Little things mean a lot


Twelve cartoons were originally published by Jyllands-Posten. None showed the Prophet with the face of a pig. Yet such a portrayal has circulated in the Middle East (The BBC was caught out and for a time showed film of this in Gaza without realizing it was not one of the 12).

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) – Extra! Extra! Read all about it! That street corner cry of yesteryear is resonating at some European publications that have enjoyed a boom in sales and Web traffic after printing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have stoked outrage across the Islamic world.
Denmark’s biggest-circulation broadsheet, Jyllands-Posten, triggered the controversy in September by publishing 12 cartoons of the prophet, including one showing his turban as a bomb. Its weekday circulation of about 154,000 hasn’t moved much.


KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) – Some 2 million Shi’ites massed in the sacred Iraqi city of Kerbala on Thursday to mourn the death of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson 1,300 years ago.
Pilgrims in white robes beat their heads and chests and gashed their heads with swords to imitate the suffering of Imam Hussein, who was killed in battle in Kerbala in the year 680 AD.

New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 8 — As leaders of the world’s 57 Muslim nations gathered for a summit meeting in Mecca in December, issues like religious extremism dominated the official agenda. But much of the talk in the hallways was of a wholly different issue: Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.

Does anything strike you about the quotations above? What I noticed about them was that in each case the word “prophet” was capitalized, the implication being that the writer accepted Mohammed as the prophet of God. I may be wrong about this but I believe that the standard formula of conversion to Islam is to profess that “There is no God but God and Mohammed is His prophet”.

I doubt that the in each of the cases above the writer intends to profess or promote Islam: I think it’s just a customary, possibly a respectful, formulation. But is it an appropriate formulation? Consider the two alternative formulations “Jesus, the Son of God” and “Jesus of Nazareth”. The implications of the two formulations are quite different. I’m having a little difficulty in imagining any of the news outlets using the first formulation.

Admittedly, this is a very small thing but, then, so are cartoons. And, with the demonstrations and riots that have been going on in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world over cartoons in the last few weeks, we should have learned that little things can take on a large significance.

6 comments… add one
  • Kay Link

    Messiah and Saviour are customarily capitalized when referring to Jesus, and I think are better parallels with the use of Prophet in this case than Son of God, and more likely, I think, to be used by news outlets.

  • Those are good suggestions, Kay. I don’t recall the press using either of those appellations conventionally in reference to Jesus. Do you?

  • Actually, they do exactly that each and every time the refer to him as Jesus Christ. After all, Christ comes from the Greek , which means “annointed one” or “Messiah”. It is not a surname.

    Ditto the title “Saint”.

    Heck — “Buddha” isn’t even a name — i is a title. The Buddha is actually named Siddhartha Gautama.

    I’m willing to give the MSM a pass on this one — I don’t think they are prepared to refer to him as “the demon-possessed pedophile Muhammad”, or even “the false-prophet Muhammad”. Nor should they, if they want to show a modicum of respect or civility in what are supposed to be objective news pieces.

  • I guess that my real point in this post is that referring to religion or religious figures at all is full of pitfalls. And one of the pitfalls is that using the very words you use may have unintended consequences.

  • I get your point, Dave, FWIW.

    I have noticed that is some press accounts Mo is referred to simply as The Prophet, which brings along its own questions. I have never seen Jesus referred to as The Christ (with the exception of that dreadful Mel Gibson movies) in the secular media. Why is Mohammed accorded so much reverence?

  • Constance Link

    Dave, you wrote:

    “Does anything strike you about the quotations above? What I noticed about them was that in each case the word “prophet” was capitalized, the implication being that the writer accepted Mohammed as the prophet of God.”

    That says nothing about the writer’s religious state of mind, merely the rules of capitalization:

    Religions, faiths, and holy works should always be capitalized:

    Use “the Prophet Muhammed”, not “Muhammed.”

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