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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

When the Muslim Leadership Chooses to Be Silent about Insults to Islam

Filed under: The Middle East


Recent years have seen an ongoing process of religious radicalization in Muslim-majority countries. Among other things, it has manifested itself in violent protests against drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and other heresies regarding Islam. Those who draw Muhammad have become targets for terrorist attacks, along with official representatives of Western and democratic countries that are seen as fostering a widespread attitude of contempt toward Islam.

A prophet from “The Jews Are Coming” TV show (Israel Broadcasting Authority)
A prophet from “The Jews Are Coming” TV show (Israel Broadcasting Authority)

Islamic law prohibits drawing or acting the part of the Prophet Muhammad or any other figure whom Islam views as a prophet, including the prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jesus, who are not considered Jews or Christians but Muslim prophets.The penalty for those who insult Islam and its prophets is death.

It is evident from the Israeli and Canadian contexts that even radical Muslim leaders sometimes puts pragmatic political considerations first. In Canada, for example, the Islamic struggle focuses only on protecting Muhammad’s honor, and the radical leadership turns a blind eye to pictures of the other prophets Islam adopted, most of all Jesus, even when these are displayed publicly. Satirical television programs that portray Jesus mockingly are not subjected to protests or threats.

In Israel, the radical Muslim leadership keeps mum about insults to Islam and its prophets when these are voiced by political sources seen as serving the leadership’s interests. The name of the Israeli Hebrew news website Walla  “וואלה”  is taken from Arabic and makes use of the word Allah. In Arabic walla means “I swear to Allah,” and in spoken Hebrew it has come to mean “Really” or “That’s how it is.”

Disguising the Blasphemies of Walla and Ha’aretz

Arab websites that quote from Walla use its name carefully, altering it by changing one letter  “וואלא”  so that it does not include the word Allah. The aim is to avoid either writing Allah’s name or connecting it to an Israeli news site.

On February 26, 2012, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who is identified with the radical left, published an article in Haaretz criticizing the Israeli government for failing to spearhead an international campaign to help the Syrian rebels against the repressive and murderous Assad regime.3

To sharpen the message about the Syrian civilian population’s distress and ongoing human tragedy, Levy used surprising terminology that could be interpreted as blatant and direct insults to Islam, Allah, and the Muslim faith, which calls on the believers to put their trust in the omnipotent Allah.

The headline chosen for his article, “Allah Is Not Greater [“אכבר”] in Syria,” expresses Levy’s notion that Allah displays helplessness in the face of the Syrian catastrophe, an inability to salvage the population from the Assad regime’s depredations, and the silence of the world, including Israel.

Levy’s articles are often translated into the Arab media, and this one was no exception. The translated version, however, which appeared in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ra’i, was totally different from the original Hebrew one. The headline “Allah Is Not Greater in Syria” was rendered as “There Is No Savior in Syria.” The sentence, “Amid the shells landing on their homes, masses of citizens there cry out helplessly: ‘Allah is greater’ – and their Allah is not great at all,” turned into: “Masses of citizens cry out for help with calls of ‘Allah is greater’ amid the shells that fall on their homes, and there is no savior.”4

The satirical Israeli television series Hayehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming), which was broadcast on Channel 1 from November 2014 to January 2015, subjected the prophets of Islam to mockery and ridicule (Islam, as noted, appropriates the prophets mentioned in the Torah). The show was a huge hit, and the skits for its last episode received 1.25 million views, including on YouTube and Facebook. In light of this success, the Israel Broadcasting Authority decided to produce a second, 15-part series of the show that will begin in January 2016.5

In all three of the examples noted, no protest was heard from either the moderate or radical Muslim religious leadership, which seemed unperturbed by the insults to the sanctities and the prophets of Islam.

The Price of Blasphemy Is Weighed According to Cost-Benefit

The Muslim radicals choose the targets of their struggle according to political cost-benefit calculations. Their aim is to impose Islamic law gradually by threatening to use violence and sometimes carrying out the threats to demonstrate that they are serious. This approach has proved itself in the West.

In Canada, the entire media with the exception of the Sun News television network (closed in January 2015) and currently the online television channel, practices self-censorship by avoiding any pictorial representation of Muhammad, even in the context of informative news reports. The Toronto Star indeed prided itself on this policy in a front-page editorial, explaining that it does not want to hurt the feelings of the Muslim public in Canada.6

The selective silence of Muslim religious leadership in the face of insults to Islam by some political sources exposes hypocrisy and the subordination of religious tenets to tactical political considerations.

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