Free speech: A defense of free speech by Muslim Americans

Molly’s latest cartoon

I’ve written before about the need for Muslims to defend free speech, not just for PR or strategic reasons, but because it represents a dignified response to the increasing hostility that Muslims are feeling in certain circles. The recent case of Molly Norris, the cartoonist that unwittingly started the “Draw Muhammad Day” fracas, is a case in point. Muslims (particularly in the Seattle area, where Norris lives) reached out to Norris in the wake of the controversy, and as a result she distanced herself from those who took her cartoon and turned it into a real-life event. This reaction contrasted starkly with the vitriol with which some expressed their anti-Muslim feelings through “Draw Muhammad Day”. Unfortunately, some in the shadows didn’t follow the lead of local Muslims and have issued threats towards Norris, who has subsequently gone underground to protect herself.

A group of us, led by my dear friend Sheila Musaji over at The American Muslim, felt strongly enough about this situation to issue the statement below, which I proudly helped to organize, and which Ms. Norris has been made aware of and is grateful for. Free speech is the friend of marginalized minorities, and Muslims are no exception. And just as we benefit from the free speech which this nation affords us, we cannot deny this right to our fellow citizens, no matter how they use it. It is only through the engagement of ideas in the public sphere that we can effectively neutralize hatred. Burying it does no one any favors, and issuing threats is the most odious of ways in which speech can be curtailed.

We hope that Ms. Norris finds some comfort in this, and that those who stoop to issuing threats to people realize that their actions don’t do anything to reduce ill will towards our community.

A DEFENSE OF FREE SPEECH BY AMERICAN AND CANADIAN MUSLIMS

We, the undersigned, unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible.

We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation.

We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur’an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.

We affirm the right of free speech for Molly Norris, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and all others including ourselves.

As Muslims, we must set an example of justice, patience, tolerance, respect, and forgiveness.

The Qur’an enjoins Muslims to:
* bear witness to Islam through our good example (2:143);
* restrain anger and pardon people (3:133-134 and 24:22);
* remain patient in adversity (3186);
* stand firmly for justice (4:135);
* not let the hatred of others swerve us from justice (5:8);
* respect the sanctity of life (5:32);
* turn away from those who mock Islam (6:68 and 28:55);
* hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant (7:199);
* restrain ourselves from rash responses (16:125-128);
* pass by worthless talk with dignity (25:72); and
* repel evil with what is better (41:34).

Islam calls for vigorous condemnation of both hateful speech and hateful acts, but always within the boundaries of the law. It is of the utmost importance that we react, not out of reflexive emotion, but with dignity and intelligence, in accordance with both our religious precepts and the laws of our country.

We uphold the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both protect freedom of religion and speech, because both protections are fundamental to defending minorities from the whims of the majority.

We therefore call on all Muslims in the United States, Canada and abroad to refrain from violence. We should see the challenges we face today as an opportunity to sideline the voices of hate—not reward them with further attention—by engaging our communities in constructive dialogue about the true principles of Islam, and the true principles of democracy, both of which stress the importance of freedom of religion and tolerance.

INITIAL SIGNATORIES: (partial list – the complete list can be found here)

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, PhD, Director, Minaret of Freedom Foundation
Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed, PhD, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University
Prof. Parvez Ahmed, PhD, Fulbright Scholar & Assoc. Prof. University of North Florida
Wajahat Ali, playwright, journalist, and producer of “Domestic Crusaders”
Sumbul Ali-Karamali, JD, LLM (Islamic Law), author of “The Muslim Next Door”
Salam al-Marayati, Pres., Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief, Altmuslim
Hazami Barmada, Pres, American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN)
M. Ali Chaudry, PhD, President, Center for Understanding Islam (CUII)
Robert D. Crane, JD
Mona Eltahawy, journalist
Prof. Mohammad Fadel, PhD
Farah Brelvi, Board of Directors, ACLU-NC
Hesham Hassaballa, M.D., author, journalist, blogger – “God, faith, and a pen”
Arsalan Iftikhar, author, human rights lawyer, blogger – “The Muslim Guy”
Jeffrey Imm, Director, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.)
Prof. Muqtedar Khan, PhD, author of several books, Blogger – “Globalog”
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam, writer, blogger – “Crossing the Crescent”
David Liepert, M.D., blogger and author of blogger and author of “Muslim, Christian AND Jew”
Radwan A. Masmoudi, PhD, President, Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)
Melody Moezzi, JD, MPH, writer and attorney
Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, author of many books of poetry
Sheila Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim (TAM)
Aziz H. Poonawalla, PhD, scientist and blogger – “City of Brass” on Beliefnet.com
Hasan Zillur Rahim, PhD, journalist
Prof. Hussein Rashid, PhD, blogger – “Religion Dispatches”
Robert Salaam, blogger – “The American Muslim”
Tayyibah Taylor, Editor, Azizah Magazine
G. Willow Wilson, author of “Butterfly Mosque” and “Air” graphic novel series

NOTE: If you would like to add your signature, please send an email with your name, title, and organizational affiliation (if any) to Sheila Musaji, editor of The American Muslim at tameditor(at)aol.com. The list of signatories will be updated daily and the most recent list can be found here.

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.


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