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. Run A Mok

    To quote a revered Syrian poet:

    “The world holds two classes of men—intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence.”

    – Abu'l-Ala-Al-Ma'arri

    September 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Qman

      It's a quote!!! It must be true.

      September 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • What IF

      Sounds like a Syrian version of Mark Twain. Yay for wit and wisdom!

      September 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • What IF

      Ah, so, in looking him up, maybe Mark Twain was an American version of al-Ma'arri :):

      Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri (Arabic أبو العلاء المعري Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, full name أبو العلاء أحمد بن عبد الله بن سليمان التنوخي المعري Abū al-ʿAlāʾ Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sulaimān al-Tanūẖī al-Maʿarrī, born AD 973 / AH 363, died AD 1058 / AH 449) was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[1][2]

      He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth. –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ma%CA%BFarri

      September 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  2. oldbikerbeatch

    Who gives a ratzazz what Muslims think?

    September 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • ME II

      You mean other than the Ambassador to Libya and the ~2 million Muslims in the US.

      September 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • lankster48

      Exactly!!! Is anyone else tired of "walking on eggs" with these Islamic, Muslim ass*oles??? They only understand killing and death, lets give them what they understand the most!!!

      September 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • mike

      I agree.... lets get with getting energy independent and tell the entire middle east to go F itself

      September 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  3. Aristocles

    If their goal is to scare people out of depicting Mohammed, it is having the opposite effect.

    September 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Heywood

      Did they depict him as a pedophile or someone who performs oral on his goats sheep and camels?

      September 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  4. georgex

    These people have been isolated from access to free inquiry since the Prophet appeared. And in that closed society strict adherence to what the imams to tell them does not leave much of a choice. They meet punishment (social or physical) if they disobey not only in this life but they are told that they will suffer for eternity in hell for not doing so. They really believe this hoax.
    Now with modern communication they are getting outside information (ie, this film) whether true or not. Hopefully, with such exposure their societies will begin to come out of the Arab Dark Ages.

    September 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  5. nurhusien

    find cnn blog sit serves

    September 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  6. Bob


    September 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  7. Papaw Nick

    If Christians reacted this way to attacks on their beliefs the madia would openly condemn them day after day. With the media it is always open season on Christianity. CNN would never give any slack if this happening was by Christians. If the so called movie made fun of Christians the media would applaude.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      "If the so called movie made fun of Christians the media would applaud." They already do, and the ungodly mob is uploading it. But where are the Christian Taliban fighters? You don't see them?
      We know that our battle is the LORD's... The vengeance is mine, says the LORD. Our task is only to speak the truth and warn the ungodly of sin, righteousness and judgment. TH godless mob will rage, more as the time passes, but God has His own little ones that have to YET enter the fold!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      ....the ungodly mob is applauding it. But where are the Christian Taliban fighters? You don't see them!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • OTOH

      " But where are the Christian Taliban fighters? You don't see them?"

      They fight with words of fantasy, political and social pressure and supernatural threats.

      September 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  8. tarek

    These people are not Muslims! – THEY ARE FANATICS.


    September 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Heywood

      where? show me where they comdem this. why arent their voices louder?

      September 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  9. Lee Van Cleef

    they burn american flags, representations of our president, fire guns in the air, and scream death to america in mass gatherings. our response, nothing more than a few head shakes and we go about our lives. one person here makes a youtube video that is in poor taste depicting Mohammed, they react by storming our embassies and killing our ambassadors. yeah, that's rational!

    September 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm |




    September 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Reality

      Actually it time to condemn religious beliefs:

      As a starter to make it quick and painless:

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on religion to include Mormonism:

      • 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 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Reality

      Oops, make that: "Actually it is time to condemn religious beliefs."

      September 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • old ben

      It is precisely the time to point of the absurdity of all religion.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • old ben

      "point to", not "point of"

      September 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Qman

      @Reality: In an attempt to portray truth, and certainty through you're comment – you sure are using a lot of "Probable" terminologies.

      Open you're eyes son. You're not different than those who do believe.

      I must add, you said a lot of nothing in your comment as well.

      Thank you,


      September 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Reality

      As noted the "probable" only pertains to the existence of Abraham and Moses. For more details see below:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."


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

      September 14, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Reality


      Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

      "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As does Biden and Ryan)

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
      Some added references to "tink-erbells".


      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      For added information see the review at:


      September 14, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  11. PRISM 1234

    There is much more to rise of Islamism in times we're living in then what meets the eye!
    They are the scourge of God on ungodly Western nations, which have become god to themselves....arrogant , wise in their own eyes, given over to all sorts of ungodliness, not regarding to basic laws given to them by God, by which He instructed them how to live and keep their societies from being swallowed in darkness....
    He shone His light on them, giving them knowledge to know the difference between right and wrong, but they spurned His commandments and exalted themselves in futility of their own minds, throwing Him out of their midst. Yeah, one day with God is as thousand years, and thousand years as one day, so the rottenness can be hidden for a long time... But whatsoever man/nation sows, he/it will also reap!
    God will turn those who reject Him to the 'mercies' of their enemies, look for the pattern of His dealings with His people of old, Israel, how He dealt with them. And who are we that we would escape His judgment if we turn away... who can withstand the judgments of the LORD?

    September 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • .

      It's a Christian Taliban....RUN!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Bizarre

      What is the verified evidence that your fantasy scenario is real?

      September 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bizarre

      * my post was directed to PRISM

      September 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      No such thing as Christian taliban!
      If is "taliban", it is not Christian!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Ted

      PRISM, speaking of arrogance, people in most religions including your sicko Christian one claim that their people are chosen by god. Now THAT is the pinnacle arrogance.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • OTOH

      PRISM 1234
      "No such thing as Christian taliban!"

      It's a metaphor... you, as a bible person, should be an expert on that figure of speech, since you use it as a fall-back answer to your bogus/impossible stuff.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Ted, one day you will see that you were wrong!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Otoh, and you think that I don't know it?!

      September 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Qman


      You need to understand before you can make such a comment.

      If you did understand like you portray, then you would understand the fact that every person on this planet is a child of god.

      The people of Israel were chosen to house the son of our father, and the ones to uphold gods truth, but they turned their back on him, and killed him instead.

      It's really not that hard to understand, honestly.



      September 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    Hey Muslims! Do you really think people are going to start worshipping political cartoons because Mohammad is the butt of a joke? Fail! Get over it people.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  13. larry

    I don't think it shines a light on their sensitivities, I think it shines a light on their hatred and blood thirsty nature.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Muslim

      Bloodthirsty you say? and please dont tell me you are an american, supporting "our troops" that have killed or been the reason why over a whopping 132,000 civilians died in Afganistan and Iraq. all for a wild goose chase for 1 man, 132,000 people were killed because of america. Then why did we go to Iraq? anyone who is not closeminded and was following would have found out that this "Search for WMD's" in iraq was nothing but a scam for the US to squeeze more oil from iraq. we havent even begun to talk about the biggest and deadliest scam in history sponsored by the US, Israel. so think back a bit and tell me who the bloodthirsty people are

      muslims are normal people. every religion has its fanatics, and i would be very ignorant to label a an entire religious group based on the actions of a minority. thats like saying all french people are professional chefs just because u can

      September 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Qman

      Blood thirsty?


      Overly caring to the point where they will disobey their own religious guidelines – and kill people? Yes.

      September 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  14. Christian!

    the first amendment should be forced down the throats of every nation on the earth..The USA should lead the way at the point of a gun 🙂 🙂 🙂

    September 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  15. Edward

    Kissing a black stone howere is NOT idoltry.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  16. Trajk Logik

    Why get so riled up if the image depicting your prophet is made by un-believers, who know nothing about him? Why would the prophet give a damn about what some small little group of non-believers are doing, if your faith in him is so strong. It's all contradictory and a cover-up for the real reasons behind stoking the Islamic fire.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  17. Don N

    To the commenter who said that the Islamists are angry because they lost the holy war – look a little closer at history – What territory did they control when they started the holy war (12-13th century) and the territory they control now. they gained a lot of territory.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  18. BigBird Johnson

    I urinate on photos of the prophet mohammed. Muslims need to be desensitized. Everyone that treasures freedom should burn a Koran today.

    September 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • old ben

      I do as well. But TP is overpriced, so bibles are a great subst!tute. Psalms is the most like Charmin, by the way.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |

      there is no profit picture any where ???

      September 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  19. from akbar and jeff

    The Prophet has a message, Respect My Authoritah!

    September 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    i think the issue not the offensive movie itself but when some one trying to attack other culture or religion !
    its become a sensitive issue when some one not from the same religion culture or even country abuse other? thats where the problem is .
    and when you talk about muslims please remember there are more than billion and those are killing violating are really few uneducated people as a Muslim here in america i hope we get red of them soon and again very sorry for our ambassador family

    September 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Christian!

      In the United States religion is fair game .. see the first amendment... if your religion cant' take the heat then get our of the kitchen .. 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 2:57 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.