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Faith With Intolerant Believers

This week, Nadia El-Awady asks some important questions about religious tolerance.

A story is told that a Jewish neighbor of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, threw garbage in his way everyday. One day there was no garbage and no neighbor. So the Prophet went to visit the neighbor to see what was wrong. The neighbor had taken ill.

Whether this story is true or not – some scholars discredit it – anyone who has read about the Prophet Muhammed and learned about his ethics would know that it would not be beyond him to act this way towards an unkind neighbor.

Islam is a religion of tolerance. Islam is a religion of peace. This is what we tell people about our religion and this is what we were taught. But the actions of some Muslims betray this.

Most if not all religions and faith systems are tainted by their extremists. Islam is no exception.

On the day the September 11th victims are remembered all over the world, something evil happened. People gathered on Tuesday at the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt to protest a film that most people had not heard of before. Trailers of the movie have reportedly been out on YouTube since last July with hardly any notice. The film is said to misrepresent the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, in a way that Muslims would find extremely offensive. How word got out to the protesters about the film is unclear. But hundreds gathered in front of both embassies, expressing their anger against the country in which the film was made and would be shown.

Scenes from yesterday's protest in Cairo

In Egypt, protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down the U.S. flag, and replaced it with a black standard. In Libya, gunmen launched rocket-propelled grenades against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.

Conspiracy theories are doing the rounds on social media websites. Who might be behind the protests? Why on September 11th? Why were people protesting the movie three months after clips about it were posted to the Internet? Do some runners in the U.S. presidential elections stand to gain from what appears to be a misguided approach to the Middle East by President Obama?

My questions fall along different lines:

Why should I be offended or give weight to a film created by a no one and that is so irrationally untrue that it doesn’t deserve a second thought from me?

Does my own irrational reaction to this film not bring the attention to it that its creator is looking for?

If the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, was living today and saw the violence that Muslims resorted to against innocent people in the name of the Prophet, would he be pleased and proud of what he saw?

Has the Arab Spring taught us the importance of democracy and freedom of expression or has it taught us freedom of violence instead?

Do we, as Muslims, respect peoples of other religions and faiths the way that we expect others to respect and treat us?

Do the Muslims in Egypt treat their Coptic brethren the way they would like their Coptic brethren to treat them?

Can killing innocent people ever be justified? EVER?

Why do Muslims get so defensive about their religion? Why do we feel offended every single time someone criticizes it? Why do we seem unable to face criticism with an open mind and heart, encouraging discussion and understanding? Is this defensiveness a sign of strength of faith or could it be a sign of its weakness? Are we so unsure of ourselves and of our beliefs that we allow every single criticism and attack against our faith to cut at us to our very bones?

Why do some Muslims see violence as the only way to express condemnation? Yes, Muslim people all over the world have seen more than their fair share of injustice and intolerance, both by people of their own faith and by others. But how far has reacting violently to intolerance gotten them? What do yesterday’s protesters and killers feel they may have accomplished by their actions? Their aim would seem to be a demand that our religion and our Prophet be treated with respect. But is this what they accomplished? Have they taught the world a lesson in the importance of respect, do they think?

At a political level, and taking into consideration the relative state of instability that Libya and Egypt currently face, WHERE THE HECK WERE THE SECURITY FORCES? How did Egyptian protesters manage to climb the U.S. Embassy walls? Is it not the duty of Egyptian police to protect embassies? For years and up until very recently it has been virtually impossible to get anywhere near most of the major embassies in Cairo with one’s car. To reach them on foot usually meant going through several police barricades. How did protesters not only reach the embassy walls but also climb it? How was the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi fired upon??

So many questions. So few answers. The easy route out is to go down the line of thinking of conspiracy theories. It was someone’s plan all along. The difficult route, the one we must take, is to re-examine ourselves and the way we think and react.

If you have a grievance with a film-maker or a cartoonist, take that person to court. Sign petitions. Start an awareness campaign. Publicly address the wrong things that you find insulting and correct them. Represent your religion the way you want it to be seen and understood. Or protest. But do so peacefully.

And for goodness sake, Morsi, protect the bloody embassies in this country! The right to protest is one thing, where a protest is held and how it is conducted is another. We need to start implementing the law in this country once again. The good ones, anyway.