What Muhammad means to Muslims

By Razi Mohiuddin
Posted on Fri, Feb. 10, 2006


The cartoon controversy is spiraling out of control
around the world as a fight between freedom of speech
vs. derogatory depictions of a prophet. Some Muslims
unfortunately have resorted to violence and
destruction of property. This is un-Islamic and must
be condemned.

While we can argue about the merits of freedom of
speech vs. responsible journalism, and peaceful vs.
violent protests, lost in this debate is the persona
of the individual who has been insulted and depicted
in a most vulgar way. What would he have done and why
does he evoke passions that we in the West have a hard
time understanding? Why is this fury equally intense
among disparate people whether they are Arabs,
Indonesian, Afghan, European or American Muslims?

Even after 1,400 years, to the average Muslim, whether
Shiite or Sunni, Muhammad continues to be the object
of love, respect, reverence and honor. His name means
``the praised one,'' and Muslims send salutations on
him as part of their five daily prayers. They will not
utter his name without saying, ``On him be peace.''
His name and its variations like Mehmet and Ahmed are
the most popular names among Muslims, and they strive
to emulate his lifestyle and teachings.

Muslims do not attach divinity to Muhammad, or any
other prophet for that matter. To them, his greatness
was that he was just another human being. Every step
of his life is recorded in great detail from the time
he was an orphan who grew up and married a widow 15
years his senior to his prophethood. His recorded
actions (called Sunnah) are a how-to addendum to the
Koran, and his sayings (Hadith) are referenced in
discussions on how to solve daily problems.

The goals in the lives of Muslims are set relative to
his actions. To them, his life is a shining example of
attainable perfection, whether it be in matters of
family, business or the community.

When their ultimate goal becomes an object of
vilification and ridicule, some feel that their very
existence is being called into question, and to them
nothing in life becomes more important than protecting
this ideal.

His ability to forgive is much needed today and a
reminder especially to our fellow Muslims around the
world. For example, when a neighbor who used to throw
garbage on his path every day did not do so one day,
he went to inquire about her health. Similarly, when
visiting a nearby city, he was stoned till he bled
severely and was driven out, but when asked to make a
wish, he prayed for their salvation, instead of their
destruction. He even forgave those who tortured and
abused him and those who planned his murder.

We can all benefit from the Koran verse that says:
``Goodness and evil cannot be equal. Repel (evil) with
something that is better. Then you will see that he
with whom you had enmity will become your close
friend. And no one will be granted such goodness
except those who exercise patience and
self-restraint.'' (Koran 41:34-35)

The vast majority of people understand the deep love
Muslims have for their prophet and would not denigrate
him even in jest or in a cartoon. Thomas Carlyle in
his 150-year-old book ``Heros and Hero Worship and the
Heroic History'' reminds us that ``The lies which
well-meaning zeal has heaped around this man
(Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only.''

We may not agree on whether freedom of speech is
absolute or if there are limits of decency. But we can
agree on one thing: that we must take all measures to
avoid a clash of civilizations. The only way to do
this is to learn about each other and build bridges of

RAZI MOHIUDDIN is the president of the Muslim
Community Association in Santa Clara, one of the
largest mosques in the United States. The association
is holding an open house Feb. 19 from 2-4 p.m. to
explore the life and teachings of Muhammad and its
meaning to Muslims.


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