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Why Islamic Extremists Hate When People Draw Images of the Prophet Muhammad


"In some cases, Muhammed’s head is surrounded by a flame..."

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Police have not yet revealed the motive for the fatal shooting outside of a controversial Muhammad cartoon contest and free speech event in Garland, Texas, that left two attackers dead on Sunday evening, though some believe that they were targeting the image contest, which was organized by Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

The event had reportedly gained the attention of Islamic State members in recent days who expressed outrage on social media that participants would violate Islamic tradition by purposefully depicting the Prophet Muhammad. After all, it's a known fact that illustrations of the prophet are banned in the Islamic faith, though some might be wondering why this prohibition exists.

The answer, some experts say, is a simple one.

Dr. Akbar Ahmed, chair of the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, D.C., told CNN earlier this year that bans against picturing Muhammad are intended to prevent prophet worship.

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Unlike Christianity, in which Jesus is considered God's son and, thus, worthy of worship, Muhammad is considered a mere man and is not entitled to that level of adoration, he said.

"It's all rooted in the notion of idol worship. In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong," Ahmed explained"The prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him. So he himself spoke against such images, saying 'I'm just a man.'"

Georgetown Islamic Studies professor John Esposito told the Huffington Post that the history on this rule goes back to Islam's origins in Arabia, where Muslims tried not to replicate the way that Christians revered certain images. And since Muhammad wasn't God, Muslims wanted to ensure that their imagery of him didn't mistakingly afford him characteristics of a deity.

"It comes from the notion that God is transcendent and that nothing should be put in God’s place," Esposito told the Huffington Post earlier this year. "Anything like that is idolatry. You don’t want to have a statue or a picture of God, because people may wind up praying to it."

There tends to be an overarching ban on showing all prophets as well — not just Muhammad, according to Mohamed Magid, an imam who spoke with CNN. He explained that Moses, Jesus and others who are revered as prophets are also not intended to be shown through imagery.

The ban on images of Muhammad, though, comes not from the Koran, but from the hadith, which is described by Encyclopedia Britannica as a "record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, revered and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance."

Of course, this isn't to say that Muslims, themselves, haven't sometimes bent the rules. Telegraph columnist Christopher Howse wrote in 2011 that some Persian art from the 13th and 14th centuries, in particular, included images of Muhammad.

"In some cases, Muhammed’s head is surrounded by a flame, and in later examples, flames were painted in place of his body, or the head was concealed by a veil," he wrote at the time.

Some of these images of Muhammad are, in fact, held by libraries in Paris, Edinburgh and London, Religion News Service reported.


Overall, the use of these images, even by Muslims, is considered a violation based on some of the revered hadiths, though the Associated Press reported in 2006 that the portrayal of the prophet by non-Muslims is "the ultimate sort of insult" in the eyes of many Islamic adherents.

When a cartoon, then, takes satirical aim at Muhammad, it becomes an added offense in the eyes of believers, considering that the very image of the prophet in a non-comedic sense is disallowed.

Outrage has unfolded time and again in the past when these images have been composed and published. If the motive in the most recent case is the same, then the Garland, Texas, shooting can be added to the growing list of attacks based on this premise.

Earlier this year, militants also stormed Charlie Hebdo, a weekly newspaper in France, killing 12 people and injuring many others before later murdering five others inside Paris. 

Geller addressed the shooting and free speech in a CNN interview on Monday, pushing back against claims that there's a fine line between free speech and inciting extremists.

“Intentionally incendiary and provocative by drawing a cartoon? This is the low state of freedom of speech in this country,” she said. “I disagree and I disagree most vehemently.”

Read additional information about the ban on illustrations of Muhammad here and learn more about the Islamic faith here.

(H/T: CNN)


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