April 22nd, 2010
09:46 AM ET

'South Park' Mohammed issue sparks debate among Muslims

A message on the "South Park" website explaining why the second part of an episode involving Mohammed can't be streamed online yet.

It took seven minutes of a "South Park" episode to change a devout Muslim’s features from an entertained smile to complete disapproval. He told his colleague, Lebanese blogger Bilal el-Houri, as he walked away from the screening, “This is disgusting.”

What the young man (he prefers to remain anonymous) found disgusting was the depiction of Islam’s revered Prophet Mohammed as a bear mascot in "South Park’s" 200th episode. The depiction was the show authors’ sarcastic attempt to highlight media’s uneasy dealing with the father of Islam as not to offend Muslims who consider any depiction of their prophet as blasphemous.

Since his followers insist on him not being shown in any form, producers have always struggled with ways to include Mohammed in story lines without showing him. The most famous of those depictions is the classic Hollywood movie ‘The Message’ by Mustafa al-Akkad about the life of Prophet Mohammed. Being Muslim himself, al-Akkad directed his entire film with extreme sensitivity building the character of the prophet around the wind or the light so it’s a presence that is felt or experienced but not seen.

The "South Park" episode showing Mohammed disguised in a bear suit earned the show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker a jihadist campaign and a serious warning from a radical Islamic group based in New York City. The group posted on its website Revolutionmuslim.com a video filled with reminders of what fundamentalist Muslims did to those who in their eyes “insulted” their prophet.

On Wednesday night the episode continued the storyline of Mohammed in part II of the episode– but it aired with additional audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED." They also didn't have the episode streaming on their Web site. There was however, this message from the creators:

"After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show."

Comedy Central confirmed they added additional bleeps to the show than what was in the original cut. Whether the decision was an attempt to appeal to Muslims or to keep angry sentiment at bay, nobody knows, but tackling the issue of Mohammed in any way, beeps and censor marks included, still sparks concern among Muslims.

Blogger Bilal el-Houri is agnostic but he grew up in a Muslim family in the mostly Muslim region of the Middle East. He said, “My first thoughts on the episode were "haha!", but then I realized how deep and complicated this issue is.”

El-Houri said he was quickly reminded of tragedies that ensued from other infamous depictions of Prophet Mohammed. In particular he recalls the Muslim outrage in 2005 following publications of Cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. He said he witnessed in Beirut, Lebanon, crowds take to the streets and burn the building housing the Danish embassy.

“I remember seeing people crashing and burning police cars and ambulances that had nothing to do with Denmark or their cause.” He also recalled how “al Qaeda issued a call to murder Dutch politician Geert Wilders” for his film “Fitna” which was critical of Islam.

El-Houri observed that the "South Park" episode highlighted the fear from “barbaric Muslim retaliation” when a Muslim symbol is featured in the media. He said Muslims should focus on convincing others not to show iconic figure out of “respect to Islam” instead.

El-Houri’s advice to Muslims is to “appreciate free speech” and use its tools to debunk the misconceptions that exist around the world about Islam and showcase the peaceful side of their religion instead of reacting to what others publish or broadcast. “The media makes fun of Jesus, The Pope, politicians and so on, all the time, but you don't see Catholics burning tires outside Comedy Central's studios.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali agrees. The "South Park" episode “was not just funny, it wasn’t just witty” she said, but it also addressed what she called the essential issue that “one group of people, one religion, that is claiming to be above criticism, and I hope that in the aftermath of this, that we discuss that.”

Having been brought up as a Muslim, she said she grew up with the notion that one “shouldn’t criticize Allah, Islam or the Prophet” but she herself became a prominent critic of Islam. Her screenplay for Theo Van Gogh's movie ‘Submission’ brought her death threats. She had been living under protection since Van Gogh’s assassination of fear for her life. She describes the reaction to the depiction of Mohammed as “ridiculous” and thinks the solution lies in “scrutinizing Islam and criticizing it in the same way that we criticize Christianity, Judaism and other ideologies and other religions.”

