Recently, American Freedom Defense Initiative or AFDI, which is co founded by Pamela Geller, hosted a cartoon drawing contest of Prophet Muhammad of Islam in Garland, Texas. Unfortunately, there was a shooting towards the end of the event. The two gunmen injured a security officer but before they could harm anyone else, were killed by the on duty police officer. My thoughts and prayers go out to the injured security officer. I hope he recovers quickly from his injuries. I want to applaud the on duty police officer who managed to kill these two lunatics. These two individuals do not represent Islam or Muslims but as always the entire religion of Islam is blamed. Muslim communities have repeatedly issued statements condemning violence occurring in the name of Islam here in the United States and abroad but apparently it is falling on deaf ears because I still see non-Muslim Americans asking why American Muslims aren’t speaking up against Islamic extremists. Muslims are not just speaking against these terrorists but communities such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of the oldest Muslim organizations in the United States has been shouting loudly against extremism for over 125 years.
As an American Ahmadi Muslim, I recognize that everyone has a legal right to free speech. My appeal instead to Geller is to understand why Muslims are offended by the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
In Islam, all Prophets of God hold a high stature and Muslims are taught to respect them. Belief in all previous prophets including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others is part of the six articles of faith a Muslim has to abide by. Prophet Muhammad holds a high status in Islam and is deeply loved and respected by Muslims. The main tenet of Islam is belief in one God. Prophet Muhammad discouraged Muslims from drawing his picture or worshipping him like a God.
Islam does not oppose free speech but advocates responsible speech. It tells us to always tell the truth even if it is against one’s own self. “O ye who believe! Be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred…” (4:136) Muslims are taught not to force their beliefs on others. The Holy Quran says, “There is no compulsion in religion. (2:257)
Prophet Muhammad championed free thought and expression. He was constantly insulted but he never retaliated against anyone. Instead he forgave everyone. For example, after the peace treaty with the Meccans, he said, “By God, you will have no punishment today and no reproof” (Hisham). Prophet Muhammad taught Muslims to respond hatred with kindness and love.
The Messiah and founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has said, “Be kind and merciful to humanity, for all are His creatures: do not oppress them with your tongue, or hands, or in any other way.” (Our Teaching)
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, the head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad said, “In this day and age the media has great power – if it is irresponsible then it can fuel disorder and unnecessarily provoke, but if it is responsible then it can play a great role in creating peace and harmony within society.”
There is already too much hatred and violence in the world. We should use freedom of speech as a means of promoting peace and not hatred.
Follow Saima on twitter at @SaimaGSheikh