Islamic Scholar Wants International Speech Limits

Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, Vice-Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IMUS), has written a public plea for the UN and Western governments to make it criminal to “provoke the feelings” of Muslims and to “denigrate” their “religious symbols.” He begins by laudably calling on Muslims not to react with violence:

To the world’s Muslims: Expressing outrage in the face of the maligning of God or the Prophet Muhammad is a moral right, as faith cannot be devoid of feelings and immunity from provocation. It is from the completeness of our faith that we love the Prophet Muhammad more than our wealth, more than our beloveds, more than even our own selves. It is from our complete love of him that we follow God’s commands, specifically where He says: {And do not let a hatred of a people prevent you from being just; Be just, as it is closer to true faith} and {No soul bears the sin of another} and {He who kills a soul not in recompense for another soul or in retribution for the sowing of corruption, is as if he has killed all of humanity} – Qur’an. Consequently, we implore you not to inflict violence upon anyone, whether foreign delegations or otherwise. You should not destroy property or flout the values and cherished principles that you defend, as attacking innocents, killing foreign diplomats and ambassadors contravenes religious and moral principles before it contravenes political ones. It is important that we not forget the Prophet Muhammad’s praise for those who exercise restraint upon becoming angry. You should prevent those individuals who behave recklessly from actions that are unreasonable and immoral. We ask the Muslim youth to be disciplined in word and deed, and to act appropriately.

We call upon Muslim religious authorities, governments, and community and organization leaders, to devise a strategy to deal with such situations in the future. These situations will likely reoccur, so it is important to manage the conflict before it does.

But then he calls for the criminalization of the “denigration” of religion:

We are extremely concerned with a small active minority in your countries that seeks to perpetuate a state of conflict and war.

We estimate that such objectives do not serve the general interest. Therefore, it is our hope that you reconsider and criminalize the denigration of religious symbols, as such provocations do not serve the principles of free speech, principles that you and us both seek to uphold.

No, I’m sorry, that’s not true. You do not seek to uphold free speech, you seek to destroy it. If we are not free to criticize your religious views, we do not have free speech. Religious beliefs deserve no special protection, no matter how strongly you feel about them. Ahmed el-Tayeb, Egypt’s Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar and one of the most influential Sunni leaders in the world, has made a similar demand that their beliefs be protected against “blasphemy.” The Center for Inquiry is rightly objecting:

“Let us not go down this path, a path that inevitably leads to the persecution and demonization of individuals for their beliefs—or lack of beliefs—about religion,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Free expression is a fundamental human right. Too many are already sitting in jail, or have been injured, terrorized, or killed for exercising that right. It’s bad enough that these ‘blasphemy laws’ exist at all, anywhere in the world. To enact them on a global scale would represent a huge step backward for human rights.”

That’s the understatement of the century.

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