It was with sadness and disbelief when I read about the Charlie Hebdo killings. However, by today I was most moved by all the solidarity shown by other newspapers and amongst the general public. Nobody is going to kow-tow in fear to the terrorists who were motivated by hatred and an intent to cause fear.
It was reported that witnesses heard the gunmen shout "we have avenged the prophet" as they carried out the killings.
The question that must be on everyone's mind is
Why are the (radical) Muslims so strongly against the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh - peace be upon him)?
Interestingly, the Quran does not forbid the depiction of the prophets or that of Prophet Muhd(pbuh).
The often quoted explanation for the Muslim 'ban' on depiction of the prophets is that it would be disrespectful (as might possibly be, in the case where cartoons are concerned). However, depiction is also banned if one wants to pay respects to the prophets. Hmmm ....
To understand the aversion of depiction, one needs a basic appreciation on the history of Islam.
Prophet Muhd(pbuh) was a messenger of God, one of the many prophets that the (Abrahamic) God has sent as messengers to guide His Children ie mankind. Abraham would be the first prophet and the lineage continues right down through Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, etc and finally Muhd. With the exception of Muhd, all the prophets were of Jewish descent.
But all of mankind are God's Children. Consider the story of what happened after Moses parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross safely, but with the Red Sea crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians.
“Then sang Moses and the people of Israel this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea.”
However, there is a famous Jewish teaching that illustrates something that many outside the faith do not know. In one of the passages of the Talmud, the following is quoted:
God's angels started singing a song at sea in celebration after Moses led the people of Israel safely across the Red Sea while the Egyptians perished. God rebuked the angels, "My handiwork is drowning in the sea and you utter songs before me!"
The Egyptians were God's Children too. So God rebuked the angels for celebrating their demise.
Clearly, every one of us are God's Children.
And of course, the above story also teaches us not to celebrate the misery of others because they too are our brothers and sisters. Back to the main point about Islam.
The above story is mentioned so that some Jewish or Christian radicals will not think that Prophet Muhd(pbuh) was not a deserving prophet because of his ethnicity. That'll be racial prejudice in today's understanding. In fact, we'll understand why God spoke to Prophet Muhd(pbuh) when we take a look at the situation of Mecca during the time of Prophet Muhd(pbuh) circa 600 AD.
The majority of the tribes living in the city of Mecca, which was an important trade center, practised idolatry and veneration of various spirits and deities. They were praying to gods that were not the One True GOD. I'm sure that meant unfavourable outcome for the souls of those people. Of course God saw fit to put things right as He has always done - by sending messengers in the form of prophets and wise men across time(history) and space(places). So this time, God approached Muhd who was a pious man who meditated in a cave dedicatedly. God did not speak to Muhd directly, His words were dictated to Muhd by the Archangel Gabriel (yes, the same Archangel Gabriel of Christianity). And the Quran was born from the words of God spoken to Prophet Muhd(pbuh) through Archangel Gabriel.
Why did God not speak to Prophet Muhd directly? I can only postulate that Muhd's spiritual cultivation was not high enough to be able to hear God directly but he could hear and communicate with the angels.
It was under direct God's guidance that Prophet Muhd founded Islam. And the manner of Revelation of the Quran is the reason why Muslims venerate it as the true Words of God above other Books of Abrahamic faith like the Old and New Testaments.
Many non-Muslims do not know why the Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba, the black cuboid building at Mecca. In fact, the Kaaba was used to house the idols of miscellanous deities and pagan gods during the days before Islam.
To be brief, events happened and the Muslims led by Prophet Muhd(pbuh) managed to convince the people of Mecca and the surrounding regions to stop their paganistic practices and pray instead to God (or Allah as He is known amongst Muslims and the people of the region in those times). The idols at the Kaaba were destroyed and it is now venerated as a symbol of Islamic triumph. All Muslims face the Kaaba during their prayers and they are to circumambulate the Kaaba should they be able to make the pilgrimage there.
From the history of Islam, we can see that idolatry is something that is really frowned upon by Muslims.
Islam was built on the foundation of idolatry eradication.
This is the main reason why while the Quran does not prohibit the depiction of Prophet Muhammad and the other prophets, the hadiths (which are based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad compiled some 200-300 years after his death) does. And there are also fatwas (Muslim legal opinions and rulings), issued by Islamic authorities which forbid the same.
In order that idolatry not happen with the case of Prophet Muhd(pbuh), it was thus hadith'ed and fatwa'ed that prophets not be depicted.
Another point would be the fact that God is transcendent and nothing humans can create will be good or accurate enough to represent Him. Those who wish to pray to God should just pray directly to Him (according to the ways and His Names as taught in the Quran) instead of praying to representations of Him. After all, there is always the danger that it is some other spirit that is within idols rather than God Himself.
However, one would find that the different traditions/sects of Islam have different practices with respect to this non-depiction and that the Sunni branch of Islam is strict in this respect.
It was thus I felt how misguided and ignorant the killers were as Muslims, when I read about how the killers shouted "we have avenged the prophet"as they went about their misdeeds.
Clearly, they did not know there is nothing to be avenged because
1) the Prophet Muhd(pbuh) did not forbid his own depiction directly. There are many descriptions of him in the Quran in fact
2) the Quran did not forbid the depiction of prophets
Clearly, they did not know the reason behind the hadiths and fatwas which forms the basis of the rulings for non-depiction. If they did, what is there to be done but shake their heads at the others' ignorance and perhaps start educating them on what God said instead of killing people.
After all, God is forgiving. Just that the radical and misguided do not get it. If they are true Muslims and read the Quran, they'd get it. In fact, all anyone need do is just read the first verse of every chapter in the Quran.
for the record, i'm not a Muslim