has simply gone crazy. I don't believe that anyone has EVER spoken to God, Buddha or Allah or any other imaginary deity – unless they were high on drugs that made them hallucinate. I do not believe that there is any supreme being. I do not believe in any version of the Bible, the Qur'an, or man's pitiful, and often twisted interpretation of them to justify their evil behavior of the course of recorded history. I think people just invent these stories because they are afraid to die. They want to believe in an afterlife. They can't accept that life has no purpose. You are born, you live for a short time, and when your time is up – that's all there is. When you die there is NOTHING waiting for you. You simply cease to exist.
    Surely history shows that Mohammed and Jesus and all the others that were believed to messengers of their God's were real people. (here's a pretty good list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_messiah_claimants) However they were just men that had visions – and fearful people chose to follow them and believe that they 'spoke to god' because their simple minds and lost souls were scared of the nothingness. They are all dead and long gone. Mankind is so vain and ugly. I'm so sick of people arguing over this god or that god and all of the stupid prophets that supposedly hear voices and have visions. Aren't you ashamed at how dumb it all sounds??? Anyone can take acid and tell people that they talked to god. That doesn't mean it's true...
    If super-advanced aliens came to earth in giant spaceships and saw how man's primitive beliefs have kept us in the stone age... It would be no great loss if all of humanity was wiped away. Sorry if I've offended anyone. These are my own personal thought on the matter, and I am free to express them peacefully here on this message board. You all make me sick.

    October 10, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Jeanne

      If super-advanced aliens came to earth in giant spaceships and saw how man's primitive beliefs have kept us in the stone age... It would be no great loss if all of humanity was wiped away.

      You don't believe in an afterlife or God but believe in super-advanced aliens and want us to be wiped out. That is funny! I love this world. : ) I do believe in God and I love the way he made you!

      November 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  4. olga

    why can't we imagine for a second that Jesus and Mohamed were just messangers? mesangers of a divine messagers who brought to us word of God? then we would all be same religion and same belief. whouln't that be wonderfull?

    October 9, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  5. D. moslima

    Muhammad was born in Makkah (Mecca) in the year 570. Since his father died before his birth and his mother died shortly thereafter, he was raised by his uncle who was from the respected tribe of Quraysh. He was raised illiterate, unable to read or write, and remained so till his death. His people, before his mission as a prophet, were ignorant of science and most of them were illiterate. As he grew up, he became known to be truthful, honest, trustworthy, generous, and sincere. He was so trustworthy that they called him the Trustworthy.1 Muhammad was very religious, and he had long detested the decadence and idolatry of his society.
    The Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madinah.
    At the age of forty, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for twenty-three years, and they are collectively known as the Qur'an.
    As soon as he began to recite the Qur'an and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers suffered persecution from unbelievers. The persecution grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This emigration from Makkah to the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
    After several years, Muhammad and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies. Before Muhammad died, at the age of sixty-three, the greater part of the Arabian Peninsula had become Muslim, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as far East as China. Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the truth and clarity of its doctrine. Islam calls for faith in only one God, Who is the only one worthy of worship.
    The Prophet Muhammad was a perfect example of an honest, just, merciful, compassionate, truthful, and brave human being. Though he was a man, he was far removed from all evil characteristics and strove solely for the sake of God and His reward in the Hereafter. Moreover, in all his actions and dealings, he was ever mindful and fearful of God.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • D. moslima

      just >>> try to read translated quran

      September 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. telson7

    When you study Islam's prophet Muhammad's character, so you can understand a violent and difficult character of Islam. Excellent article showing the idea of Islam's violent holy war; http://www.jariiivanainen.net/muhammad.html

    September 25, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  7. joe800

    Sensitivities??...are you kidding?!...more like complete and total disconnect with civilized behavior. One doesnt kill because Spongebob is locked in the kitchen by Squidward therefore one doesnt kill because someone said ANYTHNG about a guy named mohommed.....

    September 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • sajid

      A guy ? You need to come out of pig and cats stories. This is our beloved prophet, no one as has ever born like and will never born like him. If you are educated then take out some time to read about him and compare yourself and don't be a frog in the well. Most western born don't even know their own father's name then how would they know about others history.So take out some time to know aobut Islam.

      September 25, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Mara

      sajid wrote "no one as has ever born like and will never born like him" How do you know there won't be another Mohammad in the future? How did *you* become the arbitor of what God/Allah/Zues plans for the future?

      and – "Most western born don't even know their own father's name..." uh, seeing that 'most' directly indicts 'more than half', I would have to call that statement ignorant. We may not live with him or visit him often, but the VAST majority of us do know who our fathers are. He just might not be around much.

      and lastly – "... then how would they know about others history." – frankly, I fail to see the link between knowledge of one's paternity and the ability to READ. While I do know and honor my father, that fact has nothing to do with whether I've read "Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century" by Irfan Shahid, or "The Beginning and the End" by the Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir, or even a translated Quran.

