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Why an obscure movie angers Muslims

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Palestinians burn a U.S. flag during a protest against what they say is a film being produced in the U.S. that was insulting the Prophet Mohammad, in front of the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City September 12, 2012 (Credit: Reuters/Suhaib Salem)

A film called “Innocence of Muslims” has sparked violence in the Arab world that persists this morning.  Why is this obscure movie causing such an uproar among some Muslims?  Two facts explain the crisis.

First, Islam prohibits depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, lest they lead some to worship a man rather than Allah.  To Muslims, the religious portraits of saints and other biblical characters so common to Christian worship can become objects of veneration and thus idols.  They forbid representations of Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, and all other Islamic prophets.

Second, while the Prophet must never be depicted, he must always be respected.  When speaking of Muhammad or other prophets of Islamic history, a Muslim will typically follow his name with “peace be upon him” (abbreviated PBUH in Muslim writings).  Any art that demeans the Prophet is seen as a direct attack on the religion he founded.

“Innocence of Muslims” breaks both taboos.  It depicts Muhammad as a child molester, homosexual, womanizer, and killer.  In so doing, it offends Muslims the world over.  This reaction is not unprecedented—when a Danish cartoon in 2006 portrayed Muhammad with a bomb worn as a turban, it sparked demonstrations around the world.  Such slanders are not viewed by Muslims as free speech, but as hate speech.

What does the New Testament say about this crisis?  First, it teaches us to relate to other religions with respect, not denigration.  When Paul found himself among the idolatrous people of Athens, he observed that they were “very religious” (Acts 17:22) but did not condemn their paganism.  He then led them from their wrong beliefs to the one true God (vs. 23-31).  A movie that intends to provoke offense and violence is the opposite of the spirit of Christ.

Second, God’s word clearly rejects violence in the name of one’s faith.  When Peter took up arms in his Lord’s defense, “Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away!'” (John 18:11).  Those who kill in defense of Muhammad’s reputation do far more to harm it than to preserve it.

Who is really behind this uproar?  Jesus warned us that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44) who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).  Is it a coincidence that animosity is escalating in the Muslim world at the same time more Muslims are coming to Christ than ever before?  Paul would say of this conflict, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  Because this is a spiritual war, those who fight with the spiritual weapons of intercession are on the front lines.  Where in the battle are you?