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Who is the loudest and ugliest religious donkey?


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 YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, donkeys, protest, Islam, Muhammed, Christianity, atheism



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Existing comments

So I anticipate a loud and strong condemnation by imams saying that the Saturday protesters do not represent 'true Islam'. I have yet to hear such condemnation.

Skye | 18 September 2012  

Great analogy and a piece worth replicating in the wider community media We are all quick to respond and often without the facts Thank you

GAJ | 18 September 2012  

"Self-declared Christian lobbyists will spread misinformed messages about sexual orientation. " "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." It seems Irfan, that we all have lots of the 'donkey' in us, and the above two quotes from your article need a lengthier explanation less they become that braying the Prophet warned us all about. In Australian idiom, it is like Friday afternoon in a country town when farmers drive their utes in to do some shopping and have one at the pub. They park their utes in the main street and go about their business, allowing the various collection of working dogs on the backs of those utes to cause a cacophony that, if it wasn't understood in the context, would signal an approaching disaster. What is probably needed in our Australian context is for religious groups to be given more opportunity to 'sound off' rather than 'flare up.' Some braying will and should, always be tolerated.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 18 September 2012  

ah, the joys of 'free' speech. Yes, the Muslim rioters in Sydney, and elsewhere, over-reacted. No question about that. But your sentence "Why they were offended by a 14-minute D-grade trailer produced by a porn film maker is anyone's guess". I'll now have a guess Irfan: it is offensive to have your beliefs held up to public ridicule, it is offensive to be attacked personally and intentionally via media, it is offensive to have a 'porn film maker' gaining access to social media etc. It is certainly not acceptable to riot in the street about it. But freedom of speech is held up to ridicule when people are attacked via media. It's a no-win situation. I think media, and social media in particular, perhaps has too many people interested in their own self-importance and not interested enough in what their words and images are doing to other people.

Pam | 18 September 2012  

Irfan, if braying brays common sense then please bray as often and as loudly as you will. I am so glad your voice is heard.

Patricia Taylor | 18 September 2012  

I don't believe main stream Australia sounded like braying donkeys. I think every Australian regardless of their religious persuasion has the right to condemn what happened in Sydney last Saturday. Using the term braying donkeys just causes more prejudice and antagonism. We all know that the majority of Muslims are appalled by what happened, but that doesn't mean that the perpetrators shouldn't be condemned for their actions.

Pam | 18 September 2012  

It is good to have it plainly stated that the idea of a uniform, conforming Muslim community is a fiction. It is about as a ridiculous as saying there is an overarching Christian community. in fact it is not close to being true of the groups/ sects within Christianity. As an Anglican this is self evident just about any day. AS a former member of the church(es) looking to Rome it is not true, and was never true except in the the very broadest sense- as with Anglicanism etc.etc. However, I think it is a little unfair to donkeys. We have some very pleasant ones with us on St. Francis' day .

Brian Poidevin | 18 September 2012  

Well said.

Robert Smith | 18 September 2012  

It is good to hear a voice of moderation

John Whitehead | 18 September 2012  

The recent riots and outbursts from an element of Muslim Society expressing outrage over a film denigrating their beloved Prophet Mohammad is for our ‘enlightened society’ just over the top – and exceeds what could be expected from people living in modern society. They also should recognise that in coming to Australia they often bring with them religious views that are not the general views of most of our society – but that is OK – we believe in freedom of religion and most importantly freedom not to believe anything at all. Most Australians are nominally Christian but do we ‘believers’ go into meltdown when others in our society fail to honour Jesus Christ as God made Man – of course not, and I am sure that the majority of Muslims in our society recognise that the majority of our society see Mohammad as a Prophet for them only – but surely do not expect most of us ‘to hold the same view’ – he is no prophet for us and of course like the rest of humanity can in history have his life scrutinised. We should all of course respect the leaders and founders of great religious faiths – their Holy Books etc, but our society and individuals are perfectly entitled to hold views to the contrary and oh – would not the world be far better off if everyone understood that this is so. Gary Lockwood

