Islam in the West: Freedom to express or oppress?

For peaceful coexistence between people of different religions, sects, and ethnicities to prosper, it's incumbent on the world leaders to prevent the recurrence of hatred, extremism, writes Usama Malick

Islam and west

Atheism has been on the rise during the recent years, mostly in the West, where a big chunk of the people, especially youngsters, prefer to be known as “non-religious”, however, still invariably most of the people moving on earth preferably like to link themselves with one or another religion.

Almost all religions’ rudimentary teachings promote peaceful coexistence, empathy, social welfare, human values, respect towards religions of different people living in a society and simultaneously negate and denunciate Mephistophelian acts in the shape of prejudice, jingoism, hatred and disrespect towards other religions etc.

Religion as an identity

Religions have always had a core position in the hearts of their believers and the latter’s religious identities are also quite apparent by their physical appearances. For instance, a man having a beard, bottoms of his pants raised above the ankles and a skullcap on his head will always be looked upon as a Muslim, and similarly, a man wearing a dhoti, shawl spread loosely on his shoulders and with shikha hairstyle will definitely be considered a man from the top of the Hindu religious hierarchical order i.e. Brahmin.

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Religion is something that runs in our veins. We occasionally neglect its very tenets that clearly uphold the sanctity of all religions existing in a country. Be it India, Pakistan, European countries or many other states, the majority at times does something that hurts the religious sentiments of a specific minority to a fault.

Rising Islamophobia in the West

Many an incident mocking the religions has surfaced lately that it is hard for one to start with. But the most recent mockery of Islamic Religion has been carried out by Charlie Hebdo Magazine which is a French satirical weekly and features cartoons, reports and jokes. Of late, the magazine has republished the blasphemous content about holy figures of Islam which sparked a massive outrage in the Muslim world.

Whoever kills a person [unjustly] it’s as though he has slained all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it’s as though he has saved all mankind, Surah Al-Maaida (5:32)

People at the helm of affairs of this magazine did not seem to have learnt any lesson from the 2011 and 2015 attacks on its offices. Although, the former attack didn’t cause any casualty yet the latter—reportedly orchestrated by Al-Qaeda—proved fatal and left twelve people dead, including the publishing director of the magazine, and several badly injured. After that terrific attack, the offices of this magazine were shifted to a secret address but sadly it didn’t stop publishing such controversial material.

This time a teenage boy settled in France, as per the reports having no links with any militant groups, attacked two people standing near the previous offices of Charlie Hebdo with a cleaver. He confessed in an initial inquiry that he did not know the offices have been shifted elsewhere and assumed that the victims were as the magazine’s employees. He added further that he did so in response to the controversial cartoons republished by the magazine.

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It is also important to note here that—irrespective of mentioning any religion—contempt for God, any prophet, saint can provoke someone to take laws into one’s own hands. At this point it’s perfect to quote German philosopher Friedrich Hegel who once said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing”. Going by the world’s attitude, this quote seems so true even today.

Freedom to express or oppress?

Over the past several years, a cartoon contest has been organized in different states of the world. In 2015, American activist Pamela Geller had organized this contest in the US state Texas. As could be expected, two armed men tried to thwart the event but somehow, they were killed by the security personnel in retaliation. Despite being warned in the beginning, Geller didn’t postpone the event and carried on with the event.

In Islam, it is prohibited to draw even a positive portrait of holy figures, let alone a negative one. So, apparently the event was deliberately organized to hurt the sentiments of all Muslims. Geller’s main “motive” behind organizing this event was encourage freedom of expression.

As per the “Stop the Islamization of Norway (SION)” group, the event was organized to open more avenues for freedom of expression

How can deforming the shape of any religion’s most venerated personality, which no one has seen in today’s world, be categorized as “freedom of expression”? Geller’s motive was baseless, and her immaturity can easily be assessed by the fact that she levelled allegations against the ex-president of the United States, Barack Obama, arguing that he was Muslim and not an original citizen of the USA.

Similarly, Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders who is widely known for his virulent anti-Islam statements has been organizing this nonsensical competition for years. At different occasions men have been arrested who openly hurled death threats at Wilders. In 2018, a man allegedly got arrested on the suspicion that he was plotting to assassinate Wilders. In fact, a Dutch court in the month of September this year has also ruled that the lawmaker is guilty of insulting Moroccans who are largely Muslims.

In a political rally in 2014, he asked his supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their country, to which the public replied “Fewer! Fewer!”. Hence, the rulings came in reaction to the discriminatory speech of Wilders. Other prosecutors of the country have also stipulated that a fine of 5000 euros be imposed upon Wilders for provoking discrimination and hate speech against Moroccan immigrants.

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The anti-Islam politician has cancelled this year’s cartoon contest citing that he does not feel like risking the lives of others. He further added that he had received death threats as well. It is also being said that he doesn’t have any interest in organizing such events, but he does so to gain media attention in the face of his waning political support in the country.

Without a modicum of doubt, I believe that the worst-off politicians in the world are those who use religion to maximize their political clout and leverage it for personal gains. Whatsoever, it is a welcome move that the ill-natured event has been cancelled and this must be made sure that never in the years to come such competition be organized that can hurt people’s sentiments on such a large scale.

In the month of November last year, an organized desecration of the Holy Quran in Norway had ignited a humongous outcry across the Muslim world. As per the “Stop the Islamization of Norway (SION)” group, the event was organized to open more avenues for freedom of expression. But how can vilifying any religion’s holy scriptures be justified as “Expression of Freedom”? To say the least, it was a deliberate move by the Norwegians to vent out their prejudice against Islam.

A religion of peace

American Author Michael H. Hart in his bestselling book “The 100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Persons in History” venerated The Holy Prophet in these Words “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level”.

Read more: Pakistan aims to fight Islamophobia via Quran education

I assure you that whosoever— like Hart and apart from belonging to Islam — would have ever read or done research on the life of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) will never commit such reprehensible acts of holding absurd competitions. The Quran says, “Whoever kills a person [unjustly] it’s as though he has slained all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it’s as though he has saved all mankind” Surah Al-Maaida (5:32)

Not limited to Islam, deforming other religions’ deities, Prophets and denigrating their scriptures are also wrong in the same vein. As I have already mentioned that resorting to religions to maximize one’s clout in various fields of life is a tactic beyond despicable. For peaceful coexistence between people of different religions, sects, and ethnicities to prosper, it’s incumbent on the world leaders to prevent the recurrence of such odious incidents or events in their respective countries.

The author is a student doing his Master’s degree in English literature from a public university in Lahore. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.


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