South Park Controversy and Fallacies of Muslim Extremists

This CNN report on the veiled threat made by an obscure, fringe American Muslim website against the creators of the South Park cartoon shows an extremist saying something completely untrue:

“Yunus Muhammad” says in the interview that the Qur’an instructs Muslims to ‘terrorize the disbelievers.’ It does no such thing. The Qur’an instructs Muslims to live at peace with non-Muslims who are at peace with them. (It turns at that this minor, fringe group is led by converts from Judaism, one of them a former settler in Israel. It is not clear whether they have sincerely exchanged one fanaticism for another or whether this is a false flag operation, perhaps of an intelligence agency. In any case, it is no accident that they are ignorant of the Qur’an. (For a mainstream Muslim response, see The American Muslim.)

The verse to which this individual referred was in the chapter of the Spoils (al-Anfal), 8:60:

Wa a`iddu lahum ma istata`tum min quwwatin wamin ribati ‘lkhayli turhibuna bihi `aduwwa Allahi wa`aduwwakum

Which means, “Prepare against them all the power, and all the war horses that you can, whereby to strike fear into the enemies of God and your enemies.”

The context of this verse is the Battle of Badr on March 17, 624 of the Common Era. In the 610s, the pagan Meccans had persecuted the new religion of Islam and ultimately chased Muhammad and the Muslims out of Mecca for preaching the one God. They took refuge in the nearby city of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (i.e. the City [of the Prophet]). The wealthy Meccan polytheists hoped to wipe Islam and the Muslims out, and fought skirmishes with them. The early Muslims riposted by raiding Meccan trading caravans, in hopes of weakening their foe economically. That March in 624, the Meccans sent out their best fighters to protect a caravan. A Muslim force more or less stumbled onto this expedition. Badr, named after a well south of Medina, was the first major battle between the two sides, and the Muslims won it, thus saving themselves from genocide.

So what the Qur’an is saying in 8:60 is that the Muslims should keep a stable of fighting steeds at the ready and let the Meccans know about it, to strike fear into the hearts of an enemy trying to wipe out them and their religion.

The verse does not command any act of ‘terrorism.’ It commands that Muslims attempt to forestall irrational violence against a Muslim state through deterrence. It is defensive in intent.

The verse does not say anything about mere ‘disbelievers’ or non-Muslims. It is warning of the designs of ‘enemies of God,’ i.e. militant and violent anti-Muslims. Moreover, there is no implication that Muslims should act as individuals or vigilantes. Medina was a city-state that the Prophet Muhammad ruled, and he gave the orders. Muslims could not just run off and attack whomever they pleased whenever they pleased. A duly constituted Muslim state was in charge of defense of the community.

So unless Yunus Muhammad can find a group of armed individuals who aim at violently attacking Muslims en masse and trying to wipe out them and their religion, he should stuff a sock in it and go home.

In fact, trying to import terrorism into the Qur’an is an infinitely greater blasphemy than that of any Western cartoonist, and one would hope Muslim groups would get more upset about Yunus Muhammad and ‘Revolution Muslim’ than about an irreverent American tv program.

Unfortunately, along with people with genuinely hurt feelings, there will be some cynical political forces that manipulate Muslim fundamentalists and will try to advance their agendas by taking advantage of this South Park controversy (the show depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit to avoid showing him– which is about as close as South Park gets to deference to religious feelings).

The USG Open Source Center translated the following item from Bahasa Indonesian about the reaction of the Forum Ummat Islam or the Community Forum of Islam, a coalition of fundamentalists formed in 2005 to repress the Ahmadiya movement. (The Ahmadiya is a form of modernist millenarianism that posits a minor prophet (nabi) after Muhammad; most Muslims believe that there is no prophet after Muhammad). The fundamentalist FUI, which includes cults like Hizb ut-Tahrir, the caliphate nuts, is relatively small in Indonesia, where secular parties have done far, far better in recent elections.

‘Indonesia: FUI Seeks Clarification From US Mission on Film ‘Desecrating’ Prophet
Report by Dadan Muhammad: “US Embassy Must Give Clarification on Film Desecrating Prophet”
okezone.com
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Document Type: OSC Translated Text …

Jakarta — Lodging protest against an animation movie showing Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit, the Islamic Followers Forum (FUI [Forum Ummat Islam]) sought a clarification from the US Embassy in Jakarta. “The US Embassy in Indonesia must give a clarification that its government will take strict action against the creator of this animation movie and apologize to all Muslims in the world,” FUI Secretary General Muhammad al-Khaththath told Okezone.com.

According to him, any attempt to portray Prophet Muhammad, including showing him in a bear suit in the animation, is prohibited in Islam. He terms this “desecration against the nobility of Prophet Muhammad.” Followers of Islam all over the world must be hurt by this. “The followers Islamic must protest and the creator has to be punished because it is a humiliation,” he stressed.

