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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Draw Muhammed Day

20 May was the second annual "International Draw Muhammed Day". On this day people across the world hide behind the cloak of free speech to attack Islam. I have included the link here, but I would caution against following this unless you are certain not to be offended by images of Muhammed.

Just to set the scene, I think a lot of people misunderstand what exactly the rub is for Muslims about drawing Muhammed. It's not so much about respecting the guy in some odd way as it is potentially undermining a central tenet, or mystery if you will, of their religion. As much as Christians might say "Jesus lives in all of us", the point of the faceless Muhammed is to lead Muslims to the understanding that all of us are Muhammed. You don't draw Muhammed because Muhammed is everyone - his identity as a historical figure transformed into a spiritual concept, in a similar fashion as Jesus (though with obviously different methodology and dogma). So while they may certainly be irked that people are disrespecting their beliefs and tradition, the main issue for them is the concern for their religion itself being undermined should the practice become widespread. At the same time coming out and saying that would be undermining one of the mysteries of their faith, so they're rather stuck seeming even more irrational than usual about the matter. You can find out more about Islam at the following link - just keep an open mind:

Broadly, the images attack a variety of conservative and radical elements of Islam, notably the oppression of women and the rise of fundamentalist terrorism. While it would be legitimate to point out the existence of these phenomena, to paint all of Islam in a negative light is really unfair and unjust. To take the two aforementioned examples (sexism and fundamentalism), it is clear that the Muslim world isn't the only place where these are happening. However, our Western ethnocentrism makes it incredibly easy to "other" Muslims as attribute these terrible things as part of Islam.

What needs to stop, in my opinion, is the polarisation between the West as tolerant and rational and the Islamic world as suspect, backward, and prone to fundamentalism. I think it is perfectly acceptable for Muslims to rebuke their own religion, but for non-Muslims to do it is another story - it is judgmental and dismissive. In the event that a non-Muslim is going to make critical commentary on the religion, I would expect it to be respectful and productive, not inciting hatred and provoking a violent or aggravated response.


  1. As usual you have two groups of people. Each group thinks it's better than the other. Both are ignorant about the others beliefs.

    Heck, some people think they are better than other people based on the music they like.

    Solution? Education.

  2. From Linds:

    If you go to this link [] there is an article "The Wrong Kind of Interfaith" and it includes a table that says that drawing Muhammed was thought of as "engaging in interfaith" and "building social capital" while not drawing Muhammed was seen as "NOT engaging in interfaith" and "NOT building social capital".

    The term 'social capital' has many definitions, but broadly means anything that "facilitates action, generated by networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms", and is part of building and maintaining democracy."

    Because the full intentions of getting people to draw Muhammed are unclear it is hard to say what they are doing, apart from upholding free speech. I think people can say anything they want but shouldn't be surprised when people get angry and come back with very legitimate criticism. I really think the only way to tackle these issues is for (non)faith communities to take an honest and realistic look at their own practices and ask what they can do to stop promoting/living in oppressive ways and how they can align with other groups to realize common goals.

  3. After attempting to post this forever, Linds asked me to post a pared down version. I'm really glad that she made these critical points.

    I think that it is problematic to say that Atheists engage with Muslims in a different way from other religious groups would. The reality is that, unless these atheists are from within an Islamic culture, they are criticising from the outside and being Islamophobic nonetheless.

    Regardless of your position in a secular Christian society, your critique of Islam is coming from a set of conventions that are part of our culture as non-Muslim.

    Nothing creates polarisation more quickly than criticism from the outside. It is so frustrating to see the criticism directed by Jews, Christians, and Western secular groups at Islam, when the self-criticism would be infinitely more productive.

  4. I think it is also worthwhile adding this video to the conversation. Atheists like Richard Dawkins may be aggressive against all religions, but his attacks on Islam are particularly egregious. Inciting hatred like this is despicable, and I have added a video at the link added below. I will warn you, that this is extremely offensive.