Humor and free speech are ideals that Islam cherishes

In the name of God, the most Gracious, Most Merciful.

The recent arrest in New York of Faisal Shahzad raises the scepter of fear and the now all too familiar slogan of those who hate our freedoms and want to destroy us.

Several motives were put forward as to why Mr. Shahzad, who by purely outward signs, appears to be a Muslim. Faisal is a Muslim name and while he is a naturalized American, his country of birth is Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country.

Even though he has been living in the New Haven, Connecticut area for years, Muslim leaders and community activists there and in nearby towns and cities do not know him. As far as anyone knows he has not left any trace of what his motives might have been. Eventually the truth will emerge and when it does it will bring an end to the speculation.

For now, American security experts see a possible motive in the proximity of Faisal’s bomb-loaded Nissan Pathfinder to Viacom’s comedy central network located in Times Square. Among other things, Viacom produces “South Park” a satirical comedy show that parodies celebrities and religious figures.

In an anniversary show marking its 200th episode, the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, didn’t want to omit mention of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Concerned that they might offend Muslims, particularly in light of the Danish cartoon controversy, the creators announced that they were going to hide him in a bear costume.

However, in the following episode any mention of “Muhammad” was beeped out and the show was deleted completely. It was not even shown online.  A group calling itself “Revolution” issued a threat of violence against the creators of South Park.

This apparently stirred the pot of free speech on American talk shows. Jon Stewart called it an outrage. Even Bart Simpson piped in with his own two cents when he scribbled on a blackboard “South Park – We’d stand behind you if we weren’t so scared.”

American cartoonist Molly Norris created a Facebook page to launch a mock campaign asking people to draw objects claiming to be the likeness of Prophet Muhammad. 8-thousand people joined her Facebook to participate in “Draw Muhammad Day.”

Eventually, Norris withdrew the campaign and closed her Facebook page with a cartoon that read: Try the new diet of fear.”

It is a strange world that we live in. One where humor has been reduced to ridicule and mockery and where free speech is the freedom to insult, demean and parody others. These contradictions are the absurdities of modernity.

A great Canadian intellectual, Ursala Franklin gave a rare interview this week to the CBC’s Anna Marie Tremonti. In that conversation, Franklin explained a concept called ‘scrupling.’

It’s a Quaker term that represents a new form of citizen politics. Scrupling is now a growing movement that aims to bring citizens together to clarify troubling moral and political issues and chart alternative course.

Scrupling avoids the violence that accompany revolutions and is aimed instead at reconciliation and social engagement. Instead of seeking to tear down existing democratic socio-political systems, communities that engage in ‘scrupling’ seek peaceful change aimed at the good of all citizens.

Before Muslims can successfully engage in scrupling with others we need to have some internal scrupling of our own. Violence and terror solves nothing and are doomed to fail. Humor and free speech are ideals that Islam cherishes.

Remarkably, our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was always seen with a smile on his face. One of his name is adahak…the smiling one. People were allowed to speak their minds in his presence and he never got angry with them even when his companions got terribly upset and urged violence as a means of silencing dissent.

The Prophet was instead patient and merciful. When his companions petitioned him to discipline those who mocked him by referring to him as mudhammam, which means the cursed one, he responded that God has protected him….indeed, he said, they are talking about someone named Mudhammam…and I am Muhammad, the praised one.

I submit that the people who wish to ridicule and mock our blessed Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, don’t know him. But they know us and if all they see are Muslims who spew hatred and violence in the name of Islam, can we blame them if they believe our actions are inspired by Allah’s Messenger?

May God shower our community with love and guide us to a path that allows us to accept with humility and courtesy the gifts of spring and a heart that is forever grateful of His favors.

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