      That all being said, you completely miss joe800's point. Decent, civilized people don't go rampaging and murdering simply because they get their religious sensibilities bruised. Or because someone says something nasty about a person the other might admire. Or because non-believers don't toe the Islamic line. It's time for your culture to grow up. You people were once the intellectual centre for science, philosophy, medicine and education. Now you're little better than howling fanatics willing to murder in the name of intolerance. For shame.

      September 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  8. Umer

    There is no God except Allah and Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the prophet of Allah....

    September 24, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Lorraine

      the only Strong One is YHWH, YOD HE' WAW HE', the Holy One of ISRAEL, EPHRAIM, who is His son, and firstborn in EXODUS 4:22, JEREMIAH 31:9,20. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE; look it up. YHWH BLESS, PRAISE YHWH.

      September 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Then read Zechariah 10, about Ephraim, the Palestinians, the son of YHWH, the firstborn. And in Hosea 9:13, the chosen all need to return to YHWH, this is the only way out for them just read all of Hosea 9 this is what is going on today of the Palestinians.

      September 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  9. 1hopeful

    We Muslims have been ordered by the Quran to respect and honor all prophets, and we are forbidden to insult them in any way.
    For they are all messengers from Allah (God) to teach humanity how to live together in peace.
    I quote from the Quran: S:3 A:45,46
    Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah given thee Glad tidings of a Word From Him : His name will be Christ Jesus, The
    Son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the hereafter, and of the company of those nearest to Allah.
    Quote: S:33 A:69
    O ye who believe (Muslims)! Be ye not like those who hurt Moses, But Allah cleared him Of the calumnies they had uttered: and he was honorable in Allah' sight. O ye who believe fear Allah and make your utterance straight forward.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • And...

      if you protest and demonstrate peaceably, you are members of civilized community, and are welcome.

      If you loot, burn and murder in the name of Muhammed, you devolve into the crude barbarism of primitive recoprical tribal vengeance, and have no place in civilized society.

      Regardless of provocation.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Mel

      You said it there, "We Muslims..." those of us who are not Muslim, are not required to live and abide by your doctrine....especially in a free society. People have every right to be offended by others and to let the world know their own opinion on the matter and why they are offended; that's how free speech works. Killing people because of words (especially if they are not the ones who spoke those words) is barbaric and not only does absolutely nothing to further your cause, it hurts it.

      October 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  10. A Flock of Illegals

    America, pull out, now, and let the sand dwellers just kill themselves off.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  11. Lorraine

    popa doppa, and james, whats the matter a dose of truth, or your own medicine, brings out that ridicule, humm. To teach again, there is no such thing as a white, or black person, people are gentiles, europeans, anglo saxon, or they are Hebrew Yisraelites, who were all scatter to all the four corners of the earth, as stated in Deut. 28:15-68, to be called bywords, and proverbs, from leaving YHWH, and His law of righteousness to follow the heathens. But this still doesn't give the right for others to oppress others regardless, it is not right, and is to be addressed by the most high YHWH, for His righteousness is near, in Isaiah 51:5. YHWH Bless.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Lorraine

      You so called white people, no such thing, nor a black person, but you kill me with your short term memories when it comes to right or wrong, this happens everyday in America, stereotyping, hating others because of their cultures, and ways, and looks, please stop playing innocent, with all of the injustice, war, and hate, and oppression to the poor, America has caused over the centuries to others, and as we speak. And tom, tom, you piper, you are the only loop here, most have a conscious, not to mention morals, and brains. YHWH Bless to all.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Jeanne

      You say "You so called white people, no such thing, nor a black person, but you kill me with your short term memories when it comes to right or wrong, this happens everyday in America."

      The America I know is more than that. Don't be a bigot. We help the oppressed. We give to the poor and hurting. My good friend Peter came here from Sudan after muslim women showed their breast, held up their shirts and said "we will kill your family" Shooting at this 4 year old boy, he ran and hid in the bushes by himself. He was orphaned and had to eat dirt to fill his stomach for three months until he came to a refugee camp. I don't have a short memory at all. He was brought here to the United States by the Clinton administration so he could live a better life. After he arrived in New York the twin towers were bombed on 9/11. He was so scared. He was helped by me and other friends who live in Florida and are Christians. We helped him get a job and he went to a college after reading and studying many books with my husband and friends. He graduated from college at the same age as other boys in the United States graduate even though he was oppressed as a child. I am so proud of hm and all his hard work. He is giving back to society by helping through the Peace Corp. He and I have forgiven the oppressors. But I don't have a short memory. America has done this for many oppressed people. That is how America started. Look at the history books. Don't you forget.

