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Underlying Factors Behind Muslim Riots

Tawfik Hamid By Friday, 21 September 2012 08:59 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The film "Innocence of Muslims,” which denigrates Islam's Prophet Muhammad, has sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries. Violent demonstrations initially erupted in Cairo followed by Libya in which the U.S. ambassador was killed. Later on, the furious demonstrations of Muslims spread globally.

This problem can affect future relations between the U.S. and several Muslim countries. Additionally, the angry Muslim reaction can affect the handover of power in Afghanistan.

It is vital to understand the underlying causes that led to such furious reactions against the U.S.

The following components played a role in creating such a reaction.

Religious Factors

Mainstream sources of Islamic law establish the principle that anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad MUST be killed without even giving them a chance to repent. The existence of such laws creates a mindset among many Muslims that justifies the use of violence against those who are perceived as insulting the prophet.

The violence in such cases may not be limited to those who are directly engaged in the insult, but it also affects those who gave them the freedom to do this. Thus, for instance, the U.S. is seen by many Muslims as a co-conspirator to insulting the founder of Islam.

Love to the Prophet

According to traditional Islamic teaching, in the Day of Judgment, Allah will order the Muslim sinners to go to hell. As related in one of the most reputable, classical collections of the sayings of Muhammad, the Hadith of Al-Bukhari, Muslims will then go to the Prophet Muhammad to complain.

The prophet will do intercession (or ‘Shafaa’) to ask Allah to change his decision and allow them into the paradise. Allah — according to the story — will do this for the sake of Muhammad.

This creates unparalleled love to the prophet and makes many Muslims ready to defend him or his name with their lives as they feel that if they did not show anger toward those who insult him they may not be qualified to get his personal intercessions.

The vivid descriptions of the torturing methods in Hell in Islamic core texts create a level of fear in Muslims’ minds that partially explain this fury to support the prophet just to avoid Hell.

Lack of Important Cognitive Associations

Appeasement of the Islamists has impeded a vital cognitive process in human minds that is vital to prevent such furious reactions.

The human mind learns via creating certain associations. For example, if a student did not study and thus failed an exam, their mind will realize that this failure is their fault. This may lead the student to study hard to avoid failure in the next exam. If someone persuaded this student that their failure is NOT because of negligence, but rather because someone hates them, the student will not develop the vital association between a lack of studying and failure and will thus likely do the same mistake and fail again.

A similar problem exists in dealing with the Muslim world.

If Muslims had learned that the negative image of Islam in the West is NOT the result of unconditional hatred to Islam as they think, but rather a consequence to the violent deeds of radical Muslims all over the world, their brains would have created the vital mental association that would have encouraged them to fight radicalism in their own societies and thus improve the image of Islam.

Apologetic attitudes toward radical Islam that tried to blame the West for the development of Islamophobia instead of blaming the radical Islamists have actually made things worse as they prevented the development of such vital mind links.

As a result, the Muslim world keeps blaming the West and the U.S. for the negative image of their religion instead of engaging in efforts to reform their religion, reduce or eliminate violence, and thus decrease the criticism of Islam.

Confrontation Between Delusions and Reality

On one hand, many Muslims strongly believe that Muhammad is the best human being in everything and the best role model for mankind {Koran 33:21 There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often}. In some Muslims’ minds, these feelings can reach the level of delusions.

On the other hand, mainstream Islamic books teach that the prophet married a child of 6, consummated marriage at 9 years old, used to have sex with 9 wives in one night, had romantic feelings toward the wife of his adopted son and that a Koranic revelation made his son-in-law divorce his wife so that Muhammad could marry her.

Furthermore, authentic Hadith books mentioned that Muhammad killed all the men of some Jewish tribes, took the wife of the Jewish leader to have sex with her after killing her husband, and that he encouraged the killing of a respected old lady called Um-Querfa in an extremely brutal manner because she criticized him.

Many Muslims feel disgusted of such stories, but they have to suppress their feelings and live in their ‘Delusions’ that Muhammad is the best role model for the world. The recent film depicted these stories in a way that released the suppressed conscious from its inhibition — and thus created a confrontation between the "Reality" (as described in authentic Islamic books) and the "Delusions".

It is known that confronting Delusions with Reality can cause severe agitation. This complex mental phenomenon may explain the aggressive and furious reaction of some Muslims in response to the film.


To a great extent, anti-Americanism in the Muslim world stems from the supremacy feelings of the Islamists that the Muslim world must be the most superior power in the world — as it used to be at some stage of history. These feelings of supremacy have been nourished by the media, education, and religious teachings in several parts of the Islamic world.

The film was an opportunity for Islamists to achieve a false feeling of ‘victory’ over the U.S. — as many radical Muslims feel that invading the U.S. embassies, removing its flag and replacing it with the Islamic flag is a sign of victory (or superiority) over America.

In fact, some Islamists in Egypt called the attack on the U.S. embassy “Gazwat Al-Sifara” which means the Islamic raid of the embassy. This description makes Islamists live again in the spirit of the early Islamic conquests and victorious raids against the “Un-believers”.

To conclude, the violent reaction of Muslims against the U.S. is the outcome of several factors. Understanding these factors is vital to developing effective approaches to deal with the Muslim world — profuse apologies and appeasement will not work.

The U.S. needs to stand for its core values of freedom and liberty and must work on developing more comprehensive strategy to confront the phenomenon of radical Islam.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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The film "Innocence of Muslims,” which denigrates Islam's Prophet Muhammad, has sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries.
Friday, 21 September 2012 08:59 AM
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