How to Find the Right Balance: Freedom of Expression vs. Respect for the Moral Values

How to Find the Right Balance:

Freedom of Expression vs. Respect for the Prophet

By Raya Shokatfard

Freelance Writer – USA

Is there a possibility of balance between freedom of expression and respect?

Deep inside every conscious Muslim’s heart is a feeling of serenity and peace even in midst of tyranny, dispute and injustice.

Why?

Because they believe justice will be granted, not always from humans, but surely from the one who created humans.

Muslims believe that sometime justice is given in this world and sometimes in the next. Yet, no doubt total justice will prevail when it comes to final reckoning.

As for those who don’t believe as Muslims do, they could fall into three categories:

The first would be the ones who don’t believe in God and the Hereafter and live basically by the man-made laws of this world which they either follow or not, according to their desires. Since they don’t believe in God, insulting a Prophet has no meaning to them, since they do not respect the person or his message.

The second group would be believers in the Hereafter, like Christians and Jews, but who have not taken impartial investigation into the religion of Islam as well as the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad and Muslims’ revealed Book, the Quran. They could act as above from sheer ignorance and animosity toward Islam which could even lead to insulting or belittling a Prophet of God whom they don’t really know.

The third group may fall somewhere in between and do as the above for various reasons.

All animosities against Islam come down to one point: “Ignorance”.

It was reported that after September 11 attack thousands, converted to Islam. They were so abhorred by the attack, which raised curiosity in them to read more about this religion which promotes violence. Through their investigation, they found Islam to be different than what was portrayed and found it the religion of peace, full of wisdom and guidance; a revelation sent by God to His messenger Muhammad.

It was reported that US bookstores and libraries were unable to supply the requests for the Quran and Islamic material as they were all sold out or borrowed.

Freedom of Speech vs. Respect

Those who have taken upon themselves to insult the Prophet of Islam are well aware of the fury they will cause

For the most part those who live in the West have had a culture of tolerance and honor for the beliefs, religions and cultures of others. So, one would ask, what is the reason of recent years’ wave of insults targeted at the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

Surely, as humans we are susceptible to influences outside our own realms. It is easily understandable that years of negative stereotyping of Muslims have had their effect on the minds and attitudes of the unaware public who soaked up years of misinformation, aimed to create an Islamophobia.

Such feelings, together with the “freedom of speech law” in theUSA, have cultivated a fertile ground for demonization, insults and attacks on the religion of Islam, first by the media followed by embolden individuals. Talk of terrorism has been used to achieve a certain mindset.

Those who have taken upon themselves to insult the Prophet of Islam are well aware of the fury they will cause among the Muslims by their unsavory actions. Unfortunately they achieved their wish and very rarely show remorse for the ripple effect from their actions.

One may ask, had it been a law against insulting revered historical figures, would such actions occur? Most likely not! So, to what extent are we to use freedom of speech to spread evil, violence and chaos among humans? Perhaps it all depends on the desired outcome.

We have seen during the recent years such detestable publications and videos have cost the loss of innocent lives of even the non Muslims around the world.

Newton’s third law of motion states that forces occur in pairs, and whether that force is the action or the reaction is scientifically irrelevant because at this point they are identical. Thus, we find ourselves in this vicious circle: We see actions and we see reactions. What is the result? You decide!

One also may ask, has the freedom of speech made United States of America a safer place to live, where people of various cultures live in harmony with each other?

Perhaps the second part has been true not because of freedom of speech but as a result of respect for others’ beliefs and cultures, which is ingrained in the minds of the people starting from the elementary schools and through the educational process.

Truly, freedom of speech has also brought many benefits to the inhabitants of land of freedom and liberty. But are there people who have abused this freedom in exchange for some meager satisfaction – but at the cost of loss of lives? Of course this is not limited to the U.S, but all western countries as well.

One may look at the Muslims’ reaction in recent years and especially the recent fury on the film publication in the light of the freedom of speech.

Is there a possibility of balance between freedom of expression and respect? Surely there are possibilities when there is willingness. It is normal for humans to act a certain way to achieve desired results. So, how can one desire to create hatred, chaos and disarray?

Many Muslim scholars around the world have expressed their strong opinion against any kind of violence while condemning evil plots of the ignorant few. But when it comes to general Muslim population around the world, it would be very difficult to control the sentiment of millions against any insults on their religion and especially their beloved Prophet. So, is there a solution?

As some Muslims around the world express their hatred by attacking embassies and its personnel, the Muslims in the US will become targets of more hate crimes and discriminations. This will be especially difficult for new Muslims.

