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. leo p.

    Whats wrong with the american politians today. They speak out loud & clear. When Ali is offended, but when these same people kill us all.they won't be happy .So as an american I'm offened by these animals & what they stand for. So when an animal is sick you put them down. You don't reason with a rabbit dog, you put them down. So for all you libiral americans out there, Wake up kill them all before its to late, this means you.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Damocles


      I guess I'd be mad at my rabbit dog if it chased birds, but I don't think I'd sink so low as to kill the poor thing.

      September 14, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      Tell the truth – you needed help spelling l-e-o just to log-in, didn't you ?

      September 14, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  2. PAUL


    September 14, 2012 at 6:02 am |
    • Let's be reasonable and grow-up! To all the extremists

      Get a clue! God nor Mohammed need someone to defend them and definitely not with acts of capturing innocent people, torturing them and killing them. These people are what they are-barbarians! Also, people who use their mental sensitivities or limitations as an excuse to kill other people are really the terrorists. If this was the case in Christianity then we would see 100's and 1000's of these episodes alone in the USA for all the controversial depictions of Jesus and the Christian faith. The governments of these countries are also to blame. They give more lip service then anything else in helping westerners-especially to Americans. You come to our USA and study in our fine universities, take drink of alcohol and womanize and then go back to your pathetic little lives in these extremist Islamic countries and act all righteous. Get over it!

      September 14, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  3. Lolita

    "World War Three is to be fomented by using the differences the agentur of the Illuminati stir up between Political Zionists and the leaders of the Moslem world. The war is to be directed in such a manner that Islam (the Arab World including Mohammedanism) and Political Zionism (including the State of Israel) will destroy themselves while at the same time the remaining nations, once more divided against each other on this issue, will be forced to fight themselves into a state of complete exhaustion physically, mentally, spiritually and economically. " Albert Pike- written in 1871

    Can any unbiased and reasoning person deny that the intrigue now going on in the Near, Middle, and Far East is designed to accomplish this devilish purpose?

    Dont swallow the kool-aid people. Wake up.

    September 14, 2012 at 5:47 am |
    • Amniculi

      Why would Albert Pike – whoever that is – be talking about World War III, when in 1871 World War I hadn't even happened yet? I call BS!

      September 14, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  4. Altee11

    Stop this. This article comes across as saying two things.
    Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood represent all Muslims.
    That all Muslims believe in what al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood have to say.
    This is bad reporting, bad writing. It is nonsense.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • saggyroy

      They all take their instruction from the Quran.

      September 14, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  5. mediafreek

    I just want say that did anyone hear that a Muslim burn Bible or said anything against Jesus or depicted Jesus in immoral way. No because every Muslim respect other religions and Prophets. if they say anything against other religions or Prophets they will punished hereafter. So it is some anti Islam Christian and jews who make jokes with Islam like Quran Burning, Making Cartoons etc.
    I think they are the terrorist. Because they hurt Muslims with their action and words.

    September 14, 2012 at 2:13 am |

      1Jo 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 1Jo 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:17 am |
    • Damocles


      I would think that making cartoons has less of a chance of causing violence than making bombs.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • herry

      muslims just kill people dont burn bible.....just like they did this time....

      September 14, 2012 at 5:37 am |
  6. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    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 |

      Explain time.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  7. Tanya Karim

    It just goes to show how little the movie makers know about Islam , and just wanted to sensationalize their movie , knowing fully well that touching upon a subject like religion in a derogatory way is bound to spark off negative reactions. Ignorance is bliss --but when it comes to ignorant people, blatantly flaunting ignorance in the name of artistic liberties--with little heed for anything else but commercial gain--then I guess all I’d like to say is that this is just a view of a handful of people and instead of reacting violently, Muslims should protest in a peaceful way, and find solutions to counter the wrongly depicted concept about Islam-not behave in a manner so as to prove right the idea of Mulslims as violent and oppressive.

    September 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Apparently yhey know alot about Islam, just not about making movies.

      September 14, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  8. Pradyumna Bharadwaj

    This also shines light on the violent nature that brews in them. Not just the terrorists but the common people too

    September 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  9. donner

    Wow. I see a whole new level of stupid here. So someone makes a video that they KNOW will get people killed. But they do it anyway. And people are screaming about freedom of speech. arabs don't believe in freedom of speech. Middle East ain't America. Hundreds of American troops have been killed in similar instances. So what is the point of making the video?? Sure, their beliefs are stupid, but they are killing people for them. Make more videos, they kill more people. What is the friggiin' point?? Do we end the earth over this stupid sh-t?? Just knock it off.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Well you get to rant on CNN, but people can't make movies?

