The Caricature of a Prophet

Have we ever loved someone so much that they become an inseparable part of us, the best part of us? When the love is so pure that it cleanses the soul? When we love the person for their qualities and what they have given us? When the only way to repay them is deepest gratitude? Such love happens rarely and is to be treasured. Such love is not easy to find in the sweltering turmoil of our daily lives. It is difficult and rare among humans. It is this feeling that helps us unshackle our human limitations, develops our innate divine qualities, uplifts us spiritually and brings us close to God. It is this feeling we often have when we contemplate our great teachers.

When the truly religious contemplate Jesus or the Buddha or Sri Krishna, they feel their spines tingle, their hair stands on end and their hearts open into a vast sea of adoration. This contemplation is spiritual and profound and changes our lives, even if for a moment. It is part of our growth as spiritual beings and is sacrosanct. If anyone insults it deliberately, consciously, calculatingly, it is a grave sin.

If the above two paragraphs make sense, then a corollary follows. That to caricature any Prophet, great teacher or Guru is in poor taste. That it is our responsibility as human beings to reject any dishonor that is brought upon any figure held in reverence by any group of people and to disavow it. The present attempts to draw cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is humorless and disgraceful and must be resisted tooth and nail.

Why so? Why don’t the Muslims lighten up? Is there nothing called Freedom of Speech? We joke the same way about Jesus or the Buddha, don’t we?

Well, there is no freedom of speech in insulting someone I revere. It may be freedom of speech if I called your parents names, but you would not appreciate that. And what about Responsibility of Speech? When a portrait of Madonna drawn in cow dung was hung in a museum of Brooklyn, the Mayor of America Rudy Giuliani went ballistic and threatened to cut off all grants to that institution. When MF Hussain drew nude Hindu goddesses, it drew a storm of protest among the Hindus in India. While I never agreed with the vitriolic reaction of those who got angry over this insult to their beliefs, I understood it.

Dishonoring the prophet of a great religion is not funny business. For tomorrow, someone can abuse the prophet of our religion, and we would be on a very slippery slope indeed. I would submit that drawing the caricature of a prophet, any prophet, is as bit incendiary as if Osama Bin Laden had lobbed off an explosive in our backyard. What the religious extremists do not have the brains to do, we do for them gratis. There is no Freedom of Speech in assisting your enemy in ways he cannot even fathom. Let us imagine for a moment how we would feel if a divisive radical from the mid-east, insisting on his new-found freedom of speech, created a website that dishonors Jesus or Abraham or Sri Krishna or the Buddha. Will we feel the same way if someone put racist literature on a Facebook page and tried to justify it?

What surprises me about this is that no great political or religious leader has come out against this. If I were Obama or Rahul Gandhi, I would come out against this attempt swinging. It would be great politics and would garner me votes. More importantly, it would gain me the trust of a major international community and weaken the terrorists. It would give me the high ground and it would be good karma. If I do not defend what does not need to be defended or should have never needed to be defended, I lose any rights to defend myself. It would gain me the allegiance of the intelligentsia, the scholars, the truly religious among the Muslims which I desperately need if there is to be any hope for international reconciliation and justice.

For let us face it. The Muslims love Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). We may dislike the fact. We may not agree with their beliefs. We may be prejudiced however much we want. But we have to honor the fact that they love and adore their prophet more than anything in the world, just like we love our own prophets. And we should respect their love for their Teacher.

The ancient Hindus saw the spiritual teacher, the Guru, as greater than one’s mother and father, greater than one’s siblings and any possession on earth. The Guru is the representative of God. The word Guru means ‘one who leads the seeker from darkness to Light’. The easiest and fastest way to God, according to the ancient Sanskrit texts, would be to open oneself totally to the Guru. Kabir said in a famous couplet that if he met God and his Guru at the same time, he would bow to the Guru first because without the Guru he would have never found God. Such is the reverence that is demanded for our spiritual preceptors.

We can spend all day arguing about our beliefs and faiths, if we wish, but a basic decorum must be maintained. We must have a high opinion of each other and believe in each other’s sincerity of purpose and feeling. If we cannot do that, we have no claim of being civilized. We should also remember that true believers, be it any religion, are good people. A true Muslim is every bit as loyal, loving and compassionate as a true Christian or a true Hindu or a true Buddhist. We have no right to hurt someone who has only good will in his heart.

The Western Civilization makes the claim of being more civilized than the rest of the world. Well, then it has the onus to create a discourse, which is respectful and sincere. There is nothing civilized about insulting a figure venerated by more than a billion people on earth. Whoever uses profanity in a debate loses the debate. If we do not reject the attempt to humiliate Muslims, we should graciously accept defeat in this so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ and let them take the honors.

All men of good will must join hands in rejecting this attempt to scorn and show disrespect to a major figure in human history. Whether we agree with the theology of Islam, that idols are not to be allowed, that even the face of their Prophet cannot be drawn as per his own instructions, is a moot point. The only point is that Muslims believe that drawing the Prophet defaces the sanctity of their faith and we must honor that without any condition. That is not too much to ask.

There will be many who will continue to insult our revered figures. We must ignore them, without violence. But we must also refuse to sanction their behavior in the garb of democratic and secular behavior. The biggest sacrilege is not to be an atheist or to kvetch and wrestle with God or to demand understanding from our teachers. The biggest sacrilege is to do something negative and then trying to legitimize it as something holy, positive and great. Being obnoxious is not a birthright.

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