Sunday, December 20, 2009

Insulting Muhammad

Several readers of my recent post Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task criticized me for not providing sources for the material that I presented. One asked what I got out of "insulting the man billions look up to without any references", and another speculated I had taken my information from books and sources that "were clearly against the clear and peaceful message of Islam".

I would like to respond to these legitimate questions by presenting the authentic Islamic sources, the Quran, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad and his close associates) and the Sirah (Muhammad's original biography)for the information that was given. One reason I did not do this in the initial posting is that this information is common knowledge among Muslims of the Middle East, where I lived for 15 years. I am constantly surprised by how little Muslims in the West know of their own history. Any schoolboy in Saudi Arabia knows the story of the Jews of Khaybar, the poetess Asma bint Marwan, and the marriage of Muhammad to his daughter-in-law Zaynab. The schoolboy might interpret and justify those stories differently than I would, but he is at least aware of them. Muslims in the West are, for the most part, ignorant that they even exist.

I would also like to comment on the accusation that I "insulted" Muhammad. The common Arabic expression that is usually translated as "insulting the Prophet" is "museeat an-nabi". The noun "museeat" which literally means "to speak bad of", is derived from the verb "saah" which means "to be bad". The expression means to speak "bad" of someone, or to say something about someone that is not "good."

There is a major difference, however, between the Middle Eastern and the Western understanding of what it means to "speak bad" of someone. In the West, slander is commonly understood as saying something about someone that is not true. If Tiger Woods, for example, who has been in the news recently for alleged marital infidelity, were innocent of any transgression he could successfully sue for slander the media personnel making the accusations against him. If Tiger is guilty, however, he has no legal grounds for bringing a case against them.

The Middle East is much different. To "insult" or "slander" someone is not based on whether or not the accusation is true, but on whether or not the accused person would be pleased with what you said. A journalist in any Arab country writing the details about his President or King or Emir that were written about Tiger Woods would be thrown in prison before his ink was dry, even if what he wrote was completely true.

The same holds true about Muhammad. Muslims consider it to be "insulting the Prophet" or "speaking badly of Muhammad" to say things that Muhammad would not want said of him, whether or not the information is true. Anything said about Muhammad that Muslims do not want to hear is considered by them to be insulting him.

In the coming days I'll revisit each item mentioned in Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, and present the documentation for each one. We'll begin with number 1 - Aisha.

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