Donkeys are gorgeous animals. But when they open their mouths, an ugly sound emerges.
The braying of donkeys is used as a metaphor in the Koran for a kind of dialogue that is in reality a collision of loud monologues. It is stated in chapter 31:
And be moderate in your movement; and lower your voice: verily the most unpleasant of voices is the braying of the donkey.
Sadly, discussion of religion in Australia too often sounds like donkeys competing to see whose braying is the loudest and ugliest. Evangelical atheists will have us all believe secularism involves keeping all religion out of public life. Self-declared Christian lobbyists will spread misinformed messages about sexual orientation.
But perhaps the loudest braying was heard on Saturday when a small group of louts hijacked what should have been a peaceful protest.
Why they were offended by a 14 minute D-grade trailer produced by a porn film maker is anyone's guess. But they did have the right to protest within the bounds of the law.
One of the purposes of law, religious or secular, is to ensure that people's emotions don't get out of control and become destructive. Islam is a religion with its own legal tradition. The law is derived from various sources, and mostly governs our relationships with our creator, our families and ourselves.
It also governs our relationships with those who offend us. An example is found in the early days of the prophet Muhammad's mission when he visited a nearby town. The town's leaders made snide remarks toward him. They even sent their own children to pelt him with stones until his feet and legs bled profusely.
Muslim tradition states that Muhammad prayed of his own inabilities, in response to which an angel was sent offering to crush the town's inhabitants. He refused the offer, expressing a wish that someday the descendants of that town would become believers.
It is the Creator's wisdom that none of the violent Sydney protestors were present with their prophet on that day 14 centuries ago. They would have drowned out his voice, maybe trashed the streets of that town and assaulted its children. They may have even brought their own children to carry placards declaring that anyone insulting their prophet should be beheaded.
This instance of Muhammad's mercy is no doubt replicated in other scriptures and faith traditions. Just as are instances of war and conflict. The last century is replete with instances of crazy Muslims attacking Sikhs for being Sikh, of crazy Hindus attacking Catholics for being Catholic and crazy Catholics attacking Protestants for being Protestant. And the crazed antics of these fanatics is more often than not based on reactionary politics, land disputes or other ungodly motives than some profound theological issue.
We don't expect everyone in the Sutherland Shire to apologise for the drunken freak show that took place on the beach in December 2005. Because we understand that many, especially local shopkeepers, despise the rioters. Cronulla is a community but it is not one singular monolithic community.
Not all Christians need to answer for what Cardinal Pell or Archbishop Jensen say. And not all Buddhists need to condemn the massacre of Rohingya and other non-Buddhist communities in Myanmar which are often orchestrated and encouraged by local monks.
If only certain self-declared Muslim leaders understood this before they make statements on behalf of that fictitious entity called 'the Muslim community'. The Muslim community in Australia just doesn't exist.
There are some 400,000 people who choose to tick the 'Muslim' box on their census forms. They do it for different reasons. Some belong to sects that don't regard other sects as within the fold of Islam. Some feel greater cultural affinity to non-Muslims who speak their language or who have the same ancestry.
Mosques in major Australian cities continue to be divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. Many perhaps took no offence to the movie that others were protesting about. Certainly most were too busy enjoying the lovely spring weather to worry about shouting loud slogans in defence of their prophet.
When self-appointed Muslim religious leaders and organisational heads claim to speak on behalf of an entity that exists only in their heads and in their government funding proposals, it merely makes all 400,000 census tickers an easier target for inciters of other kinds of rioters — for shock jocks and tabloid hate-scribes.
When you insist there is a singular Muslim community, it because easy to ask: 'When is that community going to rein in its extremists?'
Religion is supposed to elevate our speech and our conduct, not transform us into donkeys.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.