Everybody Draw Muhammad Day has faced criticism by the usual hardliners, and in the Western media. The issue at hand, apparently, is this divide between freedom of speech and religion, and religious tolerance/harmony.
Everybody Draw Muhammad Day is slammed because, among other things, it violates one of the beliefs of Islam, specifically a prohibition against producing representations of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah, and other major religious figures. The idea was doing so would defeat the idea of idolatry. By drawing a picture of Muhammad, one would violate this principle, and so commit blasphemy and disrespect Islam.
Very well. But let me draw your attention to a little-known fact. Every day, someone, somewhere, deliberately commits sacrilege.
If you eat meat, you violate the Mahayana Buddhist belief of abstaining from harming sentient beings and cultivation of compassion.
If you eat pork, you violate Jewish and Muslim dietary regulations.
If you worship multiple gods, you violate one of God’s commandments.
If you worship a Creator deity, you violate Buddhist philosophy.
If you worship no gods…things get interesting.
Perhaps the one activity that does not contravene any religious philosophy is the act of breathing. Maybe sticking to a vegan diet, too. Every religion is so fundamentally incompatible that it is probably impossible to live without violating a religious rule or other — even and especially if that rule belongs to a religion you don’t believe in. The only sane way forward is to keep to the beliefs you believe in. Just you, mind, not anybody else.
Islam may prohibit idolatry. Very well — but this prohibition is only for believers. If I am not a Muslim, why should I concern myself with this, and other, rules? Conversely, if I were not Buddhist/Christian/Jewish/any other religion, I have no need to live my life by the beliefs of other faiths.
Respect for other religions cannot be refraining from actions that their doctrines call deplorable. It is simply impossible for everybody to do so all the time. Respect for other religions is simply the acknowledgement that their followers are on a different spiritual path, no less than one’s own. To demand that someone refrain from doing something offensive to your religion is to impose your religious belief on that person, and thereby take away his ability to choose his religious belief.
This is, of course, not to say that voluntarily acting in accordance with someone else’s faith is wrong, such as an atheist giving thanks in the presence of her Christian friends. These actions, while commendable, should be voluntary gestures of respect, to preserve the free will of individuals — this makes the gesture even more significant than it already is. This is also not to say that deliberately preventing someone from following his religion is acceptable, like serving non-halal food to Muslims. It is akin to imposing your belief or lack thereof on that person or persons.
In the same vein, I would think it’s unacceptable to do anything that deliberately provokes a person or persons on the basis of religion. Placing a pig’s head on the doorstep of a Muslim family falls under this category, because it implies that their choice of religion is invalid or otherwise wrong.
This does not, however, mean that criticism of certain religious philosophies or beliefs is wrong. For instance, one can argue that the Catholic Church’s position on abortion is right or wrong on various grounds. The difference between an insult and criticism is that insults are primarily designed to provoke anger or other negative emotions, while criticism (as I use the term here) is an analysed response that is grounded in the real world.
It is also unacceptable to resort to threats of or actual violence against people who do insult religions accidentally or otherwise — religious ideas are just ideas, and have no actual basis in the physical world. Hence the reference to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, but not the South Park episode that started it all.
I really don’t understand why people are so sensitive about religion. A religion, at its heart, is a series of beliefs and practices. You belong to a particular religion for as long as you perform the required rituals (praying, going to church, etc.) and profess belief in necessary doctrine (there is but one God, the Four Noble Truths, the existence of the Sephirot). A religious belief has little if any material substance; it is an idea in your head. It is neurons firing in your brain — nothing more than that can be proven as yet. A religious practice exists exactly as long as people practice it; when people stop doing it, it ceases to exist. You may believe that a particular doctrine is true, but belief does not make something true, in the same way the Earth will always be a sphere no matter how hard I believe it is a two-dimensional rectangle.
A belief, in short, is merely a series of thoughts in your head, some of which may be shared by others.
Everyday sacrilege does not erode a religious belief. Neither does deliberate, apparently blasphemous, action. These things are physical actions, but beliefs exist in the realm of ideas. Ideas, especially religious ideas, are a step removed from the real world.
Everybody Draw Muhammad Day is not a statement against Islam. It is a statement against people who would threaten to kill, or have already killed, innocents in the name of religion. Even if it were disrespectful towards Islam, can the event harm Islam in any way? It cannot, for Islam, like all religions, is an idea in the minds of humans, and ideas cannot be wounded or injured. Ideas cannot bleed, cannot die, cannot erode.
Ideas either exist, or not exist, in the minds of people. It is the believers who will do the most ‘harm’ to any religion, for is it they who have an idea to lose — they may stop believing in their faiths, forever drop the ideas from their minds, or twist the mainstream beliefs into something else for temporal ends. Non-believers cannot possibly harm an idea, or cease to believe in something they do not believe in. It matters not if someone else criticises or mocks your faith, for if you continue to believe in your faith, it is not harmed. If someone else you know decides to leave your faith, it is her choice, not yours. Your belief is shaken not one bit.
(This is not to say that your belief in your belief may not be shaken — but a discussion of that is irrelevant here.)
Don’t worry about others violating your religious beliefs; someone, most likely a non-believer, most surely is, somewhere in the world, even if that person does not know it. The real question should be, what does it matter to you? And why?
As for me, give me this day my daily dose of new beliefs, and forgive me my own beliefs in perfect faith that to the god/s or ideas I believe in it is right to pray and that it is not right to pray to any being besides him/her/it/them, for I testify that there is no God to me but the god/s and ideas I choose to have faith in, in recognition that all god/s I may accept are aspects of a divine Unity I may choose to believe in, to attain cessation of suffering and enlightenment for all sentient beings. Blessed be, even if I or others do not believe or believe in something else.
See what happens when you try to pay respect to all faiths you think are important at once?