"Equal opportunity scrutiny, equal opportunity offense," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

On "South Park’"s Facebook discussion boards, Muslims vented their frustration trying to explain why depicting their prophet is offensive and blamed South Park for fanning the tensions that already exist in the world around this subject. Under the title “Respect my Religion,” posts were mainly defensive. Most tried to expand on their belief that Islam is a religion of peace that respects other religions and prophets. Others blamed the extremists for “hijacking” their religion and using it to justify murdering and threatening people who don’t agree with them.

Muslim fans of "South Park" focused more on the episode which one of them thought was a “let down” in its redundancy of the old “controversial Prophet Mohammed depiction.”

Zainab Sher said, “2 b honest 200 episode wasnt funny at all to me!” She then added, “Bringing Mohammad back! when you know it is a sensitive issue […] seems to me southpark is running out of ideas!!! that angle just brought everything down.”

Omar Latif kept his comments simple, “DISAPPOINTED with showing our prophet.”

Ahmed Ata Saada said he had seen all "South Park" episodes and he found them “very fun.” But he found it “ridiculous” to make fun of other people’s beliefs and sacred religion. Many other Muslims joined in agreement while non-Muslims comments focused on the right to freedom of speech.

Part II of the 200th episode brought more of the same and the reaction does not seem to have picked up anywhere around the Muslim world yet. But the episode did seem to have a clear self-censorship which could have resulted from the warning. The reason for this could be a simple one. In every instance where violence ensued from published or broadcast material that offended Islam, the strong reaction was not immediate or spontaneous. It took time to build steam through video distribution in mosques and on the Internet, supported by clerics and religious leaders’ incitement during sermons and speeches.

It is true that hundreds and thousands took to the streets especially following the Danish cartoons controversy. Many of them protested violently burning buildings, cars and calling for the death of the cartoonist. But it is equally true that the majority of Muslims did not take to the streets and expressed their dismay rather peacefully or did not comment at all.

While millions around the world watched the violence in the streets of Islamabad, Cairo, and Beirut, there were many other Muslims who appeared on shows to condemn the violence committed in their name and under what they considered it to be the guise of defending Islam. They called for calm and talked about the peaceful nature of Islam instead.

Many mainstream Muslim clerics and devout Muslims have said repeatedly that the problem with the Muslim scripture, the Quran, is that it is vast, complex and appears at times to be contradictory. They attribute that to the belief that the verses are based on unique situations that occurred during the life of Prophet Mohammed but don’t apply to modern-day life.

It is a known fact that the Quran is open to interpretation; unlike other religions, Muslims don’t have a single entity to make a final call on certain issues. This leaves the door open to local clerics to issue Fatwas or religious edicts, based on their personal belief which could be ultra orthodox, moderate and many shades in between.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bilal el-Houri, like many experts and scholars who speak up about this subject, put the responsibility in the hands of the majority moderate Muslims. Hirsi Ali points out that the Quran contains verses calling for the killing of non-believers. She said, “There are some people who want to act on it, and there are some people who don’t. The majority of Muslims do not want to act on the scripture, but they are silent when fellow Muslims do.”

Blogger Bilal el-Houri has seen both sides first hand in the Middle East. He says no matter how "cruel" the South Park episode is, “it should be a wake up call to Muslims around the world about how they are being portrayed, and instead of grunting and calling for boycotts and other actions, “they should begin by respecting free speech” and they should ask themselves, "why?"

Beside the intended humor in "South Park’s" 200th episodes I and II, there seems to be a message about the role of the world’s leading religions with a special emphasis on Islam’s state of affairs. Judging by the many bleeps censoring every time the word Mohammed was uttered and covering the entire “moral” of the episodes if one may call it that. It seems that the creators of South Park are sending the same message as Hirsi Ali and el-Houri; that open dialogue is the way to go.

