Imam in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
(A graduate of al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt)
[The translator's note: This self-critical and introspective short essay, authored by a Bosnian Imam who graduated from al-Azhar University, caught my attention by its unique combination of self-reflection and a call to (in)action. This type of essay is common in Bosnian Islamic discourse. The essay was published in "Preporod" (Renewal), a Bosnian Islamic biweekly newspaper. It has recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and is currently edited by Senada Tahirović, the newspapers' first female editor. Preporod publishes news articles about the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, essays and reflections by Bosnian scholars and Imams, translations of essays from various world languages, and many other interesting pieces. It's in the Bosnian language so its reach is limited to the former Yugoslavia. It's truly a remarkable publication, a testament to the vitality of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Southeastern Europe. - ES]
In the last several years, we are witnessing how the European media, from time to time, publish cartoons that instigate anger among the Muslim population. Very often, the timing of those cartoons coincides with the time when Muslims are preparing for welcoming the Islamic month of Rabi' al-Awwal, the month of the Prophet's SAW birth. The very timing of these publications, during the period when the Muslims remember their Prophet even more intensely and when they are trying to make his teachings and beauty closer to the people, give us the right to suspect that they are targeting the Muslim reaction, as if to say: "Look, such are the Muslims! This is their violent religion. This is what their prophet taught them."
And so, every time during the month of Rabi' al-Awwal, instead of the celebration of the Prophet's Sunnah, we see the month of violent demonstrations, murders, calls for the boycott, and the opportunity to score cheap points among the Muslim masses. It is important to mention that, in spite of the Prophet's description in the hadith corpus, there is no single image that would truly tell us how the Prophet looked. The Prophet did not allow his image to be created, although there were drawers and painters in Madinah, probably out of fear that the young Muslim community may stumble in credal matters, as was the case with the Christians and their attitude toward 'Isa (Jesus) a.s.
We can then say that no cartoon, or a picture, can represent Muhammad SAW. In our violent reaction, and by calling for murder, we are actually agreeing that the cartoon represents Muhammad SAW. That cartoon, or any other picture, can never be my Prophet! My and our Prophet is his life-example, what he did and asked us to do. Besides, Allah SWT swears in the Qur'an not by the Prophet's image, but by his life: "By your life, [O Muhammad], indeed they were, in their intoxication, wandering blindly." (Al-Hijr, 72) Unfortunately, the Muslims have made a cartoon out of the Prophet's life, instead of following it and practicing its teachings.
We are endlessly quarreling and dividing ourselves, although the Prophet SAW - as "the walking Qur'an" - taught us the values of harmony and brotherhood. Today, the Muslims are most illiterate, percentage-wise, although the Prophet's SAW first revealed message was, "Read (learn, study)!" The Prophet was the example in how to treat a wage-earner and stressed that s/he should be fairly compensated for her/his efforts before the sweat even dries [as in a well-known hadith - ES]. Today, though, many of those whose outward appearances and titles indicate belonging to Islam treat their workers like slaves. As a result of our overall attitude toward Islam, which we treat as a sum-total of slogans and outward appearances, we have turned the Prophet's teaching into a cartoon, and for that reason, the cartoons hit us hard. In fact, those cartoons cannot represent the Prophet, but they can probably represent the contemporary Muslim situation.
A Muslim who understood the teachings of his/her Teacher [the Prophet SAW - ES] would act in line with the behavior of a famous scholar, Muhammad al-Sha'rawi (d.1998). One time, Shaykh al-Sha'rawi was asked about a book that insulted the Prophet SAW. He answered, "I did not read it, nor will I read it." The journalist followed up, "But the whole world is talking about this book, our respected shaykh." "My dear child," replied Shaykh al-Sha'rawi, "Allah tells us in the Qur'an: "And indeed Allah has sent down to you in the Book that whenever you hear the signs of Allah being rejected or being made fun of, do not sit with those people, until they engage in some other conversation; or you too are like them; undoubtedly Allah will gather the hypocrites and the disbelievers, all together, into hell." (Al-Nisa', 140)
The polytheists used to compose insulting poems against the Prophet but none of those came down to us because Muslims refused to transmit them or talk about them. They acted according to the advice of 'Umar (RA), "Destroy the falsehood with your silence." (أميتوا الباطل بالسكوت) In other words, do not promote it by reacting to it and talking about it!
Source: Preporod, November 15, 2020 (https://www.preporod.com/)