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Best of 2012: Who is the loudest and ugliest religious donkey?

  • 10 January 2013

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