Islamophobia and the pain in Paris
You (Muslims) shall certainly be tried and tested …and you shall certainly receive from the People of the Book and the polytheists a lot of insults. But if you are patient and God-fearing, that will be (for you) a great source of success.” (3:186)
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
BRETHREN, let me begin by saying congratulations to Charlie Hebdo, the Paris-based News Magazine which printed the caricature of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). Before its owners took the decision to print the cartoon which led to the orgy of violence that has now enveloped Europe, Charlie Hebdo was not known beyond its immediate environment. Its daily production never exceeded 45,000. Its content never commanded the attention of the discerning members of the French public let alone in far away Britain. But Charlie Hebdo’s owners were wise. They had discovered the magic to make it big. They had chanced upon the trick that one way to turn the fortune of a comatose print medium around at least in pecuniary terms is to impugn and disparage what the Muslims consider to be sacred.
Thus a couple of weeks ago, Charlie Hebdo printed that cartoon which, as has been the case in similar incidents in the past, ridiculed Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). Again, as has been the case in the past, some Muslims, driven more by emotion not reason, thought the best way to express their dissatisfaction about the sacrilege was to inflict death and destruction on Paris.
They therefore took the law into their hands and shot nothing less than ten journalists working for the French medium dead. In the ensuing melee and confusion, innocent French-Jewish citizens became subjects of attack. But while this was happening, another young Malian-Muslim who had relocated to France decided to be a life-giver. He decided to shelter and provide protection to some Jews who would otherwise have been attacked by the misguided young Muslim elements in Paris that day. But the latter did not and could not enjoy media patronage. What mattered most to the media were the acts of unwarranted murder committed by the misguided French citizens. What mattered most to Charlie Hebdo magazine was the capital it imagined it would make once Muslims decided to protest the caricature of the Prophet (s.a.s).
Indeed Charlie Hebdo has made it. Charlie Hebdo magazine is making it. It is now popular. It is now being sought for and read in Britain. Charlie Hebdo now sells more than 45,000. It is now selling close to 500,000 copies. Remember brethren, cultural products that sell fast nowadays are usually the ones that attack the Muslim faith. Remember Bacile’s film, the Innocence of the Muslims. Remember Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. These products became popular because you made it so. You Muslims made them popular through your violent protests and protestations. Books that would ordinarily be lost to history have been made popular by Muslims resort to violent protestations.
I have since learnt that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon actually benefited from a novel written by another French citizen in which he satirized the French society for its increasing patronage of Islam. The author is afraid of a future of France in which an Islamist party would win the French elections and begin to enact conservative Islamist policies. One way, the author of the novel thought this could be avoided is to impugn and attack principles that Islam hold dear. Thus it becomes clear that there is a deliberate desire to offend Muslims and provoke conflict.
But brethren, why is it that each time those who hate Islam and its sacred symbols and monuments desecrate and impugn the religion, some Muslims resort to violence as if that is the only way to engage farcical attacks on the religion? Brethren, watching the events which unfolded in Paris and other parts of Europe during the past week where elements with attachment to Islam went on shooting spray and killed innocent citizens of France under the pretext of protesting the caricature of the Prophet of Islam (s.a.s) compelled another question, how did the Prophet use to respond to attacks against his person while he was alive? Did he resort to outright attack of his enemies or he deployed non-violent strategy in his interactional relations with those who hate and detest not his person but the truth to which he was calling? Is it Islamically right that the protest took the violent turn it did?
No. In other words, the protest ought to have been peaceful. Muslim protesters could have marched on to the street to demand for a resolution from the French government which would make blasphemy against all religious values, be it the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or the Hindu a criminal offense. Muslims could have demanded that just as all disputations against the Jewish narratives on the Holocaust have become illegal, all blasphemous posts or materials against all religions should be criminalized. In other words, Friday Sermon is saying to kill innocent souls in protest against what we consider to be blasphemy is to commit double sacrilege. It runs foul of the Quranic verse quoted above.
Meanwhile some non-Muslim critics have, once again started campaigning for ‘reformation’ of Islam. They want a situation where, sequel to that ‘reformation’, Islamic tenets would be opened up for criticism so that it can be on the same pedestal with other religions. These critics would argue that if Christians could endure the unwarranted attacks on the person of Jesus Christ (upon him be peace), that if Christ is portrayed as a womanizer and Christians find nothing untoward in it, it stands to reason, therefore, that Muslims should be able to tow the same line whenever Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) is attacked by those who are hell-bent on tearing the world apart based on their hatred of or abhorrence for Islam.
Brethren, a Muslim with elementary knowledge of what Islamic tenets say would argue that Muslims’ aversion for blasphemy is not just because it comes from non-Muslims or that it targets the personality of the Prophet. Rather all blasphemies, either from a Christian or Muslim is forbidden by the Almighty and is consequently deprecated. I encourage you to read Mathew 12 verse 12 for a Biblical perspective to this. Veneration of all prophets of God is a cardinal principle of faith in Islam.
Now having argued that protests against blasphemous publications need not become violent, another question we must ponder is this, why is it difficult for us to promote respect for our mutual values? Why should the ‘freedom of speech’ give fillip to the commission of infractions against what others hold as sacred while it does nothing that would promote inter-civilizational harmony? Put differently while it is reasonable, urgent and important for us all to deprecate unwarranted killing of innocent lives, the question we should not gloss over on occasions like this is- when shall those who fan the embers of hate desist from their heinous business of setting Muslims up against the other?
I empathize with the families of those who lost their lives, Jews, Muslims and Christians, during the past couple of days in Paris. I do that because in Islam souls are souls; they lack nationality, race and colour. (08122465111 for texts only)