The Respect Of A Cousin

Edward Miller

After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s 12
caricatures of the prophet Muhammad were republished
in European newspapers, riots erupted in Damascus,
Gaza, Beirut and elsewhere throughout the Muslim
world. The violence is an extreme manifestation of the
deep hurt felt by virtually all Muslims.

As we condemn the violence on the streets, perhaps we
should take a moment to understand the hurt in the
hearts of the great majority of Muslims who did not
engage in violence.

For Muslims, the mere rendering of an image of
Muhammad is sacrilege. The portrayal of Muhammad in a
pejorative fashion is to them an inconceivably
offensive desecration, on the level of what would be
for us the defilement of a Torah scroll. Because it
was done in newspapers across Europe, it was a slap in
the face repeated thousands of times.

Perhaps it’s a question of respect, not freedom.
Freedom of expression theoretically protects the right
of a non-Jew to desecrate a Torah scroll. Yet we would
all view freedom of expression as a hollow defense to
such a vile act.

Some say Muslims can’t take criticism and simply don’t
understand freedom of the press. In my own limited
experience, that has not been the case. For the past
year I’ve written a column in a Muslim newspaper,
Muslims Weekly, in which I’ve criticized suicide
bombing, the treatment of Jews under Islamic rule, the
anti-Jewish rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and even Muslims Weekly’s own reporting
about Israel. But it was all done with respect, an
informed appreciation of the wonderful benefits that
Islam conferred upon the Jewish people, along with a
willingness to look at our own imperfections together
with those of the other.

Regardless of whether or not the European press was
constitutionally free to publish the offensive images,
the act was a blatant and vulgar act of disrespect to
Islam. Such insults no doubt contribute to the
frightening specter of a clash of civilizations.

What can we do as Jews to lessen the hostilities?
Perhaps, just perhaps, a little respect would help.
Rather than ripping the wounds wider with editorial
musings extolling freedom of speech and condemning
violent protests, is it not time for a bit of healing?

The pages of this Jewish newspaper present a place for
a small start by showing Muslims right here that
though we too have the freedom to say anything we
like, we choose to convey respect to our Muslim
cousins. Printing something positive about Muhammad
best does this.

There is a space between romanticizing the past and
vilifying it. There is a time to focus on the dark
side of history and a time to view the other in the
best light. There is a time to cull from our rabbinic
writings the good our sages saw in Islam and there is
quite a bit of such sentiment recorded. We Jews need
to learn to be more flexible, pursuing the claims of
Jews expelled from Arab countries and criticizing
anti-Jewish TV programs and cartoons in the Muslim
media, while at the same time displaying gratitude for
all the good Islam did for us. There is a time to jump
over our pain and see the humanity of the other. That
time is now. Let us start:

There is a Hadith (oral tradition concerning the words
and works of Muhammad) recorded by Bukhari in the name
of Amer Bin Rabiha that reads as follows:

“A funeral procession passed us and the Prophet stood
up for it. We said, ‘but Prophet of God, this is a
funeral of a Jew.’ The Prophet responded, ‘rise.’ ”

One can search the writings of the ancient non-Jewish
world for a more powerful example of a public display
of respect for the humanity of the Jew. There simply
is no more powerful statement than the single word
uttered by Muhammad nearly 14 centuries ago.

Some readers will bombard this newspaper with reams of
material showing a darker side to Islam, as if it were
just too much for them to hear one good thing. But it
is there, it is a sacred part of their tradition, it
is good and we should hear it and respect it.

When you give respect you get it. When you take
criticism, you earn the right to give it. Perhaps this
article will be republished in Muslim newspapers,
compete with its critical comments about the pain we
feel in the face of anti-Jewish cartoons and worse in
Muslim media. Muslim readers may come to understand
that an article by a Jew, in a Jewish newspaper, was
one of respect, telling its audience: “We know that
the one mocked in newspapers in Europe is the one who
had the humanity to tell his companions to rise for
the funeral procession of a Jew.” 

Edward Miller, a local attorney, is active in efforts
to reconcile Jews and Muslims.


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