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December 2020

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The Right To Offend: Answering A Misconception

According to Amnesty International, freedom of speech is defined as “the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.”

This is a fundamental human right which encourages transparency amongst people by creating a safe environment for discussion. By doing this, it plays an essential role in helping the wider society progress. However, freedom of speech becomes a hot topic for debate when some individuals take advantage of this right and, intentionally or not, begin to offend those around them through their words and actions.

A recent example of where the use of free speech became quite controversial is when a teacher in France showed his class cartoons of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa. Unfortunately, and in stark contrast to Islamic teachings, an individual responded to this by cold-bloodedly murdering the teacher. Such a heinous act can never be justified under any circumstances.

Questions are undoubtedly raised in such situations, with one of the most important ones being: what is the correct way to respond to people who use free speech to offend others?

As is the case when looking for answers to many difficult questions, we as Muslims can refer to the example of the Messenger of Allahsa. The Holy Prophetsa stated:

“The height of excellence is that you should strengthen the ties of relationship with the one who severs them, and be generous to the one who is miserly to you, and be forgiving to the one who abuses you.” (Musnad Ahmad)

From this hadith it is clear that if we come across a person who abuses their right to free speech and hurts the sentiments of others, we must not retaliate. Rather than escalating matters, the Holy Prophetsa taught us instead, to treat that person with kindness, respect and forgiveness. This would make it easier to resolve any differences and allow both parties to walk away with a better understanding of each other’s views.

From this we learn that the murder of the teacher in France was not at all in line with the teachings of the Holy Prophetsa.

Despite this, when such atrocities occur, the religion of Islam is often placed under scrutiny and is criticised due to the acts of a minority of Muslims. If one looks to Islam’s primary source of guidance, the Holy Qur’an, they will find that Islam advocates nothing against the meaning of its very name – peace. However, some may point out the offence that Islam causes towards those who worship idols. The Holy Qur’an states:

“Surely, you and that which you worship beside Allah are the fuel of Hell. To it shall you all come.” [21:99]

Some may take these words as an indication and advance the objection that Islam does indeed attack the sentiments of others, but it is essential to understand the context behind this verse to realise that this is in fact not the case.

The issue of speaking against the idols in the time of the Holy Prophetsa related to a specific occurrence: the idolaters had overtaken the Kaaba and would subjugate the poor and weak into inhumane rituals, in essence what was supposed to be a universal house of religious practice had been monopolised by the chiefs of Mecca. To understand the significance of this, The Kaaba had been the first House of God established under the command of God Himself during the time of Prophet Adamas, the lost foundations from the time were revived by Prophet Abrahamas and Prophet Ismaelas. The Kaaba was an incredibly sacred site that symbolised the most fundamental beliefs of not just Muslims, but all Abrahamic faiths. During the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, the Kaaba was filled with idols contradicting with the core belief of all Abrahamic faiths – the oneness of God. Of course, alongside this, the idols symbolised the worst of humanity which is proved through the practice of the Arabs at the time.  As a result, it became necessary for the Holy Prophetsa to make it clear to the idolaters that their idols had no place in the House of Allah.

It should be noted, however, that the overarching principle has always been one that the verse of the Holy Qur’an speaks about:

“And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus, unto every people have We caused their doing to seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do.” [6:109]

Thus, let us end on the words of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih Vaba who has provided a perfect summary of Islam’s stance on freedom of speech:

“People must realise that words can have far-reaching consequences and so rather than speaking of a ‘clash of civilisations’ or needlessly ratcheting up tensions between different communities, people should refrain from attacking the religious teachings of one another… Let us all, irrespective of our differences, join together and work with a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and affection for the peace of the world and to promote freedom of belief.”

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Hatred Towards Ahmadi Muslims Permeates More Spheres Than We Think About

A Regional Nazim Tabligh posted a message condemning the terror attacks in Paris and promoting the peaceful teachings of Islam. However, hatred towards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community meant that such a message of peace was not well received by some.

I posted something on my social media accounts recently regarding the incidents in France; these were quotes of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih Vaba condemning terrorism and stating that Islam is a religion of peace. To my surprise, my post went viral, but not exactly in the way one would hope. I woke up to an astounding amount of abuse on Linkedin. Being an Ahmadi Muslim, it was, of course, the usual group of individuals declaring me to be well on my “way to hell”, and that I would partake in “curses of all 1.2 billion other Muslims” (I’m quite sure the guy who said that didn’t ask all of them).

It’s very difficult reasoning with such people. As Ahmadi Muslims we do, as always, try to prove through our conduct that Islam is a religion of peace, not hate. But examples of such practice fall upon deaf ears.

What’s worse is that my post was literally defending Islam. The French President labeled Islam as a “religion in crisis”. My post merely pointed out that, in reality, that was not the case and that it was those identifying as Christian, whose numbers are dwindling. My post was nothing but condemning the recent attacks while defending the beautiful teachings of Islam. However, I was shocked with the hate I received, from those identifying as Muslim. I am sure they do not know what Islam truly means.

Yet on the other hand, I was very much moved by the messages of love that were directed my way. Understandably, there were people that were genuinely confused about what was wrong with what I had said; they were unaware of the prejudice that many Muslims harbour against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Here are some of the messages of support I received:

One non-Muslim gentlemen posted a comment saying: “I’m struggling to understand some of the horrendous and vitriolic comments that I’ve read in response to this post.”

Another message read: “The people commenting frivolously on a post related to condemning a horrid attack on a religion is being condemned by the believers, why are you guys even commenting on something you do not agree with. You can choose to ignore instead of hurling abuses or simply get yourself excused from Mr. Farasat’s professional network.”

A lady posted a comment which read: “Just fallen upon this post. I am of no religion. When I read the post I thought how good that someone is condemning the acts of violence that have been committed. When reading the comments WOW, some of you guys putting curses on the person who has written this post, being so hateful and saying that if he doesn’t follow the last prophet and those teachings that he can’t be a Muslim. I think whatever religion you follow you should advocate peace, however many of the comments on this post are completely awful and just go to show that if people are not following your teachings you hate them, you truly hate them… what a very sad state of affairs.”

Nevertheless, I feel sorry for all those who misunderstood the whole context of the post and were attacking me personally. But this demonstrates that if such hate can occur on a professional platform, one that has nothing to do with religion per se, then imagine how deeply the hatred of Ahmadi Muslims permeates those societies where persecution is backed by law.  We need to educate people including ourselves more than ever.

My post reached over 81,000 views (growing still). I urge all Khuddam to use social media as a tool to spread the message of love and peace as much as possible. Just imagine if a single effort can make such a big difference, then what can the collective achieve? Honestly, I am not an Imam but a normal Ahmadi Muslim who just loves his faith, his Khalifah and his religion. The abuse I received did move me quite a bit.  After hours in a state of disturbance, a light from within me boosted my faith and gave me so many reasons to keep continuing to spread the Islamic message of peace and love between all people.

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Moral Ethics – Address of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih IV (rh) to Atfalul Ahmadiyya UK at the Annual Atfal Rally in 1993

“I will now turn briefly to another point. Righteousness and self confidence. You have advantages from living in a powerful and advanced country of the world but you have disadvantages also. There are good points and bad points. The bad points are cultural and moral deterioration. The British people do not realise that culture is something that can be totally disassociated from moral responsibility. In the name of culture they feel they can do anything and no one can stop them or restrict them. They feel they are free to do whatever they please, with the result, that they step into areas which Allah forbids. They trespass religious code and ethics in the name of culture and freedom. They violate the Word of God and moral principles which are accepted universally. This is an area of danger and I must warn you of it. I have come across some cases of children who go astray in teenage years to lead a life not of goodness but are told that they are free to do what they want. [As if they are told] who are your parents and religious leaders to tell you what to do? You are free, it’s a free country, enjoy yourself. This is the insinuation of what they are told by teachers and other students and they do not understand the underlying trap in this teaching. So I must warn you against this type of philosophy of freedom. They are talking of freedom in an area which does not belong to them. They say God and parents have no right to interfere in that area. It is similar to your parents telling you that you are free as a person, so why respect the laws of England or any other country. You may do what you please. You may steal, mug people, bribe and be bribed – enjoy yourself, this country is yours, this is your land and no one can stop you. If your parents were to teach you this will the society accept it? Will they not react and call it a rebellion against the law of the land? They certainly would as this is their area where they enjoy strength and power. And that will be their reaction if someone from elsewhere interferes in their area of command, and yet they shamelessly interfere where they have no right to. They interfere in the area of God’s commandments, and religious ethics and moral values. The area that belongs to your parents and religious leaders [in such matters] you should listen to them. This should be clearly understood.”

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