      September 14, 2012 at 6:33 am |
  10. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    help help someone help my Muhammed, he is burning in Hell for banging a six years old. Please show some mercy on my Muhammed.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu ID thief, FOR CAUSE OF THIS CONFLICT AND OTHERS PLEASE VISIT http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu ID thief, FOR BANG BANG 8==> (__!__) PLEASE VISIT http://www.limitedtruth.com/blog.html and click on word Aisha-a-nine-years-old-victim-of-Muhammed. Absurdity of Hindu, Jews, Christian, pig-dog.

      September 14, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  11. gliese 42

    Its sad that Christians are treated badly in Arabian nations but when its something about them the President will apologize

    September 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • old ben

      I believe it is up to him to appease Christians with the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" treatment. But, on the other hand, maybe it truly comes from his Christian conscience. Of course from the other side of some Christians' mouths you will hear them declare that the president is not a Christian. Such a fork-tongued lot. Still, the Repubs are much scarier on the religion front.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  12. VoteGutierrez

    On the anniversary of 9/11 we lost our Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens to a bunch of terrorists that murdered him using the excuse that a little known YouTube video called "Innocence of Muslims" was to blame. The angry mob of terrorists that did this evil act of killing Ambassador Stevens along with three other Americans claim that this online movie is blasphemy and portrays the Prophet Mohammed in a negative light. But there is definitely a double standard when it comes to attacking America and our religious views. Yes we have freedom speech and that allows many people to have a different point of view on any issue. A perfect example is the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon".

    I sure Mormons don't like this show production. Should Mormon's everywhere around the world start a riot and kill foreign diplomats and burn down there Embassy's? Of course not! We have a civilized society that understands and values freedom of speech. So I can only conclude from my many years of observing fundamental Islamic Muslims in the international media as rabid dog like animals with no self control over their emotions with an ultra sensitive mentality that can not stand a single challenge or that questions there religious beliefs. It's as if their little world would imploded if one little negative remark were to offend them as to striking them down with a fatal blow to their thinly veiled façade of Muslim enlightenment.

    September 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  13. AvdBerg

    The unrest and attacks on US Embassies is a culmination of the rising tensions and deep-rooted hatred amongst civilizations in a divided world (Matthew 12:25,26). For a better understanding of the history of Islam and the Middle East we invite you to read the articles ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’, ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation??? Everyone knows that someone was high as a kite to write that mess. I think is was St. John the Opium Addict.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Name*

      Dont decieved yourself st john wasnt under any drug.we christains operate in d power of God that's why we dont have to fight for our Lord.DAVINCI CODE never caused any reaction in d christain circle but why always d muslims.is ur god incapacitated to need help.i just wish u all knew your place without JESUS.I think d hottest part of hell with your 7 virgins.recieve Jesus and find peace & salvation for souls on d last day. Islam wont save you!

      September 14, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Amniculi

      Name*, religion is the opiate of the masses.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  14. 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 tell them doesn't leave much freedom to choose. 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.but there is hope now with modern communication they are getting outside information (ie, this film) where true or not. Hopefully, with such exposure their societies will begin to come out of the Arab Dark Ages.

    September 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  15. John J

    All praise mohamed the prophet, lol. Now come get me you neanderthals!

    I don't care if it was the movie that made them mad or a terrorist group planned it, because that was yesterday and today it is everyday muslims that are burning and rioting. Showing their true colors and acknowledging their support to the groups we call terrorist - which they call allies.


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        ヽ!!l::.”⌒`.:i i::’⌒`ヾ.!!|iiiヽ../
         ;〈..⊂・⊃| |:⊂・⊃.:::〉iii/      
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         `lir…. /(,,∪,,)\…Yiiii/
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      _/ヽ ,;lllllllllllllllllllllll; |  |…..|\_
     ::::;| ヽヽ,illlllllllllllllllllllll!゙.|  |::::::|::

