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Picturing the prophet: your response

Mail & Guardian readers have flooded us with letters about Zapiro’s cartoon on the Prophet Muhammad published on Friday May 21.

Visit our special report: Zapiro and the Prophet, for more comments, background and reaction.

The depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and for that matter all the Prophets in any form is unacceptable. It is simply against Islamic belief. The M&G‘s approach of first publishing the Zapiro cartoon (May 21) and then engaging in discussions displays arrogance, disregard and disrespect to the Muslim community.

The paper was fully aware, by its own account, that it would upset the community, but went ahead to provoke anger and hatred, all in the name of “freedom of speech”. Does human dignity, religious sacredness and unity between the communities of our country come second to freedom of speech? Or perhaps the real issue here is fiscal gain.

We are on the eve of the biggest sporting event our continent has ever witnessed, with the eyes of the world on us, and instead of promoting a united South Africa and Africa, publishers are looking to incite anger, create division and portray our country in a negative light. Surely the paper should be more responsible in its actions? — Mohammed Abba

Your conduct has been that of a pimp with Zapiro the prostitute, so that your newspaper’s circulation would go a bit up, having recently crashed, it seems. You knew Muslims would be up in arms. I put it to you that Zapiro came up with that cartoon at your behest to stir up controversy. The alleged threats of violence (allegedly) aimed at you and Zapiro must have dramatically increased circulation of the M&G. If this is furthering freedom of expression, I doubt any court of law would entertain such a spurious claim! — Saber Ahmed Jazbhay

I’ve added two new superheroes to my list of outstanding citizens of South Africa. First, Zapiro, for testing and pushing the limits of freedom of expression and, second, Nic Dawes, for having the courage to print Zapiro’s cartoon of Prophet Muhammad.

I heard Ferial Haffajee, former editor of the M&G and a Muslim, on the radio, explaining that as an editor and if confronted with Zapiro’s cartoon she would have resigned rather than decide whether to publish it.

To me this is a cop-out. But it’s still acceptable compared to the apology Haffajee tendered to Muslims four years ago when she was confronted with the same problem after publishing those Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. I remember thinking at that time: “What a wimp, why didn’t she resign instead of apologising?” — Fayzal from Mayfair

Please do not apologise for the cartoon. — Samantha Cowell

I think the M&G and Zapiro are both being used as tools to whip up mass hysteria in a possible protest against modernity and its accompanying respect for human rights and freedoms.

Zapiro’s cartoon reflecting on a lack of humour of some of the Prophet’s followers seems to prove his point. This either shows ignorance — or worse — hypocrisy.

How can it be accepted that Muslims do not allow pictures to be drawn of their Prophet when Islam is the proud possessor of an ancient tradition of such religious pictures? One such shows Muhammad before the Spirit of Abraham from The Night Journey of Muhammad. It was painted in Afghanistan by Mir Haydar in 1436 — the same country in which the Taliban protesting against images blew up centuries-old Buddhas. Equally beautiful pictures were painted in Iran, in Turkey and in India, in countries ruled by the Qur’an and by Muslim princes.

How can one claim Islamophobia when a non-Muslim artist draws a picture of the Prophet if Muslims artists do the same? This double standard appears to be a deliberate attempt to stir up this community, using a false interpretation of its own scriptures and history, in order to weaken the teachings of religious and cultural diversity and constitutional freedoms that are thankfully now part of South Africa’s culture. — CJ Thorne, Cape Town

Like many Muslims, I am hurt at the insensitivity of the M&G. I do not dispute the freedoms of democracy or the media, but publishing such a cartoon is a deliberate and desperate act of provocation. It only serves to promote an animalistic existence where everything is fair game.