Gary Lockwood | 18 September 2012  

Thank you. This needs to be in one of the of the self-important daily papers.

hilary | 18 September 2012  

I can't help thinking the world would be a much more peaceful place if did not have religion and it's various adherents who are willing to kill and die for their beliefs

David Cunningham | 18 September 2012  

It is interesting that a similar protest in London outside the US Embassy passed without violence, Irfan. Yesterday's 7.30 Report on the ABC gave an extremely good idea of how the social media were used to spread awareness of the Sydney protest via text messages. It appears there is a real problem in the Australian Muslim community amongst certain radicalised young men who feel no allegiance to the normal values and social mores of this country. They may well be unrepresentative of the rather disparate and multi-ethnic community as a whole, but, unfortunately, to many unaware of these nuances, they are obviously self-identifying as Muslims. Therein lies the problem for them, their religious group and the wider community, as it will be taken up by shock jocks and other professional controversialists as an example of what "Islam" is. Articles such as "Extremists seen among Muslim rioters"; "Leaders condemn violent protests" and "The unacceptable face of multiculturalism" (the last by Greg Sheridan) in yesterday's "Australian" give a fairly balanced and mainstream view of what seems to have happened and what the average intelligent Nonmuslim man or woman in the street would think about the event on careful reflection. The damage has already been done. There lies the problem. Where to from here? After the Cronulla riots many things were done within the community to rectify the perceived problems which led to them. I feel something similar needs to be done about the Sydney riots. What is at stake, in my opinion, is the future of Australia as a tolerant, cosmopolitan and civilised society. The Sydney rioters have done nothing to help preserve this ethos. They stand roundly condemned by the community as a whole. Some will face criminal charges and possibly prison. I am hoping that there will be some suitable response and strategy from perceived Muslim religious leaders, whether sheiks or imams or those with more secular vocations, to prevent further dangerous radicalization of Muslim youth. This will need to be done with the input and cooperation of the mainstream Australian community.

Edward F | 18 September 2012  

Just to let other commentators and readers know, there are two comments by 'Pam' today by different people. I am the 'Pam' of the first comment and I very regularly comment at Eureka Street. I also made the first comment at yesterday's post by Zac. It can be very confusing to have two people with the same name!!

Pam | 18 September 2012  

Since this controversy erupted, I have heard both Muslims and non-Muslims constantly say that Mohammed never responded to insults with violence. He is said to be a man of forbearance and tolerance. This is not the case. The writings of Islam itself are replete with instances of Mohammed countenancing or ordering the assassination of his enemies. Abu Afak and Asma bint Marwan are but two poets that he ordered his followers to assassinate as they had defied his rule and mocked him. These killings, though disputed by some, are recorded in the biography of Mohammed written by Ibn Ishaq. It is plainly wishful thinking to say that Islam neither promotes nor condones a violent reaction to anyone who slights Allah, Mohammed or Islam as a whole. This is the ultimate reason behind the violence that we have seen breaking out around the world. Christ taught his followers to turn the other check. Mohammed taught his followers something rather different.

Andrew Plunkett | 18 September 2012  

The Arab spring in the Middle East has turned out to be very ugly. The Muslim Brotherhoods exploits the atmosphere created by Islamic terrorists. The Arab Spring has turned to be the ultimate extermination of Christian Copts in Egypt. Once President Assad of Syria is eliminated it will be the end Christians and Jews living peacefully together with the native Moslems as they have for many centuries. We must be vigilant. We should not take lightly when ugly events occur in Australia, in Europe, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Southern Sudan and many, many other countries. Devout Moslems will always in their hearts see a global caliphate, the sixth Pillar of Islam.

