A Message of Tolerance to the World

  • 17 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo’s offensive depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) undoubtedly provoked and angered Muslims around the world. However, it presented Muslims the opportunity to highlight the peaceful and tolerant nature of Islam, which categorically rejects all forms of violence and bloodshed. Herein lies the importance of the ‘Call for Tolerance’, a campaign launched by Al-Azhar in Egypt that urges Muslims to ignore such drawings, because “the stature of the Prophet of Compassion and Humaneness is too great to be affected by such drawings which observe no moral restrictions or civilizational controls.”

There are many ways to respond to any offensive material directed towards the Prophet (peace be upon him) or Islam in general, especially in today’s open, increasingly interconnected world, where the influence of certain acts, events and phenomena transcend borders in an unprecedented manner. The best approach is to highlight the true image of Islam, which has been distorted by extremists and terrorists alike. This objective can be achieved through a variety of mechanism, including open dialogue between members of Western society and intellectuals and religious figures in the Muslim world; or through the widespread publication of books, in any number of languages, to thereby introduce to the reader the ways in which Islam promotes tolerance, moderation and humanity. Undoubtedly, extremists will look to capitalize upon the resentment caused by Charlie Hebdo’s offensive depiction of the Prophet by portraying such acts as part of a broader religious war against Islam and against Muslims.

We cannot allow extremists the opportunity to further inflame the emotions of the Muslim population. Failure to intervene will further damage the image of Islam and Muslims as proponents of theories of conflict of civilizations and religions will be handed the ascendancy; paving the way for the proliferation of claims concerning the perceived ‘Islamic Damager’ or the ‘Islamization of Europe’, among other wholly negative, unsubstantiated claims that are often promoted by hardline, rightwing groups. However, these inherently flawed concepts are being confronted both politically and intellectually in Europe – as illustrated by the demonstration that was organized in Germany, in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel notably took part, in response to the anti-Islam rallies organized by the Pegida movement.

Religion and indeed religious sanctities should undoubtedly represent a red line that must not be crossed, or even approached, given the associated risks to international security and stability, and the co-existence of different people, religions and cultures worldwide. Ideally, the response to any infringements across this red line will be headed by religious and intellectual institutions, thereby preventing extremists and hardliners from exploiting such incidents to their advantage; either through the targeting of innocent people that leads to more bloodshed, or the promotion of false slogans which, in turn, stir feelings of resentment that threaten world security and stability. Those who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo, killing innocent people, have caused more damage to Islam and Muslims across the globe than anything else. Hence, the ‘Call for Tolerance’ campaign launched by Al-Azhar is hugely significant as it seeks to ensure that the positive values of Islam, particularly the promotion of tolerance, are its main defender.