Whether or not it turns out (as I expect it will) that Middle-Eastern Muslim mobs were duped by jihadist radicals -- provoked by an old, fringe video to provide cover for their own planned attacks on Muslim-friendly American forces in Egypt, Libya and Yemen -- those mobs are a worse insult to Muhammad and Islam that anything an ignorant non-Muslim could ever do.
How can we expect non-Muslims to believe that Islam is a religion of peace, when Muslim mobs around the world make liars of us all, Muhammad included?
Those mobs of angry Muslims, even if they believed they were marching for the sake of Muhammad, are ignorant of his legacy. Because a careful and historically accurate study of Muhammad's life confirms he didn't care about his own personal honor at all.
In Mecca, when Islam began, when Muhammad and his followers were weak, they avoided conflict and sought peace through non-violence and passive non-confrontation. Then, he wouldn't even allow his followers to return insult for insult, pointing out that when his detractors twisted his name from Muhammad, meaning "The Praised One" to Mudhamman, which meant "The Loathsome," that God has arranged things so well that his enemies were insulting someone else, other than him!
Some people, both Muslim and not, claim that was only because he didn't have the power to do anything about it, and that his attitude changed as soon as he had the power to respond.
They're wrong. When he marched back to Mecca at the head of a Muslim army that would have let him do anything he still had so little regard for his own personal honor that he almost provoked a Muslim revolt himself.
His followers thought he was going to give them an honorable war, particularly when he made them promise to follow his lead no matter what he did.
Then, he met with the Meccans outside their walls and turned that expectation on it's head.
First off, the Medinians could have simply conquered Mecca in a bloody fight to the death, which was what most of the Medinians wanted to do. Instead, Muhammad met with the Meccans leaders, his enemies, to negotiate a treaty. But then, to make matters worse he let them disrespect him, again and again and appeared to give away everything the Medinians wanted to fight for.
A record of that negotiation recounts:
Muhammad ordered Ali to write down the text of the agreement between the two sides. He dictated to him the following:
"Write: In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful."
Suhail, the representative of Quraish, protested at that, and said: "Stop! I do not know the Compassionate, the Merciful!
Write, "In Your Name, our Lord."
"Write, 'In Your Name, our Lord,'" Muhammad told Ali. Then he said, "Write, 'This is what Muhammad the Messenger of Allah had agreed upon with Suhail bin Amru.'"
"Stop," said Suhail. "Had I recognized that you are the Messenger of Allah I would not have fought you. So, write only your name and your father's."
"Write," Muhammad said, "This is on which Muhammad bin Abdullah made peace" and dictated the articles, which stated that: The agreement was essentially a truce between the two parties for a period of 10 years with three primary requirements.
1. To return anyone who embraced Islam without the consent of the Quraish to the Quraish, but allow anyone to leave Islam whether Muhammad approved or not.
2. To allow any Arab tribe to ally with whichever side they preferred.
3. And Muhammad and his followers promised to leave immediately, and could only return the following year for three days, with sheathed swords the entire time.
In response, Muhammad's close friend, confidante and strongest supporter Umar ibn Al-Khattab said, "if I could have found 100 men to follow me, I would have left Muhammad and Islam then and there."
And he was one of the level-headed ones.
But the following year, when the Medinians returned, and realized that somehow the entire Arab world had begun to unite behind them they realized what Muhammad had actually done. Because the religion Islam had to compete with to win over the hearts and minds of Arabia wasn't Christianity or Judaism, both of which he repeatedly confirmed would have been perfectly good religions, if only the Christians and Jews had followed them, and could still be again. No it was the way the Meccans, the Medinians and the Bedouins together -- regardless of which tribe they belonged to, or which religion they followed -- all worshiped male honor, and sometimes even worshiped masculinity itself.
By signing that agreement with Mecca, Muhammad subverted chauvinistic male self-worship --s omething men struggle with even toda y-- unmasked it for what it was and --for a time-- changed the world.
The last few days in the Middle East have been filled with tragedy, including the loss of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was by all reports a true friend to Libya's freedom and Libya's people alike. His death and the suffering and deaths of others there as well have hurt us all. And I know many of us, both Muslim and not, have decried the ignorance of the men who made the film that started this all in the first place.
But for me, those riots highlight just how little even Muslims --those who should know him the best-- remember about Muhammad, and still want to worship honor despite him, and worship masculinity despite him, and perhaps even worship Muhammad despite Muhammad, God forbid.
After all they have been through, have the Middle East's Muslims finally forgotten how Islam REALLY changed the world in the first place?
I hope and pray not.
Salaam, Shalom and God's Peace be with all those who have suffered, truly we belong to God, and to God we return, Amen.