Is it the freedom of speech that is fanning the already ignited fire? Surely, freedom of speech has two faces depending on who is using it or who is being targeted for it. Without getting into the issues of politics, one can clearly see there is a double standard even in this law that is supposedly written in stone in the US constitution, which should harbor freedom as well as justice.

So, What Have US Muslims to Do in Such Difficult Times?

They should also provide a strong support system for the New Muslims

The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said in the Serenity Prayer: “O God, help me change the things I can, and accept the things I cannot and grant me the wisdom to know the difference.”

Muslims must do their best, through legal means and connection with proper authorities, media, press conferences, lectures and multimedia to bring a better awareness of Islam and Muslims to the general public.

They should also provide a strong support system for the New Muslims. Through proper education and increasing of their faith they can gain certitude about their religion despite various skirmishes that may disturb their peace

While doing all they can do to paint a clear picture of Islam, American Muslims should also accept that history is repeating itself. Do you recall the Red Scare and the McCarthy Era where all the media made people terrified of Russians? This is a repeat, but with a different invented “enemy.”

For now, the best is to maintain calm, coexist peacefully with one’s fellow Americans and put strong trust in God, knowing that there is nothing even as small as a mustard seed that will go un-noticed by Him. The justice will be done.

{[…] Not even the smallest speck eludes your Lord, either on Earth or in Heaven. Nor is there anything smaller than that, or larger, which is not in a Clear Book.} (Yunus 10: 61)

While taking all the appropriate measures to promote a better understanding about Islam, Muslims also have to recall the reaction of their Prophet toward those who insulted him. He did not react with violence, or hatred, even when he had the power to do so. He stayed calm. He did not take vengeance on his own account.

He was assured by God that he was the Prophet of God and all Prophets suffered similar treatments from their own people. He was to be calm and speak to his adversaries in respect and good speech.

However when it would come to attacking Islam or God, he would not be quiet and would exert all effort to respond in any matter suitable to stop it. This, of course was only possible when he was well established in Madinah and had adequate support.

While in Makkah the first 13 years, however, he and his followers had to endure insults, persecution and deprivation of their basic needs. They had no choice but to endure till they migrated to Madinah and began to establish an Islamic State.

He knew that reacting to any harsh treatment would result in more harm than benefit. Because of his teachings, Muslims understood that preventing harm takes precedence over bringing benefits.

So, in today’s Islamic world, Muslims must also weigh the benefit versus harm that may be caused by violent reactions, to the point of losing their own lives as well as taking the lives of Americans.

A peaceful demonstration may actually do more good than one involving violence. What do you think?

Yes, all Muslims are readily willing to give their own lives to protect their Prophet’s dignity. But wisdom must be exerted.

The Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi is reported to have said, while standing in the podium in a meeting at Berlinthat:”Respect for Muhammad is dearest to us than our lives”.

At the top of the educational Face Book page of the renowned Egyptian scholar, Dr. Muhammad Salah, one reads:

“My family, my possessions and my life are sacrificed for my most beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings up on him) and his honor.”

Does such person and his hate-driven movie deserve such publicity?

So, when one compares the personality of Prophet Muhammad, for whom people are willing to give their lives, with the person who made this infamous movie causing disturbance in Muslim’s world, one clearly sees that over one fifth of the world population is following Muhammad, while the producer of the film is in jail for bank fraud, and bail violation, according to the Christian Monitor on September 15, 2012. He was pictured with head and face covered as not to be seen by public. Does such person and his hate-driven movie deserve such publicity?

Forbearance and Determination in Trusting God

Muslims are aware that our presence in this life is a test. So, when a Muslim encounters various incidents throughout his life, he is aware that he is being tested. It is through these incidents that a person displays his faith, submission and closeness to God who grants this life and countless blessings.

Thus a Muslim must not lower himself to the level of his ignorant adversaries and show reaction that causes harm. He must act in a way that benefits are heavier on the scale than harm. He knows God’s justice:

{We will set up the Just Balance on the Day of Rising and no self will be wronged in any way. Even if it is no more than the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, We will produce it. We are sufficient as a Reckoner.} (Al-Anbiya’ 21: 47)

God loves patience, but sometimes, people may dislike it even if it is better for them, and hasten to do the wrong action which they think is better, but God advised us to reflect in all circumstances:

{… It may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 216)

People of pure mind would evaluate every single decision in their lives in thelight of the Quran with its teachings of faith, wisdom and also the Prophet’s tradition. They know that in everything there is goodness, no matter how difficult circumstances may seem. They also know that God will certainly protect His religion no matter how much His enemies devised evil plot against it. At the end, Islam will be victorious with the help of the only one true God.

{If Allah helps you, no one can vanquish you. If He forsakes you, who can help you after that? So the believers should put their trust in Allah.} (Al ‘Imran 3: 160) source