Nevertheless, part of me is grateful that you have made such a grave error of judgement. It has given us the opportunity to prove that, despite common misconceptions, we are not violent and are capable of exercising restraint despite this ultimate provocation. Our response in the future will be as passionate and loud as this has been. Thank you for strengthening our resolve. — Dr Muhammad Chohan

Zappiro u are one dumb f…ing hero. Oh sorry thats my freedom of speech hope u not offended but if u are its ok because its your constitutional right to feel like a prick. Why pick on us muslims? To those that believe that jesus is the son of god and is god phew! Not your fault its because u got so many bibles that u not sure which is right. As for the jews at one time i thought that hitler was the work of the devil. But after this i believe he could have been the holy trio that was saving the world from a virus like u. This article shows to all non muslims how tolerant we muslims are that even a judge of our kind respected the mail and guardians decision to publish the article and if u go against your bible and eat pork then thats your problem u will answer for it. i think i should paint a picture of hitler on a cross and draw the jews carrying him while the christians prostate to the cross and us muslims sit in a soccer stadium with our south african flags cheering the confused on because its our constitutional right. Mr zappiro i think that u earned yourself the right to be stoned to death. dont be amongst the hated because the burning coals of hell awaits you. — Imraan Shaik

Precedent makes it certain that Zapiro’s cartoon will engender wild-eyed, mouth-foaming, flaring-nostril denunciations. Only speech that advocates hatred and that constitutes incitement to cause harm is prohibited by the Constitution. A victimless “crime” such as the representation of a holy figure does not meet that criterion. Who is harmed? Surely not an omnipotent deity. That would be a paradox too far for even the most deranged zealot.

What is profoundly offensive is for any group to impose their values on the rest of the world and to censor anything that offends their delicate religious sensibilities. On what grounds do they claim a universal right to be arbiters of what is allowed or disallowed? It may come as a surprise to some to learn that not everyone is fossilised in an 11th-century time warp, helpless in the clutches of tribal superstition.

South Africa is a secular democracy, where religious beliefs do not enjoy a sacrosanct immunity from criticism, and especially from satire. Thank God for that. — Laurence Berman, Pretoria

Zapiro’s sense of humour is disgusting. He depicts the Prophet lying on a couch and gives him an old-man look. In fact no one in living memory knows or can visualise what he looked like. Muslims can only imagine that he was a handsome man and friendly, kind, gentle and soft-spoken. What we see in the cartoon simply misrepresents the looks of the Prophet Muhammad. — Ismail M Moolla, Umzinto

I find the objections by Muslims to representantions of the Prophet Muhammad puzzling. There are many such images: Prophets Moses and Muhammad with the Angel Gabriel in Berlin’s Museum of Islamic Art; a 14th-century Arab miniature of Muhammad preaching in the mosque of Medina; of Muhammad’s night journey to heaven on his mount Buraq (1458, Istanbul); Muhammad on his way to Mecca (late 16th century, Istanbul); Muhammad and Abu Bakr in hell (17th century, Dresden); Jesus on a donkey and Muhammad on a camel riding together (18th century, Tehran); and Muhammad and Ali cleansing the Qa’aba of idols (1585-1595).
Why is it that so-called moderns are against such representations? There surely cannot be any strong religious reasons. — Terence Beard

We demand an apology in writing and live on media. If not, may the Almighty God’s curse be on you, your company and family. I challenge you to put beloved Prophet Jesus (PBUH) in place of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in your next edition. — MM Ravat

I don’t agree with your views on Israel but I want to thank you for standing up for free speech by printing the cartoon. I hope you are doing it because you see the threat to free speech from the teachings of Islam. Your stance is refreshing to many of us who see what’s coming from the most supremacist, expansionist and repressive ideology known to mankind. — Michael Elmore, USA

I cannot see the reason behind this act of religious affront. Right or wrong, if their religion demands no pictures of Mohammed, why can you not honour this? By the way, I am a Christian. — Horst Baumer

If you as a newspaper want to test the tolerance of some of the crazies found in a community of a billion people, you are more than welcome to. Muslims are the only people that are not scared of death. — Raziek Rajah

Those who support religious tolerance and freedom should boycott any publication with Zapiro’s work in it, for that day, as a message to the media that with freedom comes responsibility. Let us all live in peace and harmony. Zapiro, this was your rape of religious tolerance! — Dr Asif Suleman

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