The Background: In September 2005, a Danish newspaper published 10 cartoons, including one depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his turban. The Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, had asked 40 cartoonists to draw images of the prophet. The purpose, its chief editor said, was "to examine whether people would succumb to self-censorship, as we have seen in other cases when it comes to Muslim issues."
There were immediate protests within Denmark and the situation has recently escalated to the point where Danish goods are being boycotted, Scandinavian aid workers have been pulled out of Gaza and ambassadors have been recalled.
Recently this month daily papers from France, Germany published the cartoons. This triggered again protest from muslim faithfuls all over the world.
Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and other major religious figures even positive ones to prevent idolatry. This matter is taken very seriously in Islam. In this matter, you can say, Muslims respect the 2nd Commandments of the 10 Commandments given to Mankind by God.
Remember the 2nd Commandments read, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thus no image is used inside any mosque, since its a place of worship of One God who has no likeness. Similarly making image of any Prophet, Messenger or Apostoles of God is forbidden. Why? Because it happened in the history of mankind that people start to worship that messenger instead of God and forget the real teachings. All sort of idolatry start to happen. They become busy making huge statues instead of following the very principles.
This happened in case of Buddha, Guru Nanak, Jesus Christ and other religions (like Hinduism) in the past.
Now because of such respect for the law of God, Muslims protest heavily when someone make image and mock a Messenger of God. Ans seeing the event it just feel like, as if we are losing our sense for the sacred.
Constanly in the media which publish the cartoons they claim it to be their the freedom of speech. But the point is, when you equate the action of a few handful terrorist with the rest of the peaceful 1.3 billion people, when you equate some misleading people with a prophet of God and hurting the feelings of other... that doesn't remain a matter of freedom of speech. It becomes something racial, prejudice and deliberate attempt to disrespect other human being.
Some notable article published around the media on this issue:
:: Cartoons and their context
:: Prophetic Fallacy
:: Europe's Cartoon Jihad
:: Cartoon wars and clash of civilization
:: Anti-Dane protest
:: European press review
:: Prophet and the freedom of expression
The debate over freedom of speech and respect for religious beliefs is continuing ...
It is not that only mocking Muhammad is unacceptable to Muslims. Any Prophet of God is respected be he Jesus, Moses, David, Isaac or Jacob. It hurts equally to any faithful. As it is said in Quran, "We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered." Quran, 2:136
So for a Muslim, insult to any Prophet is unaccepted and equal since its an universal principle that we make no distinction between any of the Prophets of God.