Why are Moslems so touchy about their faith?
I was asked quite recently as to why I thought there was such a strong reaction from those who embrace the Islam religion when their religion is criticised or made fun of in any way. Initially I thought it was because those adherents considered their religion so highly that any amount of criticism was too hurtful or a blasphemy in their ears. The person I was talking to had this own ideas and the following arose from the discussion we had.
Did I realise that the Arab world had only a very recent history of theatre and drama? No, I didn’t. I was very well aware of how much the West was in the debt of the Arab world when it came to science and Mathematics, for that was my own background, but not being well versed in the classics or theatre I was ignorant of that fact. Our number system was invented by a Middle Eastern thinker well before the West could be considered civilised. We only had Roman numerals when the Roman Empire died, unless you include Runes and sticks, so have you ever tried to do the simplest arithmetical calculations using Roman numerals? I bet you haven’t. It is incredibly clumsy and ponderous with all those IIIs, VVVs and XXXs. Our number system was an Arab invention and so it follows that our technological society, which grew only because complex calculations were made possible using them, wouldn’t have been possible without the Arab input.
Drama was another matter. There were the stories of the Arabian Nights compiled in the Islamic Golden Age drawn from the Caliphate era, but my conversationalist suggested that because of the injunction within the Islamic religion against representing Allah or his Prophet by any visual means, then theatre did not develop with anywhere near the same degree of sophistication. Despite the Middle East being quite civilised at that time, relatively speaking, this was one aspect obviously lacking in their developing society.
In the West, however, religion was enriched by artistic impression. Icons, pictures and plays were all means of teaching the religious stories about Christ, the disciples and the New Testament Gospels to an essentially illiterate populous. As there was no similar injunction within Christianity against such representation there grew a foundation of drama and art within society. Then along came the Renaissance.
It was the Renaissance that took the Arts out of the religious setting into the secular world. The previously rather obscure Ancient Classics were rediscovered and old themes reworked to an eagerly awaiting audience. Drama did not have to be so serious and humour was readily appreciated, especially when life in general was such a struggle. It was a means of lightening the load and having fun, especially if it was at the expense of other people who took life too seriously, such as ‘those in authority’. Secular figures could be held to account through humour – if the actors and writers could get away with it. Pompous and religious figures particularly came into the firing line. It wasn’t as if the religious teachings, saints or Christ were being ridiculed, for it was just a means of letting off steam and getting your point across without too much of a threat of reprisal.
Of course as the years went by then change took place. Poking fun at authority was not only just a matter of relatively harmless humour but also gained the distinction of satire. Lampooning people took on new heights of acuity, and depiction became most savage through cartoon drawings during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The Church was not sacrosanct. The result was that authority had to accept most pointed criticism and people had to learn to laugh at themselves or risk drawing the lightning bolt of almost sadistic satire at their expense.
Because theatre was missing in the world of Islam all those centuries ago is it any wonder if the modern reaction is so strong when the media use such ploys to criticise. We in the West take little offence over such and accept them as a matter of course. Perhaps we could take something of the Islamic reaction to heart and so value and respect more within our own religion, but I also see Arab theatre carefully developing through the West’s influence and wonder how long it will be before the Islamic religion is more tolerant of the detractor’s voice, both secular and religious, from within their own society.
Does this make sense? What do you think?