      November 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. hifsaw

    I think it is hard for people to understand our feelings for our prophet (i have never assaulted any one and i try to ignore all the blasphemey) but look at it this way when you love some one be it your daughter , sister girlfriend and some one insults them or even looks at them with bad intentions what is your first reaction how may fists have fired for that reason , we love our prophet and it is hard for us to see or hear any thing that is derogatory to him. I am sorry for all the people who haven't done any thing and faced loss but i am even more sorry that after all these things no one blames the people who have started this fire and go into hiding as soon as it becomes hot and let other people take the heat for what they have done. Question your thoughts for one moment and then decide whom to call black the kattel or the pot.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • etdpratt

      I appreciate the respect and love you hold towards your prophets, but you have no right to kill innocent people and condemn an entire country because of a few that may have offended you. I don't know if this is found in the Qur'an but my God teaches that "peace" breeds "peace". You cannot demonstrate hate towards other people and then claim that you are on the side of a peaceful God. All these radical muslims are going to find out that the devil has prepared a place for them in hell.

      September 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • And...

      if you protest and demonstrate peaceably, you are members of a civilized community, and are welcome.

      If you loot, burn and murder in the name of Muhammed, you devolve into the crude barbarism of primitive recoprical tribal vengeance, and have no place in civilized society.

      Regardless of provocation.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  13. pastor nick

    sometimes i think that muhamed is revered more than the muslim god, if the holy book says god will judge at the end why then fight to defend muhamed, many other religions seem offended such as the mormons who say they received the last words of god,
    let me ask a question though if God couldn't preserve the Bible how can he preserve the koran, and if He is indeed powerful and stand by His word then no one can pollute it and the koran is not His word, but the words of servants of the moon god which is symbolized on every mosque
    furthermore muslim celebrate they know not what, such is the case of Id after Ramadan, they are actually shedding blood for remission of sins just as in the OT or Tanach, which answser the question of why Christ was not replaced on the cross but has to die for forgiveness of all mankind's sin which no form or work or rite can do

    September 24, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • A MUSLIM

      my friend , iagree with your 1st paragraph but rest !!?????? I DOUGHT because It is all belive in god and religion EXAMPLE can u see your GOD , 'NO' but you belive he is there for u . (NO OFFENCE)

      September 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  14. D C Joshi

    Prophet Mohammad was 28th in the line of divinely inspired men as mentioned in KORAN.Eighteen are from Old Testament and three from New Testament viz. Zacharias,John the baptist and Jesus Christ. Many religions were practised in the past. Few of them have survived.It is somewhat curious that while abrahamiac religions call for peace,they are continually engaged in subjugating the other.They are all born on the same soil.The region for this may be the proselytisation aspect of them which finds happy grounds amongst illiterate and indigent which creates hostility.
    Compare this with Indic religions which believe in SARVDHARM SAMBHAV (all religions are equal).

    September 24, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  15. pia

    u all guy's are r8 bt at the end of the whole topic 1 have only one qus why the muslims force to d hindus to convert there religion n accept the islam in jammu and kashmir and pak...n if hindu's dsn't do that thn they destroye there fmly's...why...???????????? if muslims are innocence.....thn why they all doing these kind of activities....

    September 24, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • RS

      @pia: could you please share some evidence to support your question? i have never heard of that happening anywehre.

      September 25, 2012 at 5:21 am |
  16. Syed Rashid Ali

    I invite all those who do not believe in ALLAh and His Prophet (PBUH) to revert to Islam, a religion that ensures true success! Believe you me, acepting Islam with true spirit you will feel and enjoye a life you could not imagine otherwise. Come brothers and sisters to Islam. I pray to ALLAH that HE may give you "hidayat" (He may guide you). realy there is nothing difficult.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  17. Rizwan Jalal

    You can insult Mohammed (P.B.U.H) because God has given time to every individual in this world to repent until he dies. The day you will die, you will know Who was Muhammed and what was his status. you will also know then that Jesus (Peace be Upon Him) was not a son of GOD (ALLAH). he was his prophet same like Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, Samuel, Emanuel, Solomon, Jacod, Joseph, Noah (Peace Be Upon Them), The day you will die, you will ask for more time from God but you will not be given. With every day pases, one day from your life is reducing. Dont follow the religion of your parents. Use your brain and find God. God is hidden physically but he is visible through his creation. God is Great

    September 24, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  18. AK

    CNN can do honourable thing to stop abusive comments and monitor them.

    No one deserve this treatment. We all muslims respect and love over Prophet Mohammed PBUH, so stop using abusive language.

    This really shows how shallow your thoughts are.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  19. Human


    oh yeah .. and you would know this..because you're an illiterate birdbrain.. right??? .. you know all about muslim people and their religion... because you're a dirty, stinky jew .. ? no wonder you're so shameless ..!

    September 24, 2012 at 6:21 am |
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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.