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Free Speech, Muhammad’s Character — And Ours

Following violent Muslim reactions to the amateurish Innocence of Muslims video, international and domestic Islamic agendas are openly converging with vehement calls for universal application of Islamic blasphemy law.

by
Andrew G. Bostom

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October 6, 2012 - 12:00 am
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Following violent Muslim reactions to the amateurish Innocence of Muslims video, which depicted some of the less salutary aspects of Muhammad’s biography, international and domestic Islamic agendas are openly converging with vehement calls for universal application of Islamic blasphemy law. This demand to abrogate Western freedom of expression was reiterated  in a parade of speeches by Muslim leaders at the UN General Assembly. The U.S. Muslim community echoed such admonitions, for example during a large demonstration in Dearborn, Michigan, and in a press release by the Islamic Circle of North America.

Previously, the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (subsequently renamed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC]) — the largest voting bloc in the UN, which represents all the major Muslim countries and the Palestinian Authority — had sponsored and actually navigated to passage a compromise UN resolution insisting countries criminalize what it calls “defamation of religion.” Now the OIC — via Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — is calling for a specific ban on speech allegedly impugning the character of Islam’s prophet, which he termed “hate speech.” Ihsanoglu accompanied  his demand with a thinly veiled threat of violence should such “provocations” recur:

You have to see that there is a provocation. You should understand the psychology of people who revere their prophet and don’t want people to insult him. … If the Western world fails to understand the sensitivity of the Muslim world, then we are in trouble…[such provocations pose] a threat to international peace and security and the sanctity of life.

Earlier, in a long PJ Media review of the Huma Abedin family-dominated Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA) and its ideological drivers, I highlighted the IMMA’s May 15, 2012, journal contents (vol. 32, issue 1), which championed the relevant Weltanschauung of Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (d. 1999).

Nadwi was a founding member of the Muslim World League, a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (now Cooperation), a member of the World Supreme Council of Mosques, and a member of the Fiqh Council of Rabita. Nadwi participated in a host of other activities via Islamic organizations and institutions, including, notably, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). In India, Nadwi was a rector of Nadwatul Ulama and president of the Academy of Islamic Research and Publications.

Recently, I came across Nadwi’s remarkable juxtaposition of  his apologetic views on Muhammad, and the Sharia, which epitomize the mindset behind the current efforts to impose Sharia-based universal blasphemy laws, now clearly manifest.

Nadwi wrote these words just over 50 years ago (in 1961; the English translation was published in 1976; Speaking Plainly to the West, Lucknow, 1976, pp. 105-106):

…[T]he record of the sayings and doings of the sacred Prophet, his life-account, is a fragrant legacy which is extremely beautiful as well as incandescent. It makes the most shining page of the story of human advancement which can be recreated by reminding mankind of its true station. The reading of it restores the confidence of man in himself and revives in him the awareness of nobility. The picture it presents is so exquisitely charming that anyone whose aesthetic sense has not deserted him and in whom the feeling of perfection is present cannot fail to be aroused and inspired by it. He will be seized with ambition to attain the heights by emulating the Prophet’s example that may endue his life with sublimity, peace, and magnanimity. It unties knots of intellect and unravels the hidden mysteries. This wonderful portrait of lofty virtues and splendid accomplishments is present to this day in its pristine glory and the alteration of circumstances and the passage of time have done nothing to rob it of its purity or radiance.

The preserved treasure of the Islamic Sharia is present, without any distortion or amendment, as it was left behind by the bringer of the Sharia, the Prophet himself. The Sharia is the most complete and the most perfect jurisprudential system in the world. It denotes an admirable blending of the ancient with the modern and can serve the needs of all ages and climes. It is also well established for the future. It possesses such wise and sound foundations that the edifice of a healthy society or civilization can always be built on them.

I maintain that unless we are willing to offer a reasoned but firm rebuttal to the entire genre (represented by Nadwi’s writings) of bowdlerized, triumphant views of Islam’s prophet, and the Sharia itself, then we are abetting, or passively accepting, the Sharia supremacist agenda. Fortunately, pellucid, objective Western and freethinking Muslim scholarly analyses debunking these views are at our disposal.

Notwithstanding Nadwi’s hagiography, the renowned Islamologist Arthur Jeffery, in his review of A. Guillaume’s seminal 1955 English translation of the defining pious Muslim biography of Islam’s prophet by Ibn Ishaq, remarked:

Years ago the late Canon Gairdner in Cairo said that the best answer to the numerous apologetic Lives of Muhammad published in the interests of Muslim propaganda in the West would be an unvarnished translation of the earliest Arabic biography of the prophet. In this present volume such a translation is put into our hands in a beautifully printed and produced book. … Byzantine, Syriac, and Armenian writers who mention him say only that he was a merchant who appeared as a prophet and sent the Arabs out on their wars of conquest.

Nearly a century ago (in 1915), W.H.T. Gairdner, the great Arabic linguist and scholar of Islam, had indeed noted dispassionately what is readily apparent from Muhammad’s actual biography (as opposed to the treacly Muslim hagiography), based exclusively on the reverent Muslim sources:

As incidents in the life of an Arab conqueror, the tales of raiding, private assassinations and public executions, perpetual enlargements of the harem, and so forth, might be  historically explicable and therefore pardonable but it is another matter that they should be taken as a setting forth of the moral ideal for all time.

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