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. some one

    the violence is rejected from every one ,and every one has the right to say whatever he wants . But this does not mean insaulting others especially their prophet "Muhamed" . Demonstrators in Egypt are not semi-educated or radicals , they are angry with wrong and violent way. What happened in libya is an awful massacre and it is not accepted.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  2. mmi16

    Mohamad is worthy of scorn – as are the actions of his followers.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  3. Reality

    STOP THE PRESSES:–>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi––

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    (Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..)

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Reality

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on all religions in less than two minutes:

      • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  4. Mark from Middle River

    I love how they show a guy in the Middle East or Africa and he has the single machine gun held high as to stike fear. What's gun ownship in America these days?

    September 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  5. Jay

    If I'm not mistaken the history books says that Mohammed was all those things that this movie depicts and was in constant conflict with Jews and Christians.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  6. David

    It's understandable to be upset about a book burning in their own country, but what happens in the Western world is none of their business. We can insult and ridicule Islam all we want. This is not their country. We live in a FREE society, with Freedom of Religion. There is no such thing as blasphemy in a society that allows one to hold ANY religious position. It's not any of their business what we do in our country.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Run A Mok

      Freedom is speech is not protected in their country. So they can react however they want.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  7. chris

    Typical CNN, We have to understand these cavemen.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  8. HeavenSent

    Mohammad is burning in hell right now for not following Jesus' truth. The dog is licking Quran's but Mullah can't reach that far down to stop it. Satan Mohammad is expert at spreading lies to make you follow his lies about God. Read the bible and be saved from hell.


    September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for children and all living things

      So is there going to be a Battle of the Gods? Tonight only... 12 rounds to determine the absolute undisputed Supreme Being Championship of the Universe! Awww.... that would be so ultimately cool, but of course, the only real fighting that ever goes on comes from the idiot-savant followers... the ones that both proclaim that their god is MORE righteous and peaceful. The supposed all-knowing all-powerful gods are always no-shows when the fighting starts. The hantavirus has nothing on religion. Religion is extremely infectious and much more deadly. Religion is a disease of the mind. I sincerely hope science is working on a cure. .

      September 13, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  9. Mario

    It's murder and who did it should be punished but it's not what I'm hearing here, what I'm hearing is just hatred messages and bad words about islam. If you don't respect your father you know that it's wrong but by doing it over and over you will forget that it's wrong but if you someone who respect his father you will be angry as he is reminding you about it. Here you don't respect your god and you feel bad when people respect their prophet (muslims) and even they respect your god (who they consider a prophet) more than you do. That's all.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Rev. Jason

      So, Mario, you equate murdering people who offend you verbally or visually in some manner over your religious beliefs to be a form of "respect" for their prophet or someone else's prophet? Correct? So if I hear someone insult Buddha (according to your reasoning) I am ok if I then stab them over and over.... it's just a form of teaching "respect." You are insane.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, idiot thief, visit limitedEdisiontruth.com/blog.html and click on word Mohammad to open file, but turn off virus protection first.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Mario, many people in the civilized world are of the opinion that the peaceful majority of Muslims are peaceful *in spite of* Islam rather than *because* of Islam.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      @b4, anyone who reads the bible would have to necessarily come to the same conclusion about xtianity. It's the same god you both worship – a god of war.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  10. b4bigbang

    I wonder if anyone has ever done a testosterone level study on mid-easterners and compared the results with, say Scandinavians. It may be that elevated testosterone levels make these people violence-prone.
    One clue may be the fact that they appear to be more hairy than the lighter-skinned people.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • TheBob

      Lighter skinned people are / can be just as hairy. It's just that the hair being light-colored is not as visible.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      True, the hair thing may not be valid; still, I'd like to see such a study carried out...

      September 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • RyanS

      Low IQ study would be better for Muslims

      September 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Susette

      Yeah, Muslim testosterone is channeled into violence to compensate for their small penises

      September 13, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  11. John Bistasio Hillroy

    Why is it that Moslems, contrary to all the rest wage a war against any one depicting their prophet, surely if they believe that this is also unacceptable for other "prophets" such as Jesus and Moses who are regarded as prophets in Islam then according to Mohammed Majid's reasoning, the same Moslems should have also waged attacks on US embassies when the Da Vinci Code was shown in public , yet we have seen no such reaction. The real cause is of the fury is the lack of freedom of expression inherent in the culture which rejects and even incriminates anyone with different views.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, idiot thief

      September 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  12. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    ID absur diety of pagan God, thief Jesus denier of Mo ha mmad truth absolute Al, the La, limited, H, high Mohammad the Limited truth, essence of existence proven by Quran. for more for more visit limitisthetruth.com/blog.html and click on word Pro-Choice to open file, but turn off virus protection first.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, idiot thief.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  13. nick in california

    The way I see it, on December 21, 2012 all of this arguing will be for nothing. Maybe the Mayans had it right, and in 100 days we won't give a Sh-t.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism source of hindufilthyracism, for more for more visit limitisthetruth.com/blog.html and click on word Pro-Choice to open file, but turn off virus protection first.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • old ben

      Actually, the Mayans missed the point quite a bit. The Aztecs however, with a similar calendar, are correct, IMHO. The Aztec calendar has a crowned face in the middle with tongue hanging out. This is clearly a foretelling of the zombie apocalypse starting this year, coinciding with the diamond jubilee.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  14. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Rush Ra or Ru, the round, sh, the shame less, act of master butting, lim, the limitless baugh or bugh or bugg er, absurdity of a hindu Jew and a pig-dog Christian Al Ahmadinebinbad, filthy fat Limbaugh hindu self centered, for more for more visit rushisthetruth.com/blog.html and click on word Pro-Choice to open file, but turn off virus protection first.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, idiot thief. visit me at fatLimbaugh.com/blog.html and click on word Pro-Choice to open file.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  15. doug@bruttomesso.org

    People can be offended, but murdering 4 people, and not even those who made the film is not excused. Should people of the west give up their right to free speech just because people 10,000 miles away are offended? I think it makes more sense to just cut their access to the internet and all outside sources of media. If they can't handle the good with the bad, maybe they are not mature enough for any of it. Kind of like my kids. That way they wont be offend. Problem solved.

    BTW- Should I be offended when they burn the flag? Can I use the offense to kill someone? I am patriotic. Please!!!! Adults, and I know the majority of muslims fit this description, know how to respond to items that are offensive. You walk away and complain to the managment.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Speak good, if you want to open your mouth, or be ready to have your mouth busted. hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ID thief.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Speak good of Mohammad, if you want to open your mouth, or be ready to have your mouth busted.absurdity of a hindu, ID thief, denier of truth Quranplease visit me at visit limitedtruthisCNN.com/blog.html and click on word AndersonCooper360*.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  16. nottolate

    "Why Muslims decry prophet images"

    They don't know the answer to that themselves. If they did they'd realize they've had it all wrong all along and everybody would just go home with their head hanging.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  17. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Mullah, Mo, the Mohammad, Al, the La, limited, H, high Mohammad the Limited truth, essence of existence proven by Quran. The c-o-n-s-t- ant. visit http://www.limitedtruth.com/blog.html to learn more click on word Mohammad to open a file, but turn off virus protection first..

    September 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ID thief.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  18. Adam

    I'm notMuslim. I can draw pictures of Mohamed. If I was Muslim, I would adhere to the rules of Islam. I'm not Muslim, so I don't. It's that easy.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  19. Commojoe

    It just shows how nuts they truly are.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  20. Matt

    Wouldn't the same be true for naming your child Muhammad? Isn't this idol worship?

    September 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      word Mohammad means, spirit of truth, it has nothing to do with idol worship. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn more.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      oh yeah and turn off virus protection first..

      September 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Keep hindu filthy virus out for good health of your computer.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:00 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.