By Dr. Sahil Sholla and Arif Sufi
IT was with a little delay that the news about re-publication of disrespectful caricatures in France and the subsequent unjustified killings reached Kashmir, thanks to 2G network connectivity. People around the world were outraged at the killings in France. Condemnations began pouring in across various social media platforms. Muslims too, unequivocally, condemned the brutal killings. However, they also condemned the vicious vilification of the beloved of over 1.8 billion Muslims across the globe, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh).
Amid protests and condemnations, portraits of the French President Emmanuel Macron with a boot imprinted over it began swarming social media. This is not the first time that France has been the focus of criticism over the publication of offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), however, blatant insult of the Prophet of Islam and subsequent clampdown on Muslims is unprecedented. There are reports that many mosques and Muslim charities have been forced to close down by French government since December, 2015.
What is wrong with freedom to insult?
Those calling for absolute freedom of speech fail to realise that all societies place some limits on speech due to a context of competing values. If limiting speech can lead to censorship and tyranny, it can equally be argued that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to anarchy.
The purpose of freedom of speech is to empower the weak to achieve political accountability, transparency and justice. Double standards of freedom of speech are evident in the French law itself, for instance fines for disrespect of national flag and banning the Muslim veil.
The intent of freedom of speech is not to vilify and dehumanise a beleaguered minority rather, as the English philosopher John Stuart Mill said, it is to foster “authenticity, genius, creativity, individuality and human flourishing.”
In a recent article, Prof. Shabbir Akhtar, a Cambridge-trained philosopher and faculty at the University of Oxford remarked, “Humour and mockery are powerful class weapons, especially when used to demean the voiceless and inarticulate, the multitudes who have little or no secure alternative sources of self-respect and dignity other than their naked identity as human beings. To ridicule such people is hardly a noble ambition.”
Muslims fear for their future and peaceful co-existence amid growing Islamophobia across the World. In a recent Friday sermon, renowned Pakistani-American Islamic scholar, Dr. Yasir Qadhi, alluding to France, warned of striking similarities between selective targeting of Muslims in some countries and xenophobic anti-Semitism that raised its ugly head about a century ago in Germany, culminating in the largest genocide in human history.
Why are Muslims “intolerant” about the caricatures?
People need to understand about the significance of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from an Islamic perspective, without any presuppositions about notions of God or Prophet-hood. Utmost reverence and love for the final Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is a crucial aspect of Muslim faith. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.”
It is also important to understand that respect and love for all prophets of God, from Adam to Jesus (phut), is an integral part of Muslim faith. Muslims believe that Jesus (pbuh) prophesied the advent of Muhammad (pbuh), which some references in the Gospels also seem to hint at.
Islam believes in worship of one God alone and rejects any form of idol worship. Thus, drawing of any animate being is strictly prohibited, much less those of the prophets.
Mocking and slandering the beloved of over 1.8 billion Muslims, who love him more than their own selves, is repugnant. The caricatures are not just cartoons but represent vicious attack on the very Muslim identity.
Legacy in brief
Islam does not believe in insulting the faith of others. Kind treatment of minorities, Jews and Christians, is well known in Islamic history. In the words of Reinhart Dozy, a Dutch scholar of French origin, “…the unbounded tolerance of the Arabs must also be taken into account. In religious matters, they put pressure on no man…Christians preferred their rule to that of, for instance, the Franks.”
Although, attempts are being made to demonise Islam and project Muslims negatively, they have been the torch bearers of scientific progress. Muslim civilisation has contributed immensely to mathematics, art, poetry, medicine and astronomy in the Golden Islamic Age that paved the way for the European Renaissance.
Islam in France
Although France claims to champion the cause of freedom of speech, there are concerns of stifling Muslim presence. Recently, Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, called for dissolution of Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a non-profit organisation whose mission is to combat Islamophobia in France, a move described by European Network Against Racism (ENAR) as “manifestation of structural racism targeting civil society”. They have expressed strong support to the organisation which has been fighting against racism and discrimination targeting Muslims for the last 20 years. The co-founder of CCIF, Marwan Muhammed recently tweeted, “Fundamental freedoms are at stake, as the government is focused on stigmatising and criminalising Muslim communities.”
With an estimated 10 percent Muslim population, the largest in any European country, attempts are being made to roll-out ‘Islam of France’ to make it compatible with laicité, French version of secularism.
About a month ago, former French hostage Sophie Pétronin (now Mariam) revealed that she converted to Islam during her four-year incarceration in Mali.
What man was greater?
There have always been certain depraved individuals who mocked and ridiculed the messengers of God. Such acts of ignorance cannot harm his noble personality. Allah said in the Quran (15:94), “Truly! We will suffice you against the scoffers.”
Allah has guaranteed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) protection against mockers.
The British essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle, eloquently responded to such detractors in his book “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History”, “The lies (slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Muhammad pbuh) are disgraceful to ourselves only.”
We conclude this short piece with the words of French author, Lamartine “… founder of twenty-terrestrial empires, and one spiritual empire- such was Mahomet! What man was greater, by all the scales on which we measure human greatness?”
Indeed, there is none!
To the praiseworthy
- Dr. Sahil Sholla is a researcher in ethics of modern technology and Arif Sufi is a student of Journalism
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