For more than five months, newspapers worldwide have printed cartoons depicting the founder of Islam, Muhammad, conversing with terrorists and wearing explosives. These cartoons have infuriated Muslims and sparked global protest. While tensions slowly ease, the offensive images continue to impact Muslims in Columbia.
The controversy began last September when a Danish newspaper printed 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad in various scenes. The Muslim response was limited until early this year, when the cartoons were reprinted in other countries in Europe. Since then, protests have erupted in countries around the world, sometimes leading to violence. In Columbia, the leader of the Islamic community has encouraged Muslims to voice their protests peacefully.
“The Quran teaches us to retaliate to the bad with good,” Mohammed Imam Nabeel Ahmed Khan, religious leader of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri said.
The problem Muslims have with the cartoons is two-fold: They depict Muhammad, and they do so in a negative way.
Islamic tradition holds that images of living things, especially holy figures, such as Muhammad, should not be represented in art. The foundation of this tradition lies in the Quran. Chapter 21, verses 52-4 read:
“(Abraham) said to his father and his people, ‘What are these images, to which you are so devoted?’ They said, ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ He said, ‘Indeed you have been in manifest error — you and your fathers.’”
Imam Nabeel said depictions of holy figures have the potential to lead to idolatry.
“Idolatry goes against all the basic teachings of our religion,” Nabeel said.
Though Muslim paintings of Muhammad can be found, according to Nabeel, these paintings were the work of those who do not follow the faith.
“There are always some sects that don’t follow the majority view,” Nabeel said. “If someone has done it, they have done it wrong.”
Beyond this general offense, members of the Islamic Center say that anger and insult have arisen because of the lack of sympathy and understanding people have shown to the situation.
The cartoons themselves are not the most serious issue, said Maaz Maqbool, 22, a member of the Islamic Center. “The issue is that Muslim countries and people were offended.”
While some protests have given way to violence, Muslims in Columbia have expressed concern and sorrow.
“I’m really sad that someone’s got to do this to us,” said Ibrahim Asadullah, 18.
Nabeel has encouraged his congregation to protest the cartoons nonviolently and within the boundaries of the law. He added that protest is hypocritical unless Muslims “emulate the outward appearance and actions, and noble character of (Muhammad).”
In part, criticism from the Islamic Center has been directed at newspapers that have reprinted the offensive images.
“Muslims respect other religions,” Maqbool said. “Why can’t these papers respect our religion?”
The Columbia Daily Tribune has printed the Web site where the cartoons may be viewed. On Feb. 9, the paper printed a satirical cartoon that, though not explicitly stating that the prophet is being depicted, is suggestive of such an image. The face of the Muhammad figure is shown, and the figure holds a wine glass.
“It is an unfocused yet broadly negative image indicative of how the Tribune editorial pages work,” Maqbool said.
Jim Robertson, managing editor of the Tribune, did not feel that the cartoons were out of line.
“I have always been in favor of running the cartoons because they’re a central part of the Danish cartoon story,” Robertson said. “But whenever I say that, people look at me like I just shot the Easter Bunny.”
The Columbia Missourian will not print any of the cartoons that have sparked the international controversy. Executive Editor Tom Warhover said the decision is based on community standards, and he said he does not think printing the cartoons will benefit Missourian readers.