The cartoon, the prophet and suburban radicals

This week’s Zapiro cartoon in the Mail & Guardian depicting the Prophet Muhammad has turned into a test, a sort of unsolicited opportunity for Muslims to think about what they believe, why they believe it, and how to go about fighting for it.

I’ve had to ask myself these same questions today.

There is nowhere in the Qur’an or Hadith that says the Prophet Muhammad cannot be portrayed as an image. It is a belief that has come about through tradition, somewhere in Islamic history.

Yet certain members of the Muslim community find the need for death threats and abusive phone calls to express their anger. It baffles me why people who claim to be so staunch about their religion have no qualms about swearing at people, something that is condemned in Islam. It’s embarrassing, really. They don’t react this way when Jonathon Shapiro takes stabs at the Pope, or Jewish rabbis. That’s okay, it seems.

However, I do think, though, that Shapiro might have shot himself in the foot. A cartoon that highlights and pokes fun at ridiculous religious fanatics, people who the Qur’an treats with disdain, has now had its content completely overlooked. The focus has shifted in an almost irrelevant direction. Or maybe that was his point. I haven’t asked him.

I wish this minority (I hope) of the Muslim community will see that they’re doing it again. They’re freaking out, and feeding into the stereotype of radicalism that has so hurt Islam over the past decade.

At the end of the day, my thoughts from all my identities, a journalist, a Muslim and a Muslim journalist, converge on one point: there is a way to go about expressing anger at alleged disrespectful acts, without hypocrisy and without abuse. This is where some Muslims are going wrong, and this is why no one is taking them seriously.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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