    September 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Mony

      About the so called film against humanity ( by the way we are part of it)
      Ignorant, irresponsible, and far from the reality of a great philosopher, religious, leader, and icon for many countries, cultures, and people from all over the world. One has to admit that whoever produced this piece of trash thought in depth of the consequences, and or repercussions this film would cause. The "producers" of this film are racists, anti-American anti-democratic, but they are also terrorists in many ways. Terrorist is not only he who kills with a weapon innocent people. Terrorist is he who manipulates fear, and creates intense, animosity, panic confusion, hate and unfounded animosity against others, and ultimately causes death.
      They (producers of this trash) knew that the majority of the common people lack the knowledge about the civil rights respected in USA and real the meaning of "freedom of speech”. These pseudo-film makers are terrorists; they are preying in the ignorance of the common Middle Eastern people, and in their deep respect for their roots, traditions and believes. Terrorists because their intent was, and is criminal, and their actions provoked rage from the muslin people of the world; now the American people: a well calculated ripple effect.
      On the other hand, one can only see an evil hand motivating rage against our President in elections time. Smart move on their part! Their purpose is clear to many of us. Let’s pause for a minute and look @ the evidence.
      One does not stop wandering what corrupted people are willing to create in order to achieve their twisted objectives worldwide. These so called "mysterious producers" should be punished, due to their criminal intent; they knew exactly what could happen, it was a calculated move; well thought.
      Unfortunately this senseless action will backfire on us; regulations, restrictions, & repression of our freedoms could easily arise from this. I just hope some intelligent people involved in defending: us the people, find and punish these instigators with the full weigh of the law, and perhaps could find out who? or what organization is really behind this.
      Like in many outrageous cases (Kennedy, Martin Luther king Jr. etc)more likely we will never know the truth.

      September 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • John J

      I don't thin the film caused the killings, but it certainly was used as propaganda that has since caused the rioting. However the point here that we cannot lose sight of is that civilized countries do not behave this way. Do not murder and riot without a truly just cause, which exercising freedom of speech should never be.

      And no we will not persecute the film makers, actors, producers or others because they have the right to express themselves as they please in the United States and many other CIVILIZED countries.

      When you understand that then you have taken your first step towards progressive and productive evolution and can join the rest of us in this current century.

      Hope to see you there.

      September 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  17. John

    All praise mohamed the prophet, lol. Now come get me you neanderthals!

    I don't care if it was the movie that made them mad or a terrorist group planned it, because that was yesterday and today it is everyday muslims that are burning and rioting. Showing their true colors and acknowledging their support to the groups we call terrorist - which they call allies.


        /         .. \
       /  /      \\.. \、
       | //  .____ 丶   ヽ
       |   ./      \ \ ヽ|
       ヽ/ /::..,,,,,.   ,,,,,,.::.\  ヽ|
        ヽ!!l::.”⌒`.:i i::’⌒`ヾ.!!|iiiヽ../
         ;〈..⊂・⊃| |:⊂・⊃.:::〉iii/      
         \!!, …//| |ヾ\…..:,;;iii/ 
         `lir…. /(,,∪,,)\…Yiiii/
          ;;llllllllllilllllllllilllllii;  \
         /;llllllllllllllllllllllllll;ヽ  |\
      _/ヽ ,;lllllllllllllllllllllll; |  |…..|\_
     ::::;| ヽヽ,illlllllllllllllllllllll!゙.|  |::::::|::

    September 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Every hindu filthy dog hind's behind behind his hindu filthy master, and you are no different, involved in hinduism, barking behind internet, hindu, filthy child of hinduism, incest. VISIT http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn to be human than to be hindu rabid dog.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      my Muhammed loves young virgin (__o__) absurdity of hindu ID thief dogs, rush limbaugh denier of truth fat filthy Hindu pig. visit my link for BANG! BANG!

      September 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  18. niknak

    Hey muslims......
    Phuck mohammad.
    Phuck allah.
    And phuck you too.

    Now go out and burn your neighborhoods and neighbor's house down and prove to the rest of us how you are just backward uneducated goat herders who like all fundies believe in a stone age myth but will kill to show us just how much you love your fairy tale.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  19. ScottCA

    Islam is a hateful dangerous religion that cannot be tolerated.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      And you can kiss every hindu's hind, to be holy with your hindu filthy man God, RAM, married to his sister.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      and oh yeah, our Muhammed was banging 6 years old. attaboy Muhammed.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  20. terri young

    I f
    elt so bad when I heard the comments from Mr Romney & Mr McCain shame on you both!!!!!!! you dont go againstt your fellow Americans when other Americans are being killed. Fight together not seperate for our haters to see the divide remember this is the " UNITED " States of America

    September 13, 2012 at 6:17 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.