In an interview broadcast on the American news show 60 Minutes on October 6, 2002 Jerry Falwell spoke about Islam and its prophet Mohammed. Since that time several commentators have criticized the preacher for once again sticking his foot in his mouth.
In the interview with CBS correspondent Bob Simon, Falwell stated that after reading about Islam and its prophet from both Muslim and non-Muslim sources, he was forced to conclude that Mohammed “was a — a violent man, a man of war.”
“Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses,” Falwell says. “I think Muhammad set an opposite example.”
Bob Simon asked Falwell directly if he considered Mohammed to be a terrorist and he replied that yes, he did believe the prophet was a terrorist. He stressed in the interview that this was his personal opinion and that he would never voice this opinion in a sermon or book.
Needless to say, Falwell’s opinions haven’t gone over well among Muslims. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relation in Washington, said: “Anybody is free to be a bigot if they want to. What really concerns us is the lack of reaction by mainstream religious and political leaders, who say nothing when these bigots voice these attacks.”
Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a former spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrillas said in an October 11th statement, “All Muslims must make a stand against this attack on Islam, its prophet and Muslims themselves…If a preacher, or anyone else, spoke about Judaism and Zionist massacres in Palestine,... would the U.S. administration permit this?”
Something which Falwell misses is that one cannot equate the rolls of Jesus Christ and Mohammed as being the same between the two religions. Christ is viewed as a semi-divine being – “God made flesh”. Depending on which branch and denomination of Christianity one subscribes to, Christ is either completely divine or a bridge to the divine. Either way Christ is not just a man. Mohammed, on the other hand, is viewed as the last of the prophets – the completion of a long process by which God makes his will known to man. While Mohammed may be the first among men – he is a man nevertheless. In this respect Muslims do not venerate Mohammed in the same way as Christians venerate Christ. No prayers are made to him, nor is one supposed to live life as Mohammed lived his. For a Christian to fully understand his role, one should consider him to be akin to Moses or Isaiah. However a better understanding can be found with how Judaism views Moses. Moses was the founder of Judaism. He helped mold the primitive tribal cult of Yahweh into an advanced and complex modern religion of Judaism. In doing so he waged war and exercised authoritarian control of his people in the name of God.
However what’s of more interest is the fire-storm that has resulted from Falwell’s comments. First, the expression of Falwell’s opinion is viewed by Hooper and Fadlaallah as an attack on Islam. Secondly, the US administration is criticized directly by Fadlallah and indirectly by Hooper for permitting this expression of Falwell’s personal opinion. Thirdly, Falwell’s comments are being used as the excuse for religion violence and the resulting deaths of seven people in the Indian town of Solapua, 280 miles from Mombai. These comments and incidents do more to show the minds of the insulted than they do Falwell’s red-neck bigotry.
Freedom of speech is a right within the USA. In addition, its enshrinment in the US Constitution views this right as a universal right of Man. Therefore it is meant to apply to all of humanity. As a consequence of this right, the US government cannot prevent anyone from voicing his opinion. The US system also has a strong separation of Church and State – much to the annoyance of Christians like Jerry Falwell, who has worked all of his life to remove this barrier.
However these values are not present in any religion, let alone Islam. While Christianity has a secular element that has evolved over time, there is no separation of Church and State within Islam. In Islam church and state are one in the same – manifestations of God’s covenant with Man on earth. There cannot be any freedom of speech in Islam since to allow such would invite heresy and apostasy. So far Islam has resisted this to a degree not seen in Christianity since the 15th century.
In places where opinions are protected such as within the USA and to a lesser degree Europe, Falwell’s comments were pretty much ignored. Falwell and his religious cohort Pat Robertson caused a tremendous outcry in the US in the days following the Sept 11 attacks when they blamed the attack on gays, lesbians and America’s licentious culture. But this outcry did not lead to bands of homosexuals attacking and killing fundamentalist Christians; it lead to the expression of opinions that countered the comment to the point where nothing has been heard from the outspoken preacher in over a year. In a free society it’s the ideas that clash – not the fanatics.
One of the objectives of Osama Bin-Laden was to forment a religious war between Islam and the rest of the world. The attacks of Sept 11 woke up Americans to the threat the “hijacking of one of the world’s great religions” presents to universal values such as freedom of religion and of speech. While Falwell’s comments may be insulting to Muslims, they should ask themselves why this religious leader holds this opinion of their religion and ask themselves if a religious war is really in their best interest. They should ask themselves why there is growing hatred of their religion, and see if some of this anger is not unjustified.
On Sunday October 13, 2002 Falwell apologized for his remarks – thereby proving to many on the Right that he is a coward as well as an ass. The same day a car bomb exploded in Bali, killing hundreds of Australians, Indonesians and Europeans. Neither Al-Qaeda nor anyone else in the Muslim world has condemned this attack, although one in Indonesia has blamed it on the United States.