Iowa City Muslims offer mixed views on Middle East protests


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Mariam El-Hattab wanted to “clear the air” in Iowa City after a now-infamous anti-Muslim video made in America sparked uprisings in the Muslim world.

El-Hattab wanted to answer questions from Iowa City’s non-Muslim community. But she, along with her sisters from the Mosque, waited as no Iowa City residents showed up to the women-only discussion session at the Mosque on Sept. 22. The University of Iowa sophomore said she was very disappointed.

Amid all the controversy surrounding the video, some Muslims in Iowa City said they believe the worldwide protests are taking it too far and, more importantly, are against Prophet Muhammad’s teachings.

“You can’t kill an innocent soul in Islam,” said UI freshman Doaa Elgaali, who believes the protests are becoming irrational.

She asserted that most Muslims have similar opinions on the protests, but they believe the media are “not out to show people what is good in the world.”

“It is a bad film, but I don’t expect everyone to love my religion just because it is the most perfect thing to me,” said the Sudanese- American who spent half her life in Saudi Arabia. “And moreover, if someone makes a video degrading my beloved Prophet, I don’t care, because I know the truth.”

El-Hattab — who has hopes of rehosting the discussion session — condemned the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens during a riot, calling it un-Islamic.

“Honestly, this is the stupidest thing I have ever seen in my life,” said the Egyptian American. “In Islam, a messenger or an ambassador is never supposed to be touched or killed, so it is very disappointing to see this happen in a Muslim country.”

On July 2, a YouTube user who identified himself as Sam Bacile (which turns out to be a pseudonym) uploaded two videos on the website that, two months later, sparked violent protests across the Muslim world and cause him to go into hiding. The video, which currently has more than 12 million views, wasn’t given any attention until early September, when Egyptian media broadcast the video with Arabic subtitles.

The amateur video, which depicts Prophet Muhammad as a pedophile and torturer, has sparked protests now in their third week. They don’t seem to be dying out. 

Angry, and in most cases, violent mobs have since taken to the streets in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of South Asia, and have led to the death of four American citizens and many more Muslim protesters as they clashed with local police. According to the Associated Press, on Sunday, Greek riot police used tear gas and pepper spray in attempts to disband a group of Muslim protesters rallying against the film in Athens.

UI senior Salah Moghram, believes the video should be ignored.

“Why would I watch that video,” the Yemeni American said. “I was very disappointed to see many Islamic websites re-uploading the video. If you feel insulted by the video, why would you share it? They are actually helping the guys who put this video up.”

Moghram, who is personally opposed to the protests against the video, said if people do want to protest, they should do so in a peaceable manner. A peaceful protest would have been more in line with Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, he said.

But not all Muslim students are against the protests. UI junior Mousa Alaithan, who is vehemently in support of the protests, said while he doesn’t support violence, he understands that the violence is an expression of people who are extremely angry.

“We are talking about a religious community,” the Saudi Arabian student said. “This is something very important to us, and when you attack something important for anyone, you attack their sensitivity. The Prophet is above everything else for us. We cannot just keep saying it’s freedom of speech or opinions, because people are dying. We cannot ignore people’s sentiments.”

However, one UI expert believes curtailing free speech may in fact, be the reason for violence and aggression.

“Slime grows in the dark,” Associate journalism Professor Lyombe Eko wrote in an email. “Free speech is a safety valve, and people get to express their frustrations through it. By banning free speech, people’s emotions rise to a boiling point; they need only a little excuse to explode.”

An advocate of free speech, Eko supported Google’s efforts to not take the video down from YouTube and said people need to be reasonable and shrug things off at times.

“If not, they will become the puppets of those who know exactly how to make them get violent and destroy themselves,” he said. “Every time these things happen, Muslims kill each other.  That is hard to understand. Reasonable people do not murder those with whom they disagree.”

Contrary to what Eko believes, Juwairiah Omar, a high school senior at City High, believes hate speech should not be protected and was happy that the video has been banned in such countries as Egypt and Tunisia.

“There are certain limits you shouldn’t cross,” Omar, who writes for her school magazine, said. “If freedom of speech is hatred, then it is wrong; it is totally wrong.”

The only hijab-wearing student at her school, Omar said she should not have to defend her faith constantly and believes the video has caused her to face some awkward questions about Islam.

Unlike El-Hattab, Elgaali, Moghram, and Omar, UI student Naser Alrabeean decided to watch the video, and he said it shouldn’t have been given too much attention because of how badly made it was.

“Because of the violence, the video is becoming more popular, and it is becoming a ripple effect,” the UI sophomore from Kuwait said. “If we, as Muslims, ignore this video, it would send a better message across.”

Alrabeean said while he strictly condemns the violence, like Alhaitan, he too, supports the protests and understands the violence they entail.

“People should have learnt from past incidents like drawings in the Danish newspaper and understood that the Muslim world is not going to take these things like nothing has happened,” he said.

While governments in protest-stricken countries are trying to douse demonstrations and calm people down, Eko believes time is going to be the best medicine.

“With time, they will learn that God is perfectly capable of defending himself,” he said. “Religions are not inherited genetically. Killing people or dying over how a philosophical system is portrayed makes no sense to me.”

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