In the midst of "South Park’s" many jokes and jabs, one can conclude that moderate Muslims can take away a message already articulated by many. By enforcing strict rules on depiction of their prophet, they allow the extremists to get all the attention. By doing so, they draw negative attention to their religion, alienate themselves and allow their message to be lost in censorship.

soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. andy

    All religions were created to sway human beings into acting in a manner that other human beings desired. Philosophers were the ones who created religions...and failed miserably. They also continued to fail with every philosophy created to replace religions. Religions are created by humans. WE give religion power! Out of all of the species of creatures and plants in the universe that ever were or will be...isn't it kinda funny that ALL of the gods (yes, lowercase) of EVERY religion are only interested in humans?

    Humans are self-centered and egotistical. Religion is simply an extention. Religions need to be religated to the history books along with antiquated forms of government. They surved their purpose, now we should supplant them with equitable laws, courts, and scientifically grounded methods of determining guilt.

    Our freedoms should extend as far as possible without infriging upon the freedoms of others. Unfortunately, this means I have to allow others the freedom of ignorance...and yes, I do at times have to restrain myself from committing violence upon ignorant zealots. But that is because my belief system is, by strict definition, more tolerant than any religion.

    But, of course, freedom too has its zealots. Anarchists, and annihalists and such...but I don't think anyone who believes in freedom is worried about getting a bad name because of the actions of those few loonies.

    Religions belong in the history books.

    April 23, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Don

    Islam is a cult established by Muhammad who was inspired and duped by Satan. To the fullest extent possible both should be exposed, mocked and ridiculed as the lie that they are. There is no doubt that the Quran is filled with hate and disregard for human life. If Islam was truly a religion inspired by a higher power, it would promote love and tolerance. Instead, it seeks to kill all who disagree with its propaganda. Many of the early surras do promote tolerance of non-believers. However, as Muhammad gained power, his message from Allah became increasingly violent, to the extent that all non-believers must be eliminated. A person with average intelligence should be able to reason that if Islam is truly a religion of Allah, there would be no reason for a Muslim to take revenge as Allah would have already done so. Therefore, a person of average intelligence should conclude that Allah, as described by the false prophet Muhammad, does not exist. The sad truth is that radical Muslims are brain washed by clerics, blind to reality and seek to exact revenge on all who disagree with them.

    April 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chl

      some teriorrsts some teriorrsts read the quran every day and think by killing others they are doing allahs will. If they are only misinterpreting the quran but believe in their hearts they are doing the right thing how can they not be real muslims?

      April 24, 2012 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    It is time to respect all religions. Stop making stupid cartoons for morons. Why do you feel that insulting people is your freedom of speech? The freedom of speech mentioned in the first amendment of the Constitution is political speech. Libeling Jesus or any other prophet is not the freedom of speech the founding fathers were thinking of. At the time the constitution was written, you would have gotten yourself lynched for your depictions of Jesus. There have been lots of comedy shows, plays and other satirical venues that are not obscene. If the writers of Southpark had any talent they would be able to satirize without obscenity and insult.

    April 25, 2010 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  4. kofa

    violence is buried. but who ever unburied violence will pay the price. south park people take note.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. Honesty

    im glad to see all the comments I put up here never got approved, so tell me law man, what am I doing to not get posted? im sure the american public loves to know that this news media controls what the public says, showing what YOU only want us to see.

    April 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Di

    I agree with some of the other posters. Why not have respect for others' beliefs? I am a Christian and get really sick and tired of the way Christ is frequently depicted in this country, especially when my tax dollars go to the artists doing those depictions. Surely there is enough funny material in this world without resorting to insulting peoples' religious beliefs. I laugh at myself plenty. I don't laugh at people misrepresenting Christ. Having said that, there is freedom of speech in this country and freedom to change channels or turn off the tv. I don't watch South Park, that way I don't have to be offended.

