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The Right To Offend: Answering A Misconception

By Fraz Bari, Reading

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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Time to Follow Religious Wisdom

In certain times, certain religious wisdoms become more salient. As the situation you are put in reveals, quite strikingly, the reason behind the rules and limitations religion asks of its adherents.
What causes a pandemic to be better in one country, and out of control in another? How swift the government responded, the preparedness of institutions, the collaboration between officials and scientists for a sound policy, and policing of such policies. By focusing all our attention on the “political” dimension, we ignore the most important variable in this equation. Us.
Looking at your own actions as the cause of failure is a bitter pill to swallow; especially in a nation where the pandemic is particularly acute. With a virus that spreads via human contact, no policy in the world can prevent transmission if individuals, and in aggregate the populace, decides not to follow them. I would therefore argue that a profound reason for the success (or lack thereof) we have experienced tackling the pandemic, has been driven by the good and bad decisions of individuals. This observation is not my own, but rather a truth that has been echoed by Prophetsa since time immemorial. That nations rise and fall, not due to their material or cultural progress, but the moral status of its people. This is true for all aspects of life. In one community, people can leave their doors unlocked, while in the other, 32,000 police officers and an extensive CCTV network cannot maintain peace.
This year has been one of deep reflection for many people, and as we come to decide the collective path we wish to take forward, for many it would be wise to dust off the religious books of the past. They were right all along.

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Mental Health, Effects of Prayer & Fighting Stigma

If someone is experiencing symptoms of psychosis at a level where medical help is required, this often means that their mental health symptoms are causing significant distress. Prayer can be very useful in times of distress however, they should still seek help from conventional medical means and not delay treatment. Delay in treatment is well known to be associated with alleviated long term outcome and medical help should be sought as soon as possible.
Stigma is a potent force in patients with mental health illnesses where mental illness is seen as a mark of shame. There can be many facets to this stigma: it can be enacted such as through discrimination, perceived (where the individual perceives that they are victims of stigmatising behaviours) or there can also be self-stigma where the individual feels they have less of a right to have an equal share of society than others due to their mental illness. The discrimination itself can be through individuals or structure such as through the use of discriminatory policies against people with mental health conditions.
Prayer, no doubt, is a means to cope and seek the blessings of Allah. But medical treatment should always be sought for mental health issues.

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Why We Undertake Duties at Islamabad

Islamabad, Tilford, serves as the residence of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih Vaba. The responsibility of protecting the home of the Khalifatul-Masih is an honour and a source of blessing. Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya UK is fortunate to have been given the opportunity to protect Khilafat.
It is narrated that after the migration to Medina, there was a night when the Holy Prophetsa was unable to sleep. In his anxiety, he said to Hazrat Aishara, “I wish some servant of God were on guard-duty today.” At that moment they heard movement outside. The Holy Prophetsa asked, “Who is it?” Someone outside replied, “I am Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas.” The Holy Prophetsa asked, “Why have you come?” Hazrat Sa’ad bin Abi Waqasra replied, “I felt, in my heart, a premonition of danger regarding the Messenger of Allahsa. Therefore, I have come to guard you.” The Holy Prophetsa prayed for Hazrat Sa’ad bin Abi Waqasra and slept peacefully. It is narrated that once a man passed away and the Holy Prophetsa arrived for his funeral prayer, some companions advised that this man lacked good deeds. The Holy Prophetsa addressed the gathering and asked if anyone had ever witnessed the deceased acting upon any good in his lifetime? Some people testified that he had done duty during the night to protect the Prophetsa. Consequently, the Holy Prophetsa led his funeral prayer and partook in his burial himself, and then addressing the grave said, “Your friends think you will enter hell, but I bear witness that surely you will enter paradise.” These narrations show us, therefore, that monetary reward and incentive is not what we seek, but it is nearness to Khilafat and a reward from God Almighty.

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