The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Ali Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of Egypt.
By Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa
With the publication of yet another set of insulting cartoons against the Prophet of Islam, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are living through dangerous times, in which the world has becoming alarmingly polarized and obstinate. The current crisis has been precipitated by a number of factors. There is no one single cause to which we can point, in the hopes that eradicating it will magically solve our problems. Rather, this is a complex matter, involving the inability of each side to misunderstand the worldviews and commitments of the other. The particulars of the events of the past week are known to all, but the underlying causes are deeper and more intractable, and cannot simply be wished away.
To properly understand them necessarily means taking seriously the politics that obtain between Islam and the West at this point in history. It is naive to simply point to individual films, cartoons, or writings which explicitly seek to provoke and insult Muslims as the motivating cause of these conflagrations. Rather, one must keep in mind the many points of conflict between Muslims and Westerners that obtain all over the world today. One need only scratch the surface to uncover grave violations associated with the war on Iraq, regular drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, the treatment of often innocent Muslims in Guantanamo, the demonization of Muslims by far-right European parties and the banning of their symbols by European legislatures, and the conflict that has persisted for decades in Palestine. To turn a blind eye to these serious and enduring conflicts is to remain wilfully oblivious to the underlying factors which make coexistence and rapprochement between Islam and the West so difficult.
In such a context, to then insist on igniting these simmering tensions by publishing hurtful and insulting material in a foolhardy attempt at bravado – asserting the superiority of Western freedoms over alleged Muslim closed-mindedness – verges on incitement. Of all Muslim symbols, there is perhaps none more sacred than the Prophet Muhammad himself. Muslims can barely utter his name before their conscience obliges them to pray for God to bless him and grant him peace. Hundreds of millions of Muslims revere not only the Prophet, but the very city of Medina which he made his home, and ardently aspire to visit it at their first opportunity. It is no exaggeration to say that Muslims love the Prophet more dearly than their own selves, as the Qur’an characterizes them. To imagine then, crude representations of a man so dear to them is unbearable to the vast majority of Muslims.