Contemporary and Social Issues Freedom of Speech

How Should Muslims React to the Caricatures of Charlie Hebdo?

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Marwan Gill, Argentina

Almost 5 years after the terrorist attack at the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, trials have started in Paris against those who perpetrated this attack. On the occasion of these trials, Charlie Hebdo decided to reprint its caricatures of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) as an act to remember the seventeen victims killed in the terrorist attack.

This decision has divided our societies once again; some are in support of it because they consider it an exercise of their freedom of expression, while others consider it to be a provocation and blasphemous act.

In Islam, there is no worldly punishment at all for acts of blasphemy. There is not a single verse of the Holy Qur’an nor any incident from the entire life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) showing any physical reaction or punishment for a person on account of their blasphemous deeds. On the contrary, Islam condemns all forms of violence and terrorism. The Holy Qur’an presents the previous prophets and their followers as examples, for they were also targeted with provocations and insults – but their only response was to manifest high standards of patience.[1] Therefore, the same commandment is given to Muslims, as it is stated:

‘And when the ignorant people address them, they (the believers) avoid them gracefully by saying ‘Peace’.’ [2]

There is no permission, nor any justification at all for a Muslim to reply to such provocations in a violent manner. However, whereas Islam teaches patience and to ignore such provocations, it also instructs for a harmonious coexistence–to respect the sentiments and feelings of others. For example, in Islam idolatry is considered one of the worst sins, but despite this, Islam does not permit Muslims to insult or provoke the false idols of other faiths.[3]

Islam guarantees freedom of opinion and expression but teaches that each freedom and right also comes with certain responsibilities. Therefore, there should be certain precautions with regards to the rights of freedom. One should not ignore or attack the rights of others in the name of freedom. It is a universal principle that the freedom of self-determination has certain limits; those limits are where the circle of someone else’s rights begins.

Let’s take the traffic system as a simple example. Every driver has the right to drive their car freely, wherever and however they want, as long as they respect the rights and space of other drivers. If unlimited freedom was to be granted to each driver, there would be utter chaos on the streets. Hence, in order to maintain a functioning and safe traffic system, drivers are required to make use of their rights responsibly by adhering to the rules and regulations of the road for the common safety.

Hence, Islam completely supports questioning, analyzing, and expressing opinions; whether they be about intellectual matters, rationality, or even religious matters and doctrines. However, Islam does not permit one to attack or insult others while cowering behind the shield of freedom of expression.

The founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), is dearer to Muslims than their own parents, children, and their own lives. A Muslim remembers and prays for the Holy Prophet (sa) at least five times a day, as invoking blessings upon him is a part of the five daily prayers. A Muslim tries to emulate and adopt examples from the noble life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) in their own personalities and characters. The love and pride a Muslim feels for their beloved master (sa) cannot be put into words, nor is there any comparable example in the world. This point was definitely well understood by the non-Muslim author Michael Hart. As a result, he listed the founder of Islam atop the list in his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.

Surely, Muslims have been saddened by Charlie Hebdo and their decision. However, their love for the Holy Prophet (sa) dictates that they must follow his noble example and teachings. As a Muslim, one should reflect upon how the Holy Prophet (sa) would have reacted to such provocations against his own person. Would he have killed or attacked such people? Certainly not! The Holy Prophet (sa) once stated:

‘A true Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hands others are in safety.’ [4]

Would he have organized violent mobs, vandalized or damaged buildings, cars, etc.? Certainly not! Even while at war against enemies, he forbade Muslims from attacking, vandalising, or destroying their properties, fields, and belongings.[5] How then, would the Holy Prophet (sa) have reacted to such provocations? Once, during a journey to the city of Ta’if, the people of Ta’if not only rejected his preaching but attacked him violently, to the extent that he was severely injured. Upon departing from the city, an angel came to him and asked him if he wished for the entire city to be demolished on account of their violence against him. The Holy Prophet (sa) replied that he did not wish for their destruction, rather he hoped that by the mercy of God, if not them, then maybe their children might be guided towards Islam.[6]

On another occasion, whilst returning to Madinah, some hypocrites insulted the Holy Prophet (sa). Not only was he a prophet but he was also the governor of Madinah, hence, he had the authority and means to take any action he wished against such people. Some Muslims even asked the Holy Prophet (sa) for permission to execute them, to which the Holy Prophet (sa) replied that they should forgive them and ignore their insults.[7] His mercy towards such people went even beyond that; despite constant provocations and insults, the Holy Prophet (sa) continued praying for their guidance and forgiveness, so much so that he even offered the funeral prayer of the leaders of the hypocrites.[8]

Hence, had the Holy Prophet (sa) been among us today, he would not have caused any harm, verbally or physically, in reaction to such people. Rather, he would have shown patience and sought refuge at the threshold of God. He would have asked God to guide the perpetrators of such acts and to forgive them for their ignorance. He would have kept preaching with love and compassion to such people. He would have replied to hate and insults with love and prayers. He would have replied to ignorance with wisdom and mercy because he was sent as a mercy for all of mankind.[9]

Therefore, it is incumbent upon every Muslim who claims to love the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) to follow his noble example and his teachings. When faced with such painful provocations, now more than ever before, Muslims should invoke salutations and blessings upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and emulