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. Atheism Is Healthy for Humans, But Not for Any Other Living Things Since No Other Living Things Give a $H|T Whether There Is a Magical Sky Fairy


    September 12, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Yep


      September 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  2. History Lesson

    From Wikipedia regarding the Barbary Wars with North Africa:
    In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). Upon inquiring "concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury", the ambassador replied:
    It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy's ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Sund's more like hinduism, stink of a hindu, skunk than history lesson.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      not a cool story bro, it has no aliens...

      September 12, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  3. Larry

    Yes, Islam is the religion of peace. And if you offend a Muslim, they'll kill you to prove it.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      The peace of the dead, the enslaved, the oppressed, the ignorant.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  4. Shaq

    Every one should respect each other religion. We should be united as american. Outsider netaneyahu or asif jardari no one need to give us advice. Pls keep religion and god away from nasty politics whether u christian, muslim, sikh , hindu or buddhist

    September 12, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • saggyroy

      "Every one should respect each other religion." – Sorry, no can do.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan

    Destroying The World In War
    The 11th Anniversary of 9/11

    By Paul Craig Roberts

    You only have to know two things. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article32421.htm

    September 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  6. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    A hungry dog always thinks of food before every thing else, and you are no different hindu, ignorant. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      A hotdog is the Muslims favorite food, you are no different than Hindu cow tippers. Visit saladandchips.com to learn more about your fathers favorite past time.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Only by Christianity absurdity of a Christian, Christian and pagan. Filthy Christian Captain Crunch dog. Filthy pagan islam pig dog. Filthy Randy Jackson dog. Filthy hebrew national pig dog. no dogs! who let them be out? Quran means nothing else but path of triple abdullah absolute quantified. please visit ahmadinebinpaid.com/blog.html and click on word Choice to open file. But turn virus protection off before

      September 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      System delete 32

      September 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      your hindu filthy mother was not Favorited pass time of my father, hindni, moral less you call your mother.visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  7. Basudan

    This movie shows religion racism

    September 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Religion deserves all the mockery we can give.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Mockery maybe worked back in the day when we had maybe one or two world news sources and outlets. Now each side is able to insulate themselves with more and more people that feel that they are right. What you are doing is preaching to the choir because you can not ridicule anyone who has millions of folks all saying that they are right and you are the foolish one. This is why I fear a severe flash point with many subgroups in society.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Mock from Park it on my Middle Finger

      Ha, ha, mark is tryin ta make this about how people feel about what other people feel because of what they feel when other people feel what they feel. How stupid is he?

      September 12, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  8. Nicky

    The sword Jesus spoke of is a symbol of what happens to people when they become a follower, its not a actual sword. It will divide famiilys and friends and people when someone chooses to become a diciple/follower/Christian.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      No one cares. The bible is full of garbage just like the Koran. Religion is stupid.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • saggyroy

      I love how you guys interpret the bible as to what is symbolism and what is literal to conveniently support your positions. Now you want to make it sound like Jesus was talking about a figurative sword in contrast with the violence by the Muslims.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  9. saggyroy

    My respect for religion is on par with my respect for someone who believes Elvis is still alive.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Ting

      Thank you...thank you very much.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  10. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    hindu islam, deniers of truth Absolute Mithra ism, non-hindu ism 360° Truth Absolute (PBUH) the only way ism. Islam from gutter land Middle East, desert $h|+ hole not worth $h|= but for the oil underneath the sand. hindu racist islam gutter slumdog fools follow false prophet moohammed, pedophile hindu of hinduistic hinduism, false prophet maker-upper of false religion, denier of Truth Absolute that no god(s) exist ever in time and space, anti matter ism and dark matter ism.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Oh, man! I forgot "absurdity!"

      September 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism absurdity of a hindu, absurd.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  11. Iqbal Khan

    Washington's Double-take at the Non-Aligned Movement Revival

    By Thierry Meyssan

    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly gave advice to the United states: free yourself of Israeli influence, defend your own interests and cease discrediting yourself by your support for Israeli crimes. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article32426.htm

    September 12, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  12. Basudan

    There are more than one billion Muslim around the world and you are saying Islam isn't true religion, think you re drunk

    September 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Rev. Jason

      I offer a little experiment for Muslims and Christians.

      The top 5 Muslim concentrations (700 million = 1/2 of world Muslim population) live in: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt.

      The top 5 Christian concentrations are: Europe, North America, Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

      Here is the experiment: 5 Christians go to a major city in each of the 5 Christian dominated concentrations and stand outside a major (3000+ member) church and as the people get out of church, they stand there wearing a shirt with Jesus on it and insulting words below it (like: Jesus is a d o u c h e) while standing on top of Bible. See what happens.

      Now 5 Muslims go to a major city in each of the 5 Muslim concentrations and stand outside a major (3000+ member) mosque and as the people get out of the mosque, they stand there wearing a shirt with Mohammed on it and insulting words below it while standing on top of a Quran. See what happens.

      Both groups make sure to film it. Then do it with 19 more groups (total of 100 of each religion) and we will see if both are equally moderate and tolerant.


      September 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • saggyroy

      McDonalds has sold as many hamburgers as there are stars in our galaxy. What's your point?

      September 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  13. GaryB

    The proper, civilized response if you see an ultra low budget movie on YouTube mocking your faith is to produce an ultra low budget movie mocking the film and post it on YoutTube. If you are so insecure about your faith (this goes for Christians as well as Muslims) that a poorly made film that no one is watching on YouTube is enough to set you off, perhaps you need to examine your beliefs and ask yourself why your own faith is so weak.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • GethetruthW


      September 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  14. Ted Ward

    According to article, in effect the whole world has to walk around on eggshells for fear of physical violence from muslim "sensitivity" if heaven forbid someone dares to make an image of the profit. People (typically women and or children) living in a household under such fearful conditions are said to be by clinical definition living in an abusive situation and could be placed in a shelter under the courts protection. Well, there is no nearby planet for a safe haven for victims of this kind of abuse, I.e. most of the human race. So we just have to realize that this whole situation is unacceptable and immoral. Muslims are idolizing a truly stupid and ignorant and false tradition and are making people pay with their lives. It's high time the rest of the Muslim-abused world stands up for itself and rejects this victim hood and clearly and pugnaciously says "Enough!". And "No more!". We aren't going to take it anymore. Muslims need to stop bullying themselves and the rest of the world now. The US president needs to grow a pair and employ his Harvard intellect and see the daylight and clearly call Muslims out on their violence and abuse.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  15. Mark Silvers

    Why don't we say HE looks like Charlie Brown.....

    September 12, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  16. kurtinco

    Why are we still pretending that islam is a real religion? At worst, it's a cult. At best, a political movement. Regardless, it rationalizes violence, encourages intolerance, and survives by virtue of a mostly illiterate, uneducated congregation not likely to be able to read the propaganda that is the Koran let alone question or interrupt it for themselves.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      All religeons are cults.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Only by hinduism, absurdity of a hndu, ignorant. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • saggyroy

      ALL RELIGION IS WONDERFUL: If it isn't the Muslims, it's the Catholic priests, if it isn't the priests, it's the Westboro Baptist Church, if it isn't Westboro, it's Northern Ireland, if it isn't Northern Ireland, it's Tibetan monks immolating themselves, if it isn't someone bombing an abortion clinic.......

      September 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • joejet

      Kinda sounds just like every other brand of mythology out there...

      September 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  17. Drink my Kool-aid

    Religion is retarded.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  18. Jesus

    Oh please! Muslims can get OVER IT! Tired of double standards when it comes to islam!

    September 12, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Basudan

    Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him WASN'T a pedophile he just get married to 9 years old girl but he NEVER slept with her tell she gets 15 years and become a woman and the reason is because he wants her to memories his action and move TRUE ISLAM to the next generation after the prophet died and because.And of course every Muslim around the world don't agree with what happened for Americans that killed in libya and those people Don't represent Islam or muslims. ISLAM AGaINST VIOLENT

    September 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • thelastonestanding

      leave these outdated thoughts out of the 21st century. All religion (please read) ALL religion is outdated, dangerous, limiting, harmful, hateful. There are no more excuses. All religion lives in the past never in the present. The world needs to be free of religion in order to maintain civility and peace. If Islam is able to lift the veil off their own lies, this world would be a better place.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Paul

      Wow! That;s your defense?!? First off, she was 6 when they were married, and consummated the marriage when she was 9!! But let's just use your ages. Do you think a 40 year old man should marry a 9 year old girl?!?! And then consummate when she is 15?!? That's OK? I don't think so!

      The similarities between Islam and Mormonism are amazing. Both allow multiple wives. Both "prophets" received visions from Angels. Both said the Scriptures were corrupted and they had the final Holy Scripture.

      Galatians 1:6-8
      6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

      2 Corinthians 11:12-15
      12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

      Wake up world! End religion now! And start a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus. Very simple.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  20. AvgJoe123456

    If they were truly secure about their faith in the so called religion of peace, no criticism , picture,cartoon, or burning, ripping of pages or fouling of the quran would upset them. If it rains and they get wet its because they are muslim and is cause for jihad and mass murder. Get over it for crying out loud! Its just a book, a picture, and words. Books can be replaced, if a picture or cartoon offends you don't look at it, words can only upset you if you let them. If you let those petty things upset you and turn you into a mad dog in the name of your faith then its time to learn "Live and Let Live". before you give your faith another black eye.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      why you do not give a short speech to tell doing hinduism, wrong, not to do it, than to give long speech to victim of hinduism, wrong to justify criminality of a hindu, criminal. hindu ignorant. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 9:20 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.