The FUI secretary general said that this humiliation might give rise to hostility. “The United States, which glorifies democracy and human rights, has actually been acting racist and violating the dignity of other groups. The followers of Muhammad will not allow this to continue,” he said.

When asked about a possible protest in front of the US Embassy, Al-Khaththath said that he was still watching the situation. “We will see the situation,” he said. He said that the desecration of Prophet Muhammad had taken places many times earlier also. According to him, it had been caused by hatred against the Islamic teaching. “It is the Islamic teaching that has become their enemy, not Muslims. Muslims who have poor Islamic knowledge are not their enemies,” he said.

According to Al-Khaththath, the other factor operating behind such happenings is a secular law, which did not give severe punishment to the citizen who commit desecration against a religion or a group.

In the 200th episode of South Park broadcast last week, a program created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, an animated prophet Muhammad was shown wearing a bear suit. It has riveted protests from many groups so far.

(Description of Source: Jakarta okezone.com in Indonesian — Website owned by Media Nusantara Citra (MNC), the owner of Indonesian Education Television (TPI), Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia (RCTI), and Global TV Indonesia (GlobalTV). Provides on-line news and information; URL: http://www.okezone.com) ‘

19 Responses

  1. “So unless Yunus Muhammad can find a group of armed individuals who aim at violently attacking Muslims en masse and trying to wipe out them and their religion, he should stuff a sock in it and go home.”

    (shhhh …. Don’t tell him about the Tea Party.)

  2. “RevolutionMuslim.com is one of the phony “radical muslim” websites associated with fake Al Qaeda Adam Gadahn, real name Adam Pearlman.”
    On any given day, log on to RevolutionMuslim.com and a host of startling images appear:
    The Statue of Liberty, with an ax blade cutting through her side;
    Video mocking the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, entitled “Daniel Pearl I am Happy Your Dead :) “;
    Video of a puppet show lampooning U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq;
    The latest speech from Sheikh Abdullah Faisal, an extremist Muslim cleric convicted in the UK and later deported for soliciting the murder of non-Muslims.
    Even more surprising is that RevolutionMuslim.com isn’t being maintained in some remote safe house in Pakistan. Instead, Yousef al-Khattab, the Web site creator, runs it from his home in the New York City Borough of Queens.

    Formerly known as Joseph Cohen, al-Khattab is an American-born Jew who converted to Islam after attending an Orthodox Rabbinical school, which he later described as a “racist cult.”

  3. South Park already did depict the Prophet Muhammed in episode 504, which was originally aired 7.4.2001, in the “Super Best Friends” show. However, this never sparked a controversy.

    Episode description from Wikipedia:
    At [David] Blaine’s big show in Denver, Jesus appears and challenges Blaine by performing one of his famous miracles, the miracle of the loaves and fishes. However, this miracle proves dubious (he has everybody in the audience turn around while he performs it), and Blaine manages to win the crowd with much more powerful enchantments. Jesus realizes he needs help and calls the Super Best Friends, a group of major religious figures including Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Muhammad and Sea Man (whom the other characters jokingly call “Semen”) who defend the world against evil (except for Buddha who doesn’t really believe in evil).

  4. Juan, your text in bold print “In fact, trying to import terrorism into the Qur’an is an infinitely greater blasphemy …” says it plainly enough. I hope they get the picture. Great report.

  5. Al-Khaththath is a real piece of work over there in Indonesia. He called upon the government to prohibit a competing Islamic sect (simply because they disagree on doctrine):

    link to thepersecution.org

    • I myself am an Ahmadi. I know what Juan and you are talking about. Too bad for those anti-Ahmadi retards I will keep calling myself a Muslim. Lately though, we have had a number of non-Ahmadi scholars and imams declare that Ahmadis are Muslims. The whole banning of Ahmadiyyat is a very sad event in Pakistani history, filled with the lure of power and money by Zia and his ilk.

  6. Why is it that people only have a problem with how Muhammed is depicted? Did they not see how they depicted Jesus and Buddha and the other religious figureheads? It is a joke on how religions are portrayed by people, not a serious accusation of what these figures did. South Park simply points out the state of mind of people in the world on a certain subject. If you are going to complain about it, complain about all of it, not just one particular aspect, and realize that it is comedy, not reality. It’s like visual sarcasm.

    • The South Park depictions of Muhammad didnt lead to mass protest or other stuff. Why? Because there is a big difference between what South Park did and what that Danish newspaper did, coupled with worldwide events. What happened back then was a lot more than just protests against a cartoon.

      Anyway, yes, Islamic teaching does condemn derogatory depictions of Jesus, Moses and various others prophets as well. That is something a lot of non-Muslims, especially Parker and Stone, dont understand, as was evident with their conclusion of the Cartoon Wars episodes.

      Unfortunately, what this website of about 20 people said will now be applied to over a billion people. Thats the world we live in.

  7. The problem, Professor Cole, is you are interpreting the words in a way that seems to me clearly not what they say. You translated them to say: “Prepare against them all the power, and all the war horses that you can, whereby to strike fear into the enemies of God and your enemies.”

    I thought all non Muslims were the enemies of God and the enemies of Muslims therefore it is a statement advocating terrorism (striking fear) against them. You’ve spent too much time and effort trying to prove that the statement doesn’t say what it purports to say. I don’t think you are very successful.

    • You would be wrong. The Qur’an says that Christians are closest in love to Mislims. The Qur’an does not consider non-Muslims enemies of God! It praises the children of Israel. False premises lead to false assertions.

      • Yes, he is wrong. But then, he is notsobright.

        More accurately, he’s exhibiting the right-wing tendency to believe the worst of the outside world, maybe because they think they’ll be safest that way. All they know is BAD PEOPLE WANT TO KILL US! OG SMASH! and they think we don’t know that because we don’t want to nuke Baghdad.

  8. The reason why Prof. Cole is going into so much detail about the context of the verse is to precisely to make the point that all non-Muslims are NOT enemies of Muslims. You seemed to have missed it completely notsobright and I wonder why?

    Islam and Muslims thrived in Medina with Christians and the Jews and these other groups were never considered enemies of Islam. There was friction as exists even today but probably because a new group (Muslims) was changing the dynamics of the society in Medina much similar to our society in this day and age.

    Ill-depiction of revered figures alive or dead, is unfortunately a symptom of the breakdown of morals in this society but its only one symptom. Its sensationalism masked as entertainment. The best way to deal with this is not feed into it and it will go away.

  9. @notsobright: the phrase “strike fear” is understood to emphasize the ‘fear’ as opposed to the ‘strike’. An example is nukes. We don’t intend to use them (again), but they were built up to strike fear in each other that we *could* if we so desired. The power is in the threat, not the detonation. Actually detonating a bomb does more to tarnish your image, we should know as the only country who has done so. Another example is the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution. The right to bear arms and capably form militias is a threat against government power (in response to the English experience of kings and other nobles). It is not meant that we solve our problems through arms, or that everyone should own an ak-47. Citizens, generally speaking, should be able to purchase arms so as not to be powerless against government forces, should they be turned against the people.

    The understanding in these situations is that the aim is to keep an undesirable action (nuclear attack, government oppression, or attack from Meccans) from happening. Not to encourage harmful acts.

  10. Prof. Cole,

    I think you have done an excellent job of putting the verses from the Quran into their historical context. Because the Quran does not follow a chronology – that is, move from the earliest to the latest revelations – it is difficult for lay readers to place each chapter of the Quran into its historical timeline, and thereby understand how the verse actually correlates to specific instructions being provided to Muslims at specific time periods of crises in the experiences of the first community of the prophet.

    I would point out here that Quranic verses relating to tolerance of other religions also date to the early settling of Muslims in Medina, wherein they were instructed to, and did, make peace with the other religious tribes of Medina.

    It is later, when the Muslims were betrayed by Medina’s other tribes who colluded with the invading force from Mecca, that the Quran prescribes violence against these other religious tribes – focused entirely on their violence and betrayal, and not as a general prescription for violence against all non-Muslims.

    In its general temperament, most Islamic scholars point to the early phase of the Medina settlement in order to advise contemporary Muslims to tolerate other religions and co-exist with them in peace.

    The betrayal and retribution rhetoric is more prevalent among radicals living in hostile territories.

    Perhaps you can add to this in future posts.

    • The Qur’an never prescribes aggression. It forbids it. Violence in self-defence is permitted where the enemy refuses to negotiate and insists on attacking.

  11. Professor Cole,

    In the spirit of being as accurate with the details as possible, please be reminded that it turns out NOT to be Md. dressed in a bear suit, but Santa Claus.

  12. After checking out the Koran, I ran across these statements:

    [2.190] And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.
    [2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

    Can you explain this?

    • Most misunderstandings about the Qur’an are from bad or inadequate translations, or from not understanding the context. The militant, wealthy Meccan pagans were trying to kill all the Muslims and wipe out their monotheistic religion. The early Muslim community was facing a possible genocide at the hands of a very powerful and numerous enemy, and they only had two choices– acquiesce in their own deaths and those of their loved ones, or fight back. The “unbelievers” (kuffar) that the Qur’an is urging the believers to fight were these militant pagans. Christians, Jews and even non-militant pagans are treated very differently in the text. The common present-day notion that “unbelievers” means non-Muslims is incorrect. It can occasionally be used that way in the early chapters of the Qur’an, but my study suggests that it increasingly took on the connotation of people who violently persecuted early Islam.

      2:190 says, “And fight in the path of God against those who attack you, but do not commit aggression; surely God does not love those who commit aggression.”

      It isn’t pacifism, but it is a prohibition on aggressive war, while insisting that people should protect themselves if attacked. I mean, it is just what most human beings would say they believe.

      2:191 is the same thing– if people are actively trying to kill your children, then make sure they cannot do it.

Comments are closed.