Picture this: Why Muslims take umbrage to cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad

By Ali Khalil, AFP

DUBAI — Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad such as the cartoons published by the French satirical magazine reeling from a deadly attack are banned in Islam and mocking him angers many Muslims. Although images poking fun at the prophet have repeatedly infuriated the Islamic world, Arab and Muslim leaders and clerics were quick to condemn the attack. Sunni Islam’s most prestigious center of learning al-Azhar said ��Islam denounces any violence.�� The two masked gunmen who killed 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo weekly on Wednesday claimed to be on a mission to ��avenge�� its cartoons of Muhammad. It follows years of controversy over such caricatures. ��This is a prophet that is revered by some two billion people … Is it moral to mock him?�� prominent Iraqi preacher Ahmed al-Kubaisi told AFP, explaining the violent reaction of Muslims to cartoons of Muhammad. ��France is the mother of all freedoms, yet no one said this (depiction) is shameful,�� he said. Outspoken former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Charlie Hebdo had shown disrespect towards Islam on numerous occasions. ��Is there a need for them to ridicule Prophet Muhammad knowing that they are offending Muslims?�� state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.

��We respect their religion and they must respect our religion,�� he added. Violent protests broke out in the Muslim world after Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper published 12 caricatures of Muhammad in 2005. Charlie Hebdo and other European publications reproduced the cartoons the following year, including one which showed Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, making them a target of Islamist fury. The French magazine’s offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 following the publication of an edition renamed ��Charia Hebdo��, (Sharia Hebdo), with a caricature of Muhammad on the front page. ‘No respect for freedom’

At the core of the problem is the ��lack of respect for others’ right to freedom of expression�� in Arab and Muslim countries, according to Hassan Barari, professor of international relations at Qatar University. Some people ��do not understand the Western context of free speech, where you can easily make a movie that is critical of Jesus.�� Mathieu Guidere, who teaches Islamic studies at France’s University of Toulouse, said that the ��culture of tolerance, and acceptance of different opinion is almost non-existent in the Arab and Islamic world.�� He attributed violence to a feeling harbored by ��almost every Muslim who believes that he is the defender of the prophet and of Islam.�� Barari pointed to a history of ��animosity between the West and Muslims.�� ��We cannot deny that anti-Western feeling in the region is related to the West’s policies. This is related to past colonialism, policy on Israel, and support to dictatorships,�� he said.