You can read and hear a range of reactions from the public on the Charlie Hebdo terror attack. All sane voices, Muslims and others have condemned it.
Muslims will say that this is a terrible atrocity. Some will use it as yet another proof that ISIS and Al-Qaeda have nothing to do with Islam.
Our moderate leaders and organizations will condemn it as an attack on free speech. Most of them will also say that this has nothing to do with Islam. Far-right groups, religious bigots and populist columnists will blame Islam, Muslims and Immigration policies for the attack.
And then there are two groups which will use this as another ‘told you so’ moment to further their agenda of hatred and intolerance.
On one hand, we have the perpetrators of the attack and their supporters, who believe that their religion justifies such violence. They would say that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists had crossed all bounds when they mocked the Prophet of Islam and their religion in such derogatory cartoons over the years. They had it coming.
The other group, the militant atheists will say that all religion including Islam are backward and superstitious. Their pontiff-in-chief Richard Dawkins says that not all religions are violent, only Islam is. And yes, Charlie Hebdo and their likes had it coming because our society is too scared to insult or ban Islam.
I am going through the back catalogue Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon covers. I never saw one of them before, and do not wish to be subjected to such vulgarity again. It is a veritable collection of cheap humour masquerading as journalism. Graffiti has a place in human history, but it belongs to the doors and walls of public toilets, not on your local news stand.
Why would anyone need to insult a religion is beyond me. But if they want to do so, I would rather be reading, viewing or listening to something less offensive.
But there are those who are compelled to mock and ridicule the ideas they don’t like.
You can mock politicians for their behavior or policies. You can ridicule a celebrity for the latest fad they are into. Or you can make poignant observations through the medium of cartoons to draw your viewer’s attention to a controversial subject. And there are no limits to what you want to express. From the sublime to the blasphemous, you can do what you like. As a viewer or a reader, I can choose not to read or view such works. As a Muslim, this is what Quran tells me to do.
I will be very curious to learn the views of certain Imams of mosques of various denominations in the UK on this subject. I suspect that a majority of them would rather not express themselves honestly in the media. The truth is very uncomfortable to both these Imams and those politicians who go to them begging for votes every election season.
Most orthodox Muslim scholars do support very draconian punishments for the act of blasphemy.
This has to change. Quran does not consider blasphemy as a crime. It is a sin of course, the punishment of which if not repented, will be in the afterlife.
But if you look at certain interpretations of some well-known scholars, and you will be surprised that their opinions contradict the Quran.
Mufti Obaidullah Qasmi of Darul Uloom Deoband writes
‘The death punishment assigned for blasphemy is agreed by all Islamic scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah and, is normally covered in Kitabul Hudud in Islamic juridical texts’.
Deoband school of though is followed by a large number of Muslims from the Indian sub-continent.
The more ‘moderate’ Barelvi sect which makes up a large proportion of the Immigrant Pakistani Diaspora in Britain is no different.
Sadanand Dhume of the Wallstreet Journal observes in a recent news report
‘ Clerics from Pakistan’s majority Barelvi stream of Islam—widely regarded as more tolerant than the rival Deobandi school associated with the Taliban—are among the loudest defenders of the country’s blasphemy laws.’
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws condemn the accused to death by hanging.
Same is true for the wide range of Sunni and Shia sects which have sway over the Muslim world.
Such interpretations of Quran which ignore its actual content but rely on the various medieval interpretations imposed upon it through the centuries have to be rejected. Ahmadiyya Muslim movement has denounced such notions of violence in the name of religion for many decades now. And it is heartening to see more and more Muslims coming closer to our way of understanding the Quran.
I am happy that our Muslim friends will stand up and condemn this horrendous and murderous attack, but please also ask the Imams and clerics in your mosques to denounce the ideas of punishments for blasphemy and apostasy in their Friday sermons.
For Muslims, this is another opportunity to think and question their faith leaders. This menace and hatred ISIS and Al-Qaeda have manifested in their extreme acts may need to be rooted out form their own mosques and homes first.