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. heyheyhey

    You don't make many friends by killing people over your religious beliefs.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  2. Howard

    Mohamed was a pedophile. Says so in the Koran

    September 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • nick

      ..and a child rapist !

      September 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  3. Abubakar Ameen

    It on fair,islamically is not good.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Madeline M.P.

    So, to emphasize that Muhammad was a mere man and that he should not be depicted in any form for fear of worshiping as a God, many followers of a "religion of peace" – Islam – publicly translate their anger into violence to defend the emblem of their religion, the human prophet they have elevated to the status of idol. Talk about irony! Other religions have countless such "holy men with a vision" but we don't see this kind of violence causing death and destruction from the faithful droves for the post-mortem "honor" of their holy one.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thezel

      I think it's the heat in those areas. think about it. its like 100 degrees all year long, and the women have to walk around all bundled up, so they are agree and bitter, and don't give their men any. So the men get all bent out of shape, and since they can't drink over there, they turn to violence.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • daooch

      I believe Islam is not alone in the history of mass violence related to religion.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Razeeya

      Muhammed SAW (Pbuh) was not a holy man with a vision. he was a messenger of God, a prophet of Islam. Please don't confuse this with the other many holy men with visions you may know across the world!

      September 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  5. DMicheals

    Our Muslim President defending his Muslim Brothers.....as Obama or should I say the man child wrote in his book, he will never turn his back on his Muslim brothers. Well..........it's showing. Worst excuse for a President ever.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thezel

      as long as they aren't at the other end of one of his drones.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • sly

      oh for god's sake, enough with the whole "Obama is a muslim" ... you have no proof of this ... why don't you find something else to complain about? don't you guys have an election coming up? aren't there more important issues like the economy, jobs, women's rights, healthcare? idiot.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • nick

      If he had his way ..he would bring shiya law in US ...wake up America !

      September 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Davkar

    Mohammed did not want people worshiping him so did not want people to see his face, the latter rule is only about 200 years old. Muslims had icons showing Mohammad's face in most of their Holy places prior to that.

    Mohammed did not want people worshiping him yet those same people think it is justified to kill any or all Americans if someone who is not an American produces a movie in America that they have not seen based on rumors that say it blasphemes Mohammed. That sounds like the reaction of a fanatical worshiper to me.

    I would like to know where in any Holy book "an Eye for and Eye" means the eyes of the innocent. I wonder what Mohammed would say about the AK-47 becoming a symbol of Islam in his name.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • nick

      He doesn't have a picture as he did not want people to know the face of a rapist and child abuser ! He is safe player !

      September 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  7. aCriticalEye

    No matter how I try to rationalize it, I find myself coming back to the same realization: The MUSLIM faith is about HATE.
    I cant remember the last time I woke up and said to myself, "I think today I'm going to have a day of rage".
    I think the real problem here is religion in general, but the Muslim faith is just not right.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • kamal

      i give a test, if realy you care.

      go read some history, and find how many christians were kiled by christians , and how many christians were kiled by muslims and how many muslims were kiled by christians.

      you will be suprised.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Allen

      kamal why do Muslims bring up the middle ages to justify their ignorant brutality. If the Muslim religion stepped into the 21st century. Respected its women, respected its citizens, respected other religions, respected nonbelivers maybe people wouldn't want to just end that faith. Which is proving to be the best remedy for this continued brutality.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • sol

      Islam is not hate but there are ppl who do evil things in any religions so for you to just judge the religion by just few followers is ridiculous !

      September 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  8. Cindy

    And we should care what these animals think?
    If their alleged prophet and alleged god are so weak as to be destroyed because someone speaks ill of them, how sad is that.
    Thomas Jefferson was correct about his view of islam, it's just bad so many panty waisted men followed him instead of following his lead..

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  9. anne

    I'm sure you all realize that the protest was an excuse for something already planned?

    Also, how would you all feel if someone made a movie based on Jesus being a pedophile?

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Cindy

      I would know it wasn't the truth.
      I mean really when the city of New York gave a grant to a guy to put a cross in a jar of urine, no one died.
      When the NEA provided a grant to an "artist" to paint a picture of Marry covered in s#it, no one died.
      And those were funded by taxpayers money, not private funds.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Davkar

      A movie was made in Canada called "Jesus of Montreal". Another one was made called "The Life of Brian" I don't recall any riots or burning buildings over these movies however there was much debate on the subject matter – nothing wrong with healthy debate. Organized religion is all about suppressing knowledge starting with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. It is only the leaders of organized religion that have a vested interest in forbidding questions or changes. It is only organized religion that has the power to have millions killed in God's name. The average person merely wants God to provide the necessities of LIFE! God and humans were able to co-exist long before churches were built and priests began to speak on God's behalf.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  10. kamal

    To those who say" we love Jesus", you have to be angry when someone makes a joke about him or bad movie. Not to Lough. This is the sign that you love Jesus. When we love someone, the basics of love are that we are happy when something good happen to him and sad when something bad happen to him.

    And the proof that you love someone is that you try to do all what he did.

    In the bible,
    -> Jesus used to fast (Matthew 4:1-11) and most people do not fast. Why?
    ->Jesus prostrated while praying (Matthew 26:36-39 ), and you do not do that, and maybe you will die and you never prostrated to god.
    -> Jesus did not eat pork and we all do this, why?
    -> Jesus used to say to his companions’ when he meet them (John 20:21) "Peace be with ", why we do not use this sentence?

    And if you have a correct mind and you want the truth just think about all what Jesus did and ask you self. Do i do the same? And if you say no, think little more and you will see that Muslims do most of the thing that Jesus did. Except saying he is god or son of god. Because he didn't say it.


    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thezel

      what's your point? I don't like when people make fun of Jesus, but i don't go around setting fires to buildings and killing other people.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Cindy

      kamal, If you are going to preach for crying out loud know what you are talking about.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Nukemall

      jesus wasn't a pedophile

      September 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • nick

      Your name sounds like some lunatic Indian> when will you stop copying few lines from one page and pasteing it in another ! If you don't have a point ..just shut up !

      September 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  11. Mainstream

    I think everyone can tell this is going to lead to further violence in the world and in the U.S. even. People are about fed up with these bonehead terrorists and the weak political response of mr. obama (who instead of honoring the WTC victims on 9/11 sent a video message to the Arab Forum). He's one of them as far as his actions show.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  12. Osama Abdallah

    Let's analyze some facts here:

    1- The film was released few days before the 9/11 anniversary.

    2- The film was made by an Israeli.

    3- The American Embassador to Libya, WHO IS A CHRISTIAN AMERICAN, gets blown away.

    I smell a zionist-mosad conspiracy here. The emotions were ALREADY HIGH on the 9/11 anniversary. So let's explode it by killing the non-Jew embassador. Get it?

    9/11 was an inside job! WTC BUILDINGS FELL AT SIX SECONDS EACH! This
    is a controlled demonlision FREE FALL WITH NO RESISTANCE. 9/11 was a
    zionist inside job. Melted metal that was consistent with explosion
    melting were found in all of the buildings' metal foundations after
    the collapses. The buildings were also hit by REMOTE-CONTROLLED
    airplanes from WTC 7. This is also why this building was brought down
    by controlled demolision. The pentagon was also hit by a drone or
    missile, and no airplane was found in the PA field. Muslims HAD
    NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11. PERIOD. It was the sub-humans who rule this
    country that did it. The zionists are worse than satan himself!! Hell
    is their final abode!


    Some of the Glorious Quran's beautiful teachings:

    ".....Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not
    one another in sin and rancour: fear God: for God is strict in
    punishment. (The Noble Quran, 5:2)"

    "O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair
    dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to
    wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and
    fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (The Noble
    Quran, 5:8 )"

    "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress
    limits; for God loveth not transgressors. (The Noble Quran, 2:190)"

    "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline
    towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that heareth and
    knoweth (all things). (The Noble Quran, 8:61)"

    "God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with
    those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you
    out of your homes. God loves just dealers. (The Noble Quran, 60:8 )"

    "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from
    error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the
    most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and
    knoweth all things. (The Noble Quran, 2:256)"

    The ones who did it were Pro Gathafi zionist thugs who wanted to create enmity between the NATO and the Libyan nation in Libya. Don't blame the entire nation for it! It was no more than a shoulder missile fired from a thug's shoulder into the embasy. The unfortunate happened. But don't blame the entire nation for it. The nation of Libya didn't do it. it wasn't a declaration of war, for instance. And the government of Libya apologized


    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Mainstream

      You're an idiot and a terrorist.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thezel

      Time to put down the joint dude, mommy and daddy are almost home, and you need to atill air out the house

      September 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • stephen l. walkinshaw

      i wipe my butt-hole every morning with either a pic of the pope or jesus or that invisible muslim guy, and i feel find,

      September 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Jack 3

      i know, and so was the 9-11 attcks done by the CIA. Our eyes lied to us when we saw two jets crash into these buildings.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • nick

      This is not a forum to teach people youf sick book ! why dont you teach yuor wife and childeren at home ...thats should be enough !

      September 12, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Allen

      Please remove your tinfoil hat. It is on to tight.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Davkar

      Read the Wiki explanation of why the twin towers collapsed.


      The building was never designed for even one floor to collapse. It was the compressed air from the collapsing floors above that blew out the windows lower down as the entire building collapsed. I wanted to believe in a conspiracy as well when it happened because the reality was unbelievable.

      I hope the even taller buildings erected since 9-11 are built to a better standard. There was very little margin for error in the Twin Tower's design unlike the Empire State Building which was "over engineered" = not designed to such a tight budget.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  13. Thezel

    uh, ok, i still don't get why they freak out about a picture of Mohammed. Hey, I got an idea! you don't want to see him, don't go to the movie.. instant peace

    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Thezel

      Actually what the mid-east/north africa need to do is legalize beer, bikinis, and rock music, and chill the f out.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  14. T. Philip

    I agree with the reader about trusting a snake than a muslim. Look what is a happening in Egypt. U.S gave billions of dollars in aid and they lived eating tons of wheat that we send them and now look what they are giving in return. It is like Hindus feeding snakes with Milk. America wake up.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Jane2u

      It would be like feeding a lamb to slaughter it later by a Christian.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Jane2u

      Hindus dont eat the snake. They worship it -as they do all nature and living beings -all forms of life, really and then let it go back to the wild. Besides the snakes don't actually drink milk -the charlatan snake charmers started this practice in order to fleece the public. Please do not insult a religion you obviously know nothing about.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  15. riabm60

    They are an outcast 2012 in the Islamic calendar is 1433.
    They do not believe in the Western world, they live in the year 1433 where violence and wars are being fought.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  16. GrampaSez

    This is such partizan nonsense, coming from LIBS who see no problem with finding something sacred to CHRISTIANS or JEWISH people, and INSULTING THAT.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Cobra

      wow...youre dumb.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  17. Abdi Wally

    I am a muslim. My heart goes out for these innocent individuals who lost their lives. I don't really fathom why a diplomat and his staffers who has nothing to do with this film should be murdered! As much as I would not like our prophet to be lied about, called every name in the book, but what I don't really get is why an innocent person be killed over this! I slam is not a cult, the values enshrined are as humane, kind, peaceful as those of the judeo-christian values. The road has been long to understand who is really the legitimate follower of Islam. Let us once and for all relect on the Sufi muslims from the Caucus to East Africa, From Macedonia to Indonesia. They followers are calm, composed, reserved, welcoming, patient and do not resort to violence. A nonmuslim would find easier to co-exist with them as opposed to the fanatical, radical oriented Salafis, Wahabis of the middle east.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Cobra

      Thank you.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Jane2u

      The only problem being that the Sunnis kill the Sufis. In fact, Sufi music is appreciated even by non Muslims like me -wish there were more people llke them and the broad minded Bahai's.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  18. Stephen A.

    What a great excuse to go on a killing rampage! Seriously, CNN, this blog post takes political correctness to new levels of absurdity.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  19. stephen l. walkinshaw

    50% of all wars have been caused by christians, muslims, jews. they promote hatred of all who are not like them. A world filled with people with not much more than just a fear of death, they like what they think is going to take them to another life after death, they will die for it. i wish ya'll would get a virus and die, so us with some intelligent thought would be able to live in peace and try to solve real problems, like hunger, cancer, property,.ect.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Cobra

      and the other 50% is cause by bigots and idiots like yourself who call for violent ends to the lives of people who are as ignorant as you. Way to go tough guy. =)

      September 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • GrampaSez

      Whoa! "christians, muslims, jews"...

      Which was MAO, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot?

      Or should I ignore you, as the LIB GENIUS DU JOUR?

      September 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • otter


      dude, you have no idea what you are talking about. name a single non-biblical war that was instigated by jews, and i will eat crow.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  20. W

    So instead of worshipping a man, they kill them. Something about that seems backwards, somehow...

    September 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • daooch

      Uh, that's actually the point. Men are not supposed to be worship; only God is to be worshipped.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:03 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.