Last week’s protests in response to the amateur internet video intended to defame the Prophet Muhammad dominated headlines about Pakistan and served as an unfortunate and misleading introduction to Islam for too many in the West. While outrage against the offensive video clip was real – just as films like The Last Temptation of Christ and works of art like “Piss Christ” inspired outrage in the US – the violence that broke out represented not the majority of devout Muslims, but the craven opportunism of radical political groups who seized on the film as a convenient tool for manufacturing rage and amplifying their political message far beyond their actual support among the people. As noted by Trudy Rubin in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer,
Violent protests against critiques of Islam have no roots in the Muslim religion. As the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia said last week, the Web video “would never harm the noble Prophet in any way, nor the religion of Islam.” He denounced the destruction of embassies and public buildings as un-Islamic.
While cynical political leaders were exploiting religion to hijack media headlines, however, a little noticed event in Washington, DC presented a much different representation of Islam – one that would be far more familiar to the billions of Muslims across the world who registered their offense through reasoned outreach and quiet prayer, and serves as a much more informative introduction to the Islamic tradition prevalent in countries like Pakistan. Over the weekend, the Smithsonian Institution hosted Sufism at the Smithsonian: Searching fro the Divine through the Arts, a two-day symposium on Sufism and Sufi-inspired arts.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, spoke at the event on Saturday, explaining that,
Over the past decade, the emergence of ideological terrorism and its narrative of hate has cast a long and dark shadow on the picture of Islam as it has been practiced for centuries, as it is still practiced today. This tiny percentage has virtually hijacked the religion of Islam and distorted it as a religion of exclusivity and violence. In fact, allow me to say, that those who dominate international media discourse have strayed far from the teachings of Sufi masters who were the votaries of love, from the “maktab i ishq” or school of love; aligning themselves with an increasingly apocalyptic creed that promotes exclusion of all those who disagree with their narrow interpretation of faith.
Let there be no mistake that the essence of Islam advocates peace above all else.
Pakistani analyst Najam Sethi contends that last week’s violent protests were not a spontaneous and popular uprising, but a media event carefully orchestrated by radical political groups who seek to overshadow “the point of view of an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are tolerant and moderate and want to reflect such values to the global village with which they wish to trade and integrate, for whom jobs, education and upward mobility are worthy ambitions.” That point of view was eloquently stated by Ambassador Rehman on Saturday night. It’s too bad more media wasn’t there to cover it.
Video of Ambassador Rehman’s full remarks is below: