This MEMRI Report was reprinted with permission and prepared by R. Green.
On February 1, 2015, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published a cartoon by illustrator Mohammad Sabaaneh of a man with a heart-shaped shoulder bag standing in an aura of light atop the Earth and scattering droplets of light. The cartoon is titled “Our Master Muhammad” in Arabic and “Prophet Muhammad” in English.
As is well-known, Islamic law forbids any depiction whatsoever of the Prophet Muhammad or of any other prophet.
Mohammad Sabaaneh’s cartoon (Source: Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, PA, February 1, 2015)
The publication of the cartoon in a newspaper belonging to the Palestinian Authority (PA) sparked an uproar. The daily quickly removed the cartoon from its website and deleted the page from the PDF version. Two days after its publication, on February 3, the daily issued an apology: “Al-Hayat Al-Jadida apologizes to readers for a cartoon published Sunday, February 1, 2015, and completely rejects any suspicion or interpretation that the illustration is a depiction of the Prophets and Messengers. In its respect for the sanctity of the exalted divine religions and its professionalism, the newspaper has established a board of inquiry to investigate the published cartoon, whose interpretation is in doubt. This is in addition to [the newspaper’s] announcement that its intent in publishing [the cartoon] was to defend religions and the message of love and peace.”
It should be mentioned that the cartoon appears neither on Sabaaneh’s social media accounts nor on websites that publish cartoons from Arab publications. Since February 1, Saba’aneh’s personal website has been offline.
PDF version of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida‘s February 1, 2015 issue with page 14 removed (Source: Alhayat-j.com, February 3, 2015)
The following are reactions to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida‘s publication of the cartoon:
Abbas: The Publication Of The Cartoon Must Be Investigated Immediately – And Steps Taken To Deter Further Such Incidents
The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that PA President Mahmoud ‘Abbas had “ordered an immediate investigation of the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. [‘Abbas] stressed the need to take measures to deter those who caused this grave error, emphasizing the need to defend the sacred religious symbols, chief among them the images of the Prophets and Messengers.” No additional details on the planned investigation were provided.
Sabaaneh: The Cartoon Does Not Depict Muhammad
In response to the outrage, on February 1, Sabaaneh posted a Facebook update stating that his cartoon’s only intention had been to defend Islam: “The aura in the form of a man represents the light and love with which our noble master Muhammad blessed the earth. The intention was not to draw our master Muhammad, peace be upon Him. The figure has no facial features or details, does not even look like our master Muhammad is presumed to have looked, and is not garbed in his robe or other garments. [The drawing] symbolically portrays Islam and its role in spreading light and love to all mankind.
“Since the onset of the attack on our master Muhammad and on Islam, I have believed that our role is more than to merely respond to every attack with another attack, [but rather is one of] defending the message of Islam and its Prophet. The attack on Islam and on our master Muhammad has shifted from the Charlie Hebdo newspaper to other websites and publications. Therefore, it is pointless to respond to every website and newspaper individually…
“The figure [in the cartoon] is a Muslim [man], not our master Muhammad. The Muslim yearns for the message of our master Muhammad, and the light surrounding him is the light of our master Muhammad, and the goodness spread [by the man] is Islam itself.”
Sabaaneh also posted on his Facebook page a number of his previous cartoons presenting Islam in a positive light. He said that he was “republishing them to defend Islam, and not to defend Mohammad Sabaaneh.”
In reaction to the publication of the cartoon, Jerusalem Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein said that according to Islam, it is forbidden to publish “any drawing or visual depiction or portrayal of any Prophet, even with pure intent or in order to defend him.” He added that the cartoon’s caption “Our Master Muhammad” clearly indicates that it is he whom it depicts.
The Hamas ministry of religious endowments in Gaza took a grave view of the incident, calling for those responsible for “this great crime” to be held to account. A ministry statement condemned the newspaper and added that it was very serious matter for an Arab, Islamic, and Palestinian element to publish the cartoon, which enrages 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. It also called on the paper to apologize immediately and to ask God for forgiveness, because “this brazen and illegitimate step” helps “extremists” continue to insult Islam.
Support For Sabaaneh On Social Media: “No To The Policy Of Shutting Mouths”
On social media, Palestinians expressed support for Sabaaneh. Some accepted his explanation that the cartoon did not depict Muhammad himself; many praised Sabaaneh as a symbol of the struggle against Israel and as skillfully expressing in his cartoons the suffering of the Palestinians. Others attacked ‘Abbas’s decision to launch an investigation, saying that this violated free speech. One Twitter user tweeted: “No to the policy of shutting mouths.” Another tweeted: “Is free speech only for France and the French, Mr. President Abu Mazen?”
Islamic State (ISIS) Supporters Threaten Sabaaneh, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida
Following the publication of the cartoon, pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Palestinians called for killing Sabaaneh and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida publisher Nabil ‘Amr.
A February 3, 2015 post on the Jihadi Media Platform message board by ISIS supporter “Abu Mujahid Al-Ghazawi” (“the Gazan”) stated: “Where are you, men of the West Bank, when the Prophet is the subject of mockery?” He added: “The Palestinian murtad [i.e. apostate] Mohammad Sabaaneh mocked the Prophet, and then came out and said he supported the Prophet. By Allah, the only thing he deserves is beheading.”
Another forum member, “Muhammad bin ‘Abd Al-Wahhab,” stated that Al-Hayat Al-Jadida publisher Nabil ‘Amr, an ‘Abbas advisor, is a Christian, although he is actually a Muslim. He wrote: “The newspaper is owned by the Christian Palestinian Nabil ‘Amr, advisor to Baha’i Palestinian Mahmoud ‘Abbas on culture and media in the Palestinian Authority of Corruption.”
* R. Green is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 3, 2015.
 Wafa.ps, February 2, 2015.
 Facebook.com/Mohammad.Sabaaneh, February 2, 2015.
 Facebook.com/Mohammad.Sabaaneh, February 3, 2015.
 Pal24.net, February 3, 2015.
 Maan (PA), February 3, 2015.
 Twitter.com/NaderaAbuDubeyS, February 3, 2015.
 Twitter.com/hebaassaf2, February 3, 2015.
 Alplatformmedia.com, February 3, 2015.
 Alplatformmedia.com, February 3, 2015.