Ron Cini | 18 September 2012  

Well said, Mr Yusuf. Those who attended the rally to protest peacefully had every right to do so and to expect their peers to behave similarly. Perhaps, however, the rioters (cf. protesters) used the filmic trash in question as a pretext for venting deep frustration and anger born of an uncertainty about their place in Australian society (vide Cronulla). If this is the case, then Muslim leaders AND the rest of us - since we are all responsible for society's young - need to urgently determine and ameliorate the reasons for such disaffection. The lives of young Muslim men who may be led to a catastrophic future, and the quality of our society as a whole, depend on it.

Patricia R | 18 September 2012  

The tightrope between freedom of speech and the results of freedom of speech...Australians are hard to insult. Christianity cops heaps of insult via various comedians on a regular basis. Would Christ want us out calling for blood? I don't think so. Christ is big enough to defend himself. Indeed he didn't seem able to take offence - even as his enemies mocked and condemned him to a totally unjust, humiliating and ugly death, he forgave them. Australian Muslims need to have this same mindset. Just because some ignoramus makes fun of their sacred things doesn't make them less sacred. It certainly doesn't call for violence. I would hate to see our easy-going Australian way deteriorate into the bloodbaths that are daily events in other unfortunate countries. Violent defenders of any faith should be exiled. Sent off to some of these violent places where such behaviour is acceptable. It's not acceptable here.

Bernadette Duffy | 18 September 2012  

I have no patience with demonstrators of any persuasion because even the best-behaved of them present nothing but slogans and screaming. If one wants to change others' views, the only sensible and productive way to proceed is through respectful, reasoned argument. Anything else is ignorant rabble-rousing.

Vicki | 18 September 2012  

Thank you for this clear comment. I could not agree more. It is so disappointing to see the religion misused for political reasons and inceasing hate and destruction. There are no "THE MUSLIMS" as there are no "THE CRISTIANS". We are all humans and should use our own brain and hearts first.

Wilma from Vienna

Wiilma Allex | 18 September 2012  

If Irfan Yusuf wants to be taken seriously by the un-robotic in the community, he needs to purchase a dictionary. “Evangelical atheists”? Look up oxymoron for starters. Surely he realises that atheist do not promote the gospels which is what ‘evangelical’ means. I guess he is joining the religious fraternity that is running scared because of atheism. Atheism is a religion and atheist evangelise. Atheists to my knowledge do not exhibit any signs that could be confused with evangelising unless they are knocking on doors and I am unaware of it. Unfortunately there are no tax breaks in this for atheism. Maybe some of the frightened faithful would care to put a word in to the taxation department on our behalf. But no, that won’t happen, it is all nonsensical rhetoric said in a derogatory manner. I wonder what we would be called if we let our babies carry beheading signs, flew planes into buildings, rioted and created mayhem at the mere mention of Origin of Species. May I suggest that if religion is not giving you a life, then don’t try and gain one from we who are having one.

David Nicholls President AFA | 18 September 2012  

To Patricia R; To say that the rioters were only venting deep frustration and anger, born of an uncertainty about their place in Australian society, (vide Cronulla) is not the real reason of the riot. Moslem anger towards America and the Jews is happening all over the world. In Libya 4 Americans including the Ambassador were murdered. Watching the news it was clearly a riot. They were heading for the American Embassy and also we heard them screaming "Yahoudi" which in Arabic is an absolute contempt to Jews. Let's call a spade a spade Australians have nothing to apologize

Ron Cini | 18 September 2012  

"But perhaps the loudest braying was heard on Saturday when a small group of louts hijacked what should have been a peaceful protest." I was in the city on Saturday when the angry mob of protesters rushed past me down George Street. I didn't see any of of them who looked remotely like they were being hijacked against their will. Some were elbowing others out of the way to get to the front of the mob. Even the women with prams were running to keep up. None looked like they wanted to distance themselves from those who were obviously intending to become violent. It was a frightening experience to be in close proximity to such an angry crowd. Most people would not want to participate in such a protest.

