Daily Illini: Controversial cartoons spark debate at U. Illinois

Dr. Assad Busool, the guest imam of a Morton Grove mosque, stood in front of the small Muslim congregation gathered for prayers Friday. Across Asia and Africa, Muslims were violently protesting against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

But the way to answer evil, Busool thundered in a thick Palestinian accent, was with good: He wanted Muslims to hand out copies of the Koran.

“Our duty is not to go out and scream and burn buildings,” Busool told worshipers at the American Legion Memorial Civic Center, where prayers were held while the Morton Grove mosque is under construction. “We can talk to them in a nice manner about what our prophet means to us.”

In stark contrast to angry protests by Muslims worldwide, imams throughout the Chicago area have echoed Busool’s words, extolling the Muslim community to respond to ridicule with respect and to educate non-Muslims about Islam.

Muslims attribute the peaceful response to the Danish cartoons to their position as assimilated American citizens whose leaders have developed peaceful channels to fight for the rights of their community. Despite isolated incidents of bigotry, Muslims here say they don’t feel the same degree of discrimination as their peers in countries such as Denmark and France.

And unlike Muslims in countries across Asia, American Muslims aren’t harboring frustrations against repressive and undemocratic regimes, they say.

“It’s simply venting off,” Ahmed Rehabdirector of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of the violent protests. “They don’t know how to protest through legal channels because legal channels are often closed to them.”

The political climate in America is less volatile than in some other nations, Muslim leaders note, because the U.S. media has refrained from reprinting or broadcasting the cartoons, some of which depict Muhammad wearing a bomb under his turban and turning suicide bombers away from paradise because he has run out of virgins.

It has helped calm tensions immensely that U.S. politicians have spoken out against the cartoons, they said. “This means a lot to us,” Busool said after the Friday service.

Rehab said Muslim leaders hoped to use the cartoon flap to educate the West about Muhammad. They have called on community members to donate biographies of Muhammad’s life, which they plan to give to libraries and schools in Denmark.

“The way to solve this controversy is to engage in dialogue,” Rehab said.

In Chicago, Muslim leaders plan to hold a town hall meeting next week to talk about Islam’s view of the prophets, including Jesus and Moses, who are also revered in Islam, and what Muhammad means to Muslims and why Islam prohibits depicting him.

“You want to pick on something, pick on something else,” said Musa Qutub, the imam of the Islamic Information Center of America in Prospect Heights. “Don’t pick on [God’s] messengers.”

In his sermon last week Qutub said he condemned the cartoons for demeaning Islam.

But he also condemned the violent Muslim response across the globe. “It should be peaceful,” Qutub said.

At the Morton Grove mosque, Fadl Abdallah, 60, a Palestinian-born Islamic researcher from Chicago, said U.S. Muslims remained calm because they felt part of the fabric of American society. In Europe, they felt frustrated at being treated as second-class citizens.

Madhat Darwish, 47, said he understood the violent protests in Asian countries, , but he felt that Muslims would have been better off ignoring the Danish cartoons.

“If you leave it alone, the issue will die,” he said.



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