The human race is diverse. So are its cultures and belief systems.
Though religion is born in one race and nation, it has cut across the boundaries of races and nationalities. Although religion has maintained its own identity, it has not remained immune to the cultural influence of the host countries.
It is interesting to note that what is considered blasphemy in one religion is considered a matter of pride in another. For example, in the Hindu tradition, playing the role of prophets and saints is considered a privilege. Every year Ram Leela and Krishna Leela are enacted across India and innumerable people dress themselves up to play the parts of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna etc.
In the Christian tradition as well, Nativity tableaus are performed and watched as a respectful tribute to Jesus. Many actors abstain from personal bad habits for the period of these roles. People even carry big crosses and retrace the steps of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to relive the crucifixion themselves. The basic concept is that when you imitate somebody, you imbibe their qualities.
By contrast, in Islam, imitating or playing such a role is considered blasphemy and an insult to the Prophet. In fact, music, sculpture, dance and painting were banned in puritanical Islam.
"The Prophet said that Allah commanded him to destroy all the musical instruments, idols, crosses and all the trappings of ignorance" (Hadith Qudsi 19:5).
"Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings..." (Musnad Ahmad & Abu Dawud Tayalisi).
Man cannot be without these expressions of art. Slowly, the influence of Hinduism gave birth to Sufism. Though it was banned in strictly orthodox Islam, music slowly infiltrated into society, though the puritans object to this even today.
Interestingly, a parallel of this can be found in the Bhagavad Gita, as well:
buddhya visuddhaya yukto
dhrtyatmanam niyamya ca
sabdadin visayams tyaktva
raga-dvesau vyudasya ca
(Chapter 18, verse 51)
In the above verse and the few verses that follow, Lord Krishna says that a seeker of Divinity should transcend all sensory objects like sound, sight, etc. However, this is a practice for yogis for a period of time and not a lifestyle as such. While Hinduism, on one hand, encouraged music by calling it Naad Brahmam, on the other, it said that one has to transcend sound to reach Para Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. These opposite values in Hinduism gave it a broad spectrum and brought in a lot of tolerance.
While criticizing, mimicking or accusing a politician is legal in some countries, in some others, it is an offense. The West takes pride in freedom of speech and allows people to express extreme opinions. However, in other places, such expressions can be an emotional assault on the sentiments of people. The outrage and violence that we saw recently says it all. What is appalling is that in the protests against the film "Innocence of Muslims," a large number of innocent Muslims were killed.
In the end, it is we who attach meaning to an expression. Somewhere those who are very sensitive seem to lack sensibility and at other places, people who are very sensible seem to lack sensitivity. What is needed is the perfect balance between sensitivity and sensibility in today's globalized society.