This weekend, news of yet another act of religiously charged violence on U.S. soil made headlines. On Saturday (May 2), two gunmen opened fire on a "Draw Muhammad" event in Garland, Texas. Both men were shot dead by police as they attacked a crowd of about 200 people toward the end of the event, an art contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which, it should be noted, has been classified as a hate group.
The question isn't whether the two suspects were in the wrong in attacking the event. (They were.) But how can the thought of drawing a cartoon be potential grounds for extremist violence? MTV News spoke with Edgar Hopida, communications director for the Islamic Society of North America to find out.
Islam prohibits renderings of God, the Prophet Muhammad and other prophets.Print Collector
"Islam is very much against worshiping any created thing, whether it be an artistic thing, a shrine or an artistic shrine toward a prophet," he said. "It's because of that potential to worship it instead of God."
It's not just Muhammad. You won't find a painting, sculpture, or actor depicting Jesus, God, John the Baptist, or any others recognized as holy.
Yes, Islam still has art.Getty Images
Don't think that means the religion is artless. Instead, Islamic religious art can focus on beautiful calligraphy and rendering of scripture from the Quran, or the beautification of mosques with geometric shapes and patterns. "Islam is not without its art," Hopida said. "We have a lot of art. Just look around the Muslim world and the beauty of the mosques and everything."
There have been periods in history where a veiled Muhammad has been depicted.AFP
Of course, religious texts are open to interpretation. At one period in history, Hopida said, it was popular to depict Muhammad and other prophets, but veiled, to respect the rule. Similar to some depictions of the Passion of Christ, the prophet's face will be obscured.
"You have him riding on a spiritual beast into heaven, but you don't see his face," Hopida said of some depictions. "You don't see too much of that, it's usually restricted to a period in history."
Yes, freedom of speech means the contest was legal...Getty Images
The American Freedom Defense Initiative was within its legal rights to host the contest, protected by their right to freedom of speech. But having freedom of speech doesn't necessarily mean you should say whatever you want to say. Hopida called the group's intention "inherently offensive."
"There's the right and then there's the appropriateness," he said. "Everyone has the right to say whatever they want, to express themselves and they have the freedom to do that, but the next question is it appropriate, and is it polite for people to be offensive, to denigrate other people's religions, to make certain kind of remarks or anything? Is it appropriate?"
...but that doesn't mean it was respectful.Getty Images
Hopida said the contest is a step backwards, rather than a constitutional triumph. Should you do something just because you can?
"On the rights side, yes, they're free to insult Islam, they're free to do anything that's within the limits of the law, but is it appropriate?" he said. "Is it conducive to a multicultural, multi-religious or no religious society? That answer would be no because they're not promoting harmony. They're actually trying to divide people rather than bring people together."
The best course of action: turn the other cheek.LightRocket
Hopida denounced the two suspected gunmen as extremists, stressing the core teachings of Islam preach nonviolence, following in the steps of Muhammad. To deal with hate speech or anti-Muslim sentiment, he advised young people to ignore those denouncing them and turn to their friends.
"There's always people that are intolerant of others, whether it be the KKK, the white supremacists, extremist groups that are anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-whatever," he said. "They're gonna attack regardless and they're going to say whatever they're going to say. The best thing is to ignore it. For those who are open and willing to be friends with you and understand your religion, you can always talk to them."