by RANDA ABDEL-FATTAH
I was sitting with my husband and two children in a restaurant in Sydney yesterday afternoon. The television mounted on the wall was loudly blaring the news of Muslims in Sydney’s CBD protesting against the film, Innocence of Muslims.
Images flashed across the screen: angry Muslim men clashing with the police. Muslims holding up placards such as ‘behead all those who insult the Prophet’. My husband and I exchanged dreaded looks. The other restaurant patrons were watching in horror. Their disgust was palpable.
I heard a couple mutter “bloody Muslims”. I wanted to approach them and implore them not to judge us all by the actions of a few. But I felt weary and doubted that anything I had to say could overcome the visceral impact of the ugly images on the news.
What happened in Sydney was utterly insane. Along with my Muslim friends and family, I stayed plugged into the social networking sites. Friends who were at the protests fed us up-to-the minute information about what was going on and how they were feeling.
The majority sentiment was that the protest had started out peacefully until a minority of extremists hijacked it. There was also a strong sense of fear as people detected a dark and tense shift in the atmosphere, starting with a stronger police presence and then tear gas.
All I could do was lament the fact that some of Sydney’s Muslims had felt compelled to protest in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. I am a devout Muslim and feel deeply offended by the film Innocence of Muslims, which is a low-budget, cheap, despicable attempt to insult and defame prophet Muhammad.
I also support peaceful protests as a legitimate expression of people’s democratic rights. I’ve been along to a fair few and spoken at some as well. But I don’t think they’re always particularly constructive and especially not in these circumstances. The first victim of these protests is Islam. That’s the irony. The angry, ranting man and woman on the street is dishonouring the example set to us by Prophet Muhammad who was attacked and persecuted all his life but who always responded with dignity, patience, and kindness.
One of my favourite stories is about a woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about whether she was unwell.