Draw Muhammad Day: It’s not about Rights, It’s about what’s Right

Today, May 20, 2010, over 60,000 people on Facebook have embarked on a campaign they call “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

They are doing it for two reasons: a) because they know Muslims love their prophet and therefore consider any depiction of him to be offensive and b) because they believe that they are flag-bearers for freedom of speech and that drawing Muhammad is one of the last taboos left to break in Western society.

facebook-1I won’t get into the freedom of speech debate and why such an endeavor has little to do with freedom of speech heroics, except to briefly point out two things: a) that this is not the first or last time someone has gone out to draw Muhammad, so there is nothing really ground breaking here, and b) we in the West do in fact have a standard of decency despite our freedom of speech.

You won’t for example find 60,000 people promoting a day of drawing racist or anti-Semitic cartoons, even though they would have the right to do so under freedom of speech – at least not without a public backlash. The reason for this  has less to do with freedom of speech and more to do with the simple fact that our society – after decades of missing the point – has evolved to such a level where we actually comprehend why such a public campaign would be offensive and uncalled for.

You may say, “oh but the Muhammad campaign is different.” Your reasoning may go something like this: religion is a choice, whereas race or ethnic identity are not, so it is fair game to be critical of religion but not race.

There is truth to this argument.

But there are also two small problems with it that many seem to readily miss: a)  there is a difference between objective criticism, and a campaign of ridicule and insults, and b) what if the next Facebook group came out and said, we find your lack of enthusiasm for a Facebook cartoon campaign that ridicules Blacks, or Jews, or Whites, or Latinos to be prudish and inherently incompatible with the values of our great Western civilization?

You may say: well but I don’t object to the principle that racists have a right to free expression of racism, absolutely they do.

Great, but the question is would you promote it? Would you champion it in the name of the principle of free speech or so as to make an academic point about defeating existing taboos of what is deemed off limits?

Probably not.

And the reason why not? Because your own standards of what is decent and what is not righlty cause you to write off racially offending people.

My friend, that brings you to the “yes you can but no you shouldn’t,” club, doesn’t it? Come sit next to us because I and my fellow American Muslims never questioned that Americans have a right to offend our religious sensitives and draw our prophet. Our simple message always was:  just because one has a right to do it, it does not make it the right thing to do.

Having said that, the campaign is already on, so what are we Muslims to do now?

Well, it’s simple: absolutely nothing. Let the show go on.

I would however advise that we do something for ourselves and that is make today a “Pray for Muhammad Day.”

Rather than concern ourselves too much with the actions of others, let’s put our own values to action. If someone wishes to offend, let them knock themselves out trying. Let us instead take the higher ground and appreciate the mercy, love, and other teachings our prophet brought us by making a prayer for him on a day when others go out of their way to ridicule him.

Today, let us pray for our prophet. But that is not all. Let us pray for the cartoonists who see fit to insult our prophet, that they should understand our love for our prophet and that they should be guided to peace in their hearts rather than animosity for others. Let us pray for our fellow Muslims who react to prophet cartoons with anger or violence, that they should also find peace in their hearts rather than return hate with greater hate.

Further Reading: A debate on Muhammad cartoons and freedom of speech with the Tribune’s Eric Zorn.

For more on religion and society, visit The Chicago Tribune’s Manya Brachear’s The Seeker Blog

[Ahmed Rehab Chicago Tribune Original Link]

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4 Responses to Draw Muhammad Day: It’s not about Rights, It’s about what’s Right

  1. Junaid Afeef says:

    Excellent essay Ahmed.

    I share your sentiments. I’m particularly pleased with your nuanced approach. I’ve seen too many fellow Muslims ignore or even denigrate freedom of speech as a right in order to register their objections to the depiction of Prophet Muhammad (saw). That’s absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

    I hope many people have a chance to read your essay.


  2. Pingback: Praying For Muhammad on “Draw Muhammad Day” « God, Faith, and a Pen: Living in the Light of His Love

  3. RandomCommentator says:

    Yes there is truth to the statement that religion is a choice. But the “problems” you seem to point out are hardly that. Your “problem” # 1 is neither here nor there. You say there is a difference between objective criticism and a campaign of ridicule. Well if your ideas are ridiculous then they (your IDEAS, not YOU) WILL be ridiculed. Maybe not by everyone, but certainly by some. And that’s a fact of life in a free society that must be accepted. The act of drawing muhamad is indeed part of the actual objective criticism. It is not an insult, contrary to your claim. What makes you think islam is so special that everyone is hell-bent at insulting it for no reason? And exactly WHY would drawing a prophet constitute an insult anyway? What is/are the actual reason(s) behind not wanting to visually depict muhamad? What if cameras had existed back then and his photo was available? Then what? Is drawing some other prophet ok? Why or why not? If there are these wonderful reasons for not drawing an apparently important prophet, then why not embrace those reasons yourself and not allow yourself to be drawn or photographed then? You see, no matter what “reasons” you provide, they will all be ludicrous to reasonable individuals and that’s precisely why all these people on facebook want to draw muhamad to make that point. The muhamad cartoonists, contrary to your opinion, are NOT showing animosity towards any human beings. And neither are these facebookers. Instead, they are ridiculing a particular IDEA that ~1.5 billion people seem to have in their heads. And you are completely wrong if you feel otherwise. Perhaps you should meet some of the cartoonists in person (or maybe you already have?). Regarding your “problem” # 2…you are speaking of race (physical features) which is different from religion (ideas and thoughts). Of course making fun of people based on their physical/personal characteristics rather than their ideas (which include religion) is far more arguably an insult and civilized people wouldn’t do it even if they have the right to do it. So to conclude: you haven’t successfully argued as to why drawing muhamad is insulting (even though your decision to not pay attention to the cartoons and keep living your life is laudable). Please note that you do have the right to feel insulted though. It is natural for people to get insulted when their ideas are ridiculed. The solution to overcome this emotion of insult is either to argue rationally about your ideas that survive all outside criticism (which you haven’t done in this particular case) or you change your ideas (in this case it means you join the facebook group and draw muhamad).

  4. Bev says:


    I found this on badeagles’ Blog and decided this was a good time to respond, and not in yeagleys’ defense.

    I love your easy manner and just like our President it must seem hard to maintain..maybe not. I like that you state the higher ground is your path. Insults and lies and offensive behavior is the M.O. of the badeagle site. He actually is knocking himself out with all his enuendos and racists remarks, he is knocking himself out of the posters he once had.

    I am a Comanche Tribal member, I want to make if perfectly clear that this man David A. Yeagley does not represent the views of the Comanche Nation, he is on his own, just using and abusing a Logo of the Native People.

    His misuse of “Freedom Of Speech” by his very few posters is against everything the Native people hold dear to what we have left. We of all Peoples know what it is to be held down and muffled and told to stand behind everyone else. Yeagley claims the Comanches have no Religion, we are heathens, savages and our men belong at the bottom of the barrel and that Brown and Black are a beastly bore! White is Supreme! And much, much more.

    This is his type of “Freedom of Speech”, using the American Indian Logo, yet allowing no American Indian on his Blog or Forum to speak up and out…if they happen to get in, he banns them immediately after chastising their input!

    I don’t know very much about the Muslim People but I wanted to let you know, David A. Yeagley has very few acquaintences among the Native American people that agree with anything he says or does.