Regretfully, this year the birthday of the bearer of the message of compassion that awakens humanity’s conscience, coincided with a horrendous crime perpetrated by a gang of ignorant criminals in Paris, France on January 7, 2015. This gang of amoral criminals were utterly oblivious to the high standards of morals and tolerance that the Prophet exuded, and acted under an illusion of protecting the sanctity of his prophethood by inflicting a devastating blow to the very message his religion exemplifies.
Of course, it is neither prudent nor moral to insult and ridicule the beloved personalities or religion of any nation. Whereas in western nations even questioning the number of people murdered in the Holocaust is considered an overt act of wanton racism punishable by law, denigrating religious minorities already subjected to other forms of discrimination does not promote peace nor foster community building, and certainly it is not befitting of a civil society.
However, resorting to violence and barbarity to exact justice on the critics of religion are ignorant and immoral acts that are diametrically opposed to Islamic precepts, and are deemed far more abominable and maleficent than the offense itself. It is through a legal and judicial process and in the presence of a judge, jury and defense attorney that such a case could be addressed.
The Qur’an in 5:32 unequivocally stipulates that for anyone who kills a human being it is as if he has killed all mankind, and for anyone who saves a life it is as if he has saved all mankind. Moreover, even if criterion for a just retribution is based on Sharia law, the proportionate and proper response to an offending caricature is another caricature but certainly not willfully committing murder. The fact of the matter is that this criminal act is nothing but sheer terrorism.
The Qur’an and the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet advise that in the face of derision the proper response is to be generously forgiving, patient, forbearing, and conciliatory. It is a Muslim’s religious duty to be a role model by taking the moral high ground and standing for justice even if that requires testifying against himself, his parents or his family (4:135). Such an admonition, under the current state of affairs, is to defend the rights of those who are being slaughtered in the name of religion, so inhumanly by religious fanatics.
In order to pay homage to critics of religion whose rights are trampled by religious zealots, we must honor and defend the right of people to censure religion. It is embracing and defending the freedom to express different views that propel growth and perfection in a society. This is what honoring justice means; it is not just defending the right of those whose views are congruent with ours. In other words, we resolutely defend people’s right to criticize the religious beliefs of any faith tradition, including Islam, without any restrictions or limitations. This is the quintessential cornerstone of freedom of speech. However, freedom to denigrate, insult and ridicule and freedom to criticize are not correlative.
In many western countries, there are laws to protect human dignity from defamation of character based on sex, color, and race. We believe it is important that these laws be extended to protect people’s beliefs from becoming objects of insult and ignominy. It is then that such matters can be discussed and resolved in the court of law and human tragedies such as the one that occurred in France may be prevented.
God has bestowed the gift of “free will” on humanity and this necessitates the freedom to choose. Therefore, it is the absolute right of citizens of any society, Islamic or non-Islamic, to express their opposing views on religious matters freely and without impunity, as long as they do not resort to violence, threaten the safety and security of believers, and do not force them from their homes. Furthermore, they have the right to propagate their views even if they are against believers. Those who believe in God as the Creator of the human race and all that exists in the universe should be deeply steadfast in their faith to such a degree that they are empowered to easily listen, embrace and tolerate critics’ views. On the occasion where it is necessary or if there is danger of being persuaded by a critic’s view then they should reply to the criticism, based on the Islamic principle of “debate in the most excellent and gracious manner” (16:125), with appropriate and proportionate responses.
It is neither reasonable nor judicious to blame the religion of Islam because of the violent deeds of extremist fringe groups such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, IsIs, or Boko Haram who represent only a tiny minority within the global Muslim community. The spirit of Islam is disgusted with and exonerated from the heinous atrocities of a tiny extremist minority who lack the necessary religious insight and is product of an ignorant reaction to and is nurtured by certain interventionist and aggressive policies. Islam has been the victim of terrorism from its onset and three of the first four Caliphs were victims of terrorism and died by assassination.
We, a group of Muslim Iranians, invoke the Divine moral excellence of the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet, and Islamic Sharia’s precepts to condemn the criminal terroristic tragedy that occurred in Paris, in the strongest possible term. It is with deep sadness that we extend our condolences to the family of the victims, the nation of France, and the human family.
We thoroughly understand that a nation that was once considered “the cradle of freedom,” has stood up to religious forces that rejected modernity, and bears the history of witnessing her freedom being stripped away by the magisterium during medieval times, cannot tolerate such behavior once again. However, it is hoped that the critical thinkers of this great nation would draw a line of demarcation between criticism, and insult and ridicule. We believe this would prevent inciting people’s sentiment while creating fertile ground to further the cause of freedom.
Abdolali Bazargan, Hasan Farshtian, Mohsen Kadivar, Mehdi Momken, Sedighe Vasmaghi, and Hasan Yusefi Ashkevari
January 16, 2015