    April 26, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lubna

      What I have seen in the video just make me feel terrible. These raisct people are actually terrible. I don t know how do they judge people on their religion and looks. It only makes up like 20 percent of who these people are. But it is also nice to see some people and stand up against such racism. There is a reason why I consider racism stupidity. The reason the minority people are being raisct against did not choose them self, and they learn from life and be a human being just like people who are being raisct. So it doesn t make any since to judge people on things that they didn t choose. Moreover I believe that Islam for us is not choice, it is set in our mind that it is the reality truth. Therefore judging us for being Muslim is unfair. I like to relate every comment I post in this blog with an Islamic prospective, because Muslims usually relate their opinion with religion. There is a verse in Quran where it generally means that people should not be looking down to other people, and these people whom people are looking down to could be better than people who are looking down. I can t really explain it as it means in Arabic. This makes since most to me, and this is one of the reasons I consider being raisct is ridiculous and wrong.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniells

      This is definitely one of the great few viedos that show humanity in action. The people who stood up for what is right without even knowing or relating to the mistreated human being, showed that there is still hope for justice and equality for all. Even though, this video and experiment was made more than two years ago where we might say that people still didn't completely understand nor differentiate between the radicals and regular peace seeking believers, the reactions are incredible; from my point of view when I first saw it; this was a total surprise; I thought that racism and prejudice against Arabs and or Muslims in America was not uncommon or maybe something usual with an Arab living in America and that it was accepted and coped with. However, this video was one of my first clarifications I got about the US, and its people. I believe that if this experiment was to be done again somewhere in North America in this day and time, people will react more with the women and stand up for what is right. Without any kind of relationship, if I see any kind of person being mistreated because of their color, faith, ethnicity, or appearance, I would get pretty angry. After all we are all humans with hearts and souls; the categorization of people that are made today are separating people instead of what we should focus on which is gathering people together.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Offendedbyyourcomplaining

    straight to the point. I am offended that Muslims are offended by a cartoon. This is why people say Islam is in the 16th century, Don't like a joke....kill it.....don't like the idea....kill it.....no tolerance for others ideas and beliefs kill it... I don't like the ideals of Islam but i tolerate it and the people that accept it as a religion. Get with today people. stop crying. you don't like something don't be involved with it. Americans watch south park cause we have a sense of humor. obviously we find somethings offensive but really...I am not going to strap a bomb to my chest and kill many for a stupid joke. Freedom of speech....this country was built on that fact. and Americans are forgetting that. SP creators knew what they were getting into when they made the episode. Uncensore the episode and let these "haters" show there faces. These people at Revmuslim.com should be arrested for creating terrorist threat and contributing to senseless outrage.

    An American proud that people still want to cross the line. have fun. and live life.

    April 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. adam

    Jesus gets drawn up and picked on all the time....no one every gives a censor to that. So for Comedy Central to be so weak is down right wrong. Muslims need to realize this is America LAND OF THE FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Comedy Central should go ahead and move to middle east.

    April 26, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jay

    What I can't understand is that as a Christian I also do not believe in idolatry but I do not expect non-Christians to behave this way, necessarily. So, how can Muslims expect non-Muslims to adhere to their beliefs when they don't find it offensive? Doesn't the Koran expect only it's believers to not commit idolatry?

    April 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Free Will

    I am not a Muslim, and I do not watch South Park because I find it offensive. It's your TV, you're paying for the channels, and if you're offended by a show DON'T WATCH IT. Block the channel, stop paying for cable, sell your TV, just please STOP WHINING.

    Air the freakin' episode.


    Free Will

    April 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. seeker_of_knowledge

    From all the fuss, the radicals seem to be making a god out of Mohammed.

    Anyone can slam Allah & that doesn't ruffle their "feathers" but say one thing against the prophet [god] and all sorts of damnation is directed against the slanderers.

    April 27, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Aaron

    well this is all stupid boycotts and trying to sue south park and even talking about this is dumb the show is fine it makes fun of all religions at some point this time it was Mohammed and whats so wrong with that like Jesus was a vary peaceful man then they show him killing and dieing a 3 or 4 episodes with Muhammed isn't so bad is it Jesus died for our sins think about thatthen

    with love
    aaron aka bo90210@yahoo.com

    April 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bill

    if they get 72 virgens then 90% of them are probaly fat nerdy guys and the other 10% are fat,young or ugly. so have fun in hevan around 72 fat nerdy people

    April 27, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15