Why allow religious extremists to re-define Islam in the West?
By Ray Hanania
Rashid-Al-Din Hamadani was a writer and a physician who rose to influence in the Mongolian Dynasties that ruled over Persia, serving as a Grand Visier to many of the Mongolian Khans.
Born in Persia in 1247 of Jewish parents, Rashid-al-Din converted to Islam at the age of 30 in 1277, like many of his time who were influenced by the rise of new inspiring religions.
For most people who don’t study World history or literature from the 13th and 14th Century, the name will now only have one meaning: He wrote a book called “A Compendium of Chronicles” that included a painting of the Prophet Muhammad that was denounced last week by some Muslim extremists who oppose the depiction of the Prophet in any manner.
The portrait depicts the Prophet speaking to an Angel and at the time in the 14th Century, had caused no controversies at all.
Of course, instead of learning about Islam or even the Prophet Muhammed, the world today is debating whether or not Muslims are too extreme and non-Muslims are insensitive to Muslim, fueling the growing Islamophobia that grips the world.
Last week in a small classroom on Global History at Hamline University, adjunct professor Erika Lopez Prater was quickly fired from her job when a Muslim student who signed up for the class complained she violated his rights and had offended Islam by displaying the image from a book written by Rashid-al-Din.
Instead of helping the world to learn about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, the world has split into a polarized and often angry debate about anti-Muslim racism and growing extremism among some followers of the Islamic religion.
Prater went out of her way to show sensitivity to any concerns of any student regarding the display of images of their prophets before beginning the class. She cautioned in her syllabus that images of holy figures from many religions would be shown in the class and she asked students to contact her if they had any concerns.
One student after the class began, who is Muslim and is not named in the burst of news stories published this week about the controversy, complained and the University, located in Minnesota which has a large Muslim population from Somalia and other countries, immediately fired Prater.
Critics responded by denouncing the display of the published image, demanding Prater be fired. During a Town Hall organized by the University to address the controversy, several Muslim speakers asserted that publishing the image from Rashid-al-Din’s book was equivalent to teaching that Nazi leader Adolph Hitler was good.
At a time when tensions continue to grow among religions, as anti-Semitism increases, Islamophobia soars and anti-Christian sentiments simmer, you would think that leaders of the religious communities would show tolerance and understanding and instead of judging based on events, judge based on intent.
Prater’s classroom syllabus was not designed to promote hatred against Muslims or any religious group. Her recognition of sensitivities were upfront and shows she was being considerate. There could have been a positive discussion about why Muslims believe it is wrong to show images of the Prophet Muhammad and expand to include past incidents in which the display of those images were intentionally negative to provoke Muslims into anger.
An example of how bitter this issue is was reflected in the case involving the French Magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which intentionally published offensive and disparaging images of the Prophet Muhammad that began in 2006 and continued for many years after.
The Charlie Hebdo publications of the images was intentionally and provocative, never intended to enhance knowledge or understanding or even basic education. It was designed to provoke anger and anger is exactly what the magazine received.
Rather than fueling a public discussion of enlightenment, the Charlie Hebdo offense sparked protests, anger, lawsuits and even violence when the magazine editors and offices were targeted in three violent attacks in 2011, 2015 and 2020.
But is that the same with what Ms. Prater did? Someone who with great sensitivity reached out to students in her syllabus to address any possible concerns?
Supporters have created a GoFundMe Page to raise money for Prater, who was unfairly attacked by critics and fired by Hamline University, which demonstrated a more threatening act of discrimination.
The publication of an image of the Prophet can certainly be offensive to Muslims. But for non-Muslims, the image is a means of promoting understanding and respect. While religions all have different views and beliefs, certainly there should be understanding and tolerance of those who are not in the religion in question.
A good example of tolerance and respect was how the Arabs and Muslims of the Gulf embraced and respected the Christian religious celebrations of Christmas on December 25th for mainstream Christians and this week for Orthodox Christians. It shows that people of differing religions can get along, understand each other and respect each other.
Most importantly, it shows how people with differing religious views can embrace peace and understanding together, and learn to respect the boundaries of each religious belief.
Rashid-al-Din was killed in 1318 after he was accused by one of the Mongolian emperors, Abu Said Bahadur Khan, of conspiring against his rule.
But I am sure that if he were alive today, Rashid-al-Din might be shocked at the rise of Islamophobia in the world and the startling criticism of his work, which included an image that is serving to fuel anti-Muslim tensions today, more than 700 years later when it was originally intended to promote understanding.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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