Denmark: Angry Muslims Burn Danish Flag; Leaders Urge Restraint

MUSLIM leaders urged restraint as hundreds of angry Muslims burned a mock Danish flag outside a mosque in Quiapo yesterday to denounce controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper. The protesters, chanting Allah Akbar! (God is great!), demanded an apology from the prime minister of Denmark, where the caricature of the prophet, including one showing him with a bomb in his turban, was first published by a newspaper last September. They also demanded that President Macapagal-Arroyo and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines condemn the caricatures. The cartoons, which have been widely reprinted in Europe, have sparked international condemnation and violence in Muslim countries. We are not afraid of the United States or Europe, said an angry Jamil Hiyahyah, grand imam of the Islamic Center in Quiapo. We will go to war to defend Islam if needed, he said. Muslim Peace and Order Council, said the caricatures assauted Muslims’ honor and dignity. The portrayal of Muhammad through different images and caricatures is not allowed in Islam, he said, adding that the Muslims would gladly go to war and die if the Danish government failed to take responsibility. Muslim groups are planning a series of protest actions next week, including a picket in front of the Danish embassy in Makati on Monday. Ambiong said some Muslims have threatened to torch the embassy, [but] while we are really angry at what happened, we assure the public that Monday’s rally will be peaceful. Earlier this week, police ordered a stepped-up security around the building housing the Danish embassy. Other Muslim leaders, however, called on fellow Muslims to show tolerance and moderation in their protests. Mocking others, irrespective of religious affiliation, is provoking people to nurture hatred, said Taha Basman, president of the Philippine Islamic Council. But we urge Muslims to exercise restraint and sobriety, he added. A scholar of the Koran, Ustadz Muhammad Sulaiman, pointed out that Muhammad himself never reacted violently to even tougher insults. He recalled how the Makkans, who defied Muhammad, once stoned him so badly that he ended up with bloodied legs. The Archangel Gabriel reportedly asked him what punishment he wanted for the attackers. He said, let there be none, but let they be guided to the truth, Sulaiman said. But Sulaiman, a graduate of Luga (the language of the Koran) at the state-run King Saud University) in Saudi Arabia, pointed out that it was not correct to depict the prophet in any manner. Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan, chair of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, said that if Muhammad were alive today, he would have taught extremists and moderates how to be better Muslims instead of violently reacting to an artist’s creation inspired by his own impression of today’s Muslims. Ampatuan said a major attempt at downgrading the prophet had also come from 7th-century Muslims who killed his grandson and some of his followers. The killing of his grandson and his companions, and the subsequent denial (by some Muslims) that it happened, was the most painful and long-lasting insult on him, Ampatuan said. Ali Tillah, chair of the Bangsamoro National Congress, called for sobriety, appealing to Muslims to be more understanding, saying their grievances can be resolved in a legal and peaceful manner. But he said Denmark should issue an apology because it tolerated the newspaper’s act, as it would help us pacify our Muslim brothers here. Freedom of the press cannot trample upon the higher freedom of religion. Apologies are required, the Ulama forum, a group of Muslim scholars, said in a resolution. Tillah also urged the President and the CBCP to weigh in on the issue. Are we just going to wait if something will happen in our country before we take action? he said. Based on the 2000 census, there are 3.9 Muslims, about 5 percent of the population, in the Philippines which with East Timor, is one of only two predominantly Christian nations in Asia. Ren Jallaludin Ropeta, deputy chair of the Moro-Christian Peoples’ Alliance, while denouncing the caricatures as blasphemous, called on our Muslim brothers and sisters to consider the present dilemma with an open mind.