Sue | 18 September 2012  

I hope Skye and a few other commentators on Irfan's piece have caught up with the latest as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: 'After a "historic" three-hour crisis meeting in Lakemba on Monday night, the leaders of 25 Muslim organisations united for the first time yesterday to say they would not endorse even peaceful demonstrations after the violent scenes that occurred in the city on Saturday, which they say were worse than the riots at Cronulla in 2005. But the historic alliance is already fraying at the edges, with segments of the Muslim community refusing to participate and some protesters vowing to ignore the orders. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/its-our-shortcoming-we-have-not-really-engaged-with-these-individuals-20120918-264uf.html#ixzz26qgrELtG Dare I say there would be even more fraying at the edges among Christians, let alone Catholics, if there was anything more than Government funding to agree on. Well done, Irfan. Communities are always a more untidy mess than their members like to acknowledge. You've nailed the issue as far as your faith community is concerned. Catholics like to say how much having a central authority puts us ahead of the rest in resolving disagreements. Seen the state of the Catholic Church lately?

Michael Kelly | 19 September 2012  

'Evangelical atheists'? Right, just like an 'Irreligious Christian' or an 'intelligent person who thinks "evangelical atheists" are a thing'.

MWA | 19 September 2012  

We have freedom to say what we like, when we like within the law. If one is offended, then that is the problem of the offended person. This is the irony of free speech. I firmly believe that one should stand up and shout at the top of their voice what they believe, but at the same time, those people should also stand up and defend my right to oppose them at the top of their lungs! All of this - within the law. What happened on Saturday crossed that line. Messages of hate, on placards placed into children's hands by parents who are intolerant of any other opinion. This isn't free speech. This is religious extremism. Being brought up a Catholic I never thought to burn down the cinema or declare war on Britain following Monty Python's Life of Brian, or the Meaning of Life simply because they portrayed religious icons as comic figures. These people do and in doing so do not represent the Australia I believe in.

David P. | 19 September 2012  

Ëvangelical atheists....an oxymoron? David Nicholls thinks so, but évangelical' doesn't refer only to proclaiming the Christian gospel. It refers to proclaiming good news. Atheists often do think they have 'good news' that there's no god, all religion is a sham, we have no reason to fear or rejoice because this is all there is. The good news of our liberation from superstition! They're wrong, but that's what they think.

Joan Seymour | 19 September 2012  

To Andrew Plunkett, didn't Jesus also say 'I came not to bring peace but the sword.'

Rosemary West | 19 September 2012  

Joan Seymour, Atheists aren’t saying there is no god as philosophically there is no way to know that, but they are stating rightly that there are parts of religion that are unhelpful to many in society and civilisation. That we are “proclaiming” this as though it is a message similar to a form of revelation instead of rationality is nonsense. We are humans like you, we see no evidence for gods and therefore, as with fairies etc, we accept they do not exist. I personally consider religion a hangover from evolutionary propensity and cultural indoctrination but calling it a sham is your word. That is an over simplistic explanation. Although, there is no doubt that some definitely are shams. If atheists are wrong, as you say, how about supplying evidence for your particular god’s existence and evidence also for the non-existence of the other three or four thousand gods that have been purported to have existed and some that still do. You are an atheist in regards to all of them but statistically not so with the one of your cultural upbringing. You expose your inner thoughts on the subject by saying there is nothing to ‘rejoice’ in if there is not the promise of a heaven as you do using the word ‘fear’ in relation to a god’s wrath and hell. True, atheists do not fear a god’s wrath, but rejoicing in the only life available is something you will never be involved with. If religion doesn’t want to be criticised by atheism, a legitimate way of expression in a democracy, then a closer look at what we are saying is needed. For most of history this has been a dangerous thing to do and still is in theocracies. Think about it.

David Nicholls President AFA | 19 September 2012  

@ Rosemary West. The saying that you quote from Jesus is clearly metaphorical. He was saying that his words and teachings would cause dissension and controversy amongst people. If you look at several other incidents from the gospels you can see that Jesus did not condone the use of swords. Take the following incident from the Last Supper.

Jesus said to his disciples; "If you do not have a sword, sell a garment, so that you can buy one."
The disciples replied; “Lord, we have two swords.”
Jesus answered “That is enough!” (Luke 22:36-38)

The disciples take Jesus' words literally and he cuts them off. Further on, consider the incident of Peter cutting of the servant's ear.

Simon Peter then drew his sword and cut off the right ear of high priest’s servant. [John 18:10 + Luke 22:50 + Matthew 26:51 + Mark 14:47]

Jesus said; “No more of this!” [Luke 22:51] “Put your sword away! [John 18:11] “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword, will die by the sword". [Matthew 26:52]

The fact is that Jesus killed no one and encouraged no one else to kill anyone. Such cannot be said for Mohammed. For him the sword was there to be used. Why do you think that it is on the flag of Saudi Arabia?

Andrew Plunkett | 19 September 2012  

Very well put. We have no room for the extremists in this company. If they come here for a better life, then they should adopt the better methods, letters to newspapers,peaceful demonstration if they must, but better still, why not think intelligently and realize that a whole race cannot be blamed for the action of a few?
If we did that, would we allow any Moslems in our country after September 11?

maria prestinenzi | 19 September 2012  

One of the answers to "Fundamentalism" in all its forms is history and philosophy. All "religions" have a dark side which we like to hide and there is strength in "corporate memory". The Middle East have not forgotten the Crusades. History is a "warts and all" exercise. Modern biblical scholarship and similar studies on the Koran together with inter-faith dialogue can overcome misunderstandings on all sides.

john ozanne | 20 September 2012  

So what if there are some writings in Islam that refer to violence? I'm no scholar of Islamic texts/theology, but it's clear to me that the consensus among today's Muslims is that Islam is a religion of peace, and that those advocating violence/terrorism are in the minority and their struggle has more to do with Western politics causing global injustices. The Christian scriptures are clearly about anti-violence and prohibit the use of weapons even against an enemy - yet Western Nations in the Christian tradition - the US, UK and Australia, justify going to war against Middle Eastern countries, and even other Christian countries (ie US military intervention in Latin American military coups). It's bigoted anti-Muslim/Arab sentiments by by so-called Christians that leads to riots like we've seen in Sydney. It's the fringe Christian lunatic bigots riling up the minority Muslim bigots... Please keep Allah, Yahweh, Mohamed and Jesus out of this conflict - it's about cultural intolerance and hatred - not about religion.

AURELIUS | 21 September 2012  

For anyone interested in the subject of last Saturday's Sydney riots and their cause, I would recommend Graham Richardson's article "Hard to put this genie back in bottle" in today's Australian. It is an article which needs to be read in its entirety. Richardson's thesis that the cause of the riots can be slated home to a section of Lebanese Muslim youth, many of whom were recruited to radicalism in gaol, is, by its nature, likely to cause controversy, as is his claim that, if these youths feel disenfranchised from society they have no one to blame but themselves, because they have voluntarily placed themselves outside its boundaries and that their use of the word "infidels" for most Australians demonstrates this. The rioters were certainly no credit to the great religion of Islam, most of whose Australian adherents have dissociated themselves from them, their beliefs and actions. I am sure the rioters were uninterested in entering into any sort of interfaith dialogue. This should be borne in mind by some of the posters to this thread. It is not, to my mind, a question of "Christianity" against "Islam" but a case of criminal behaviour by a small section of the Australian Muslim community against the rest of Australian society, including most Muslims in it. If Richardson's thesis is correct then I think it will require long term concerted remedial action by both the affected community and general society.

Edward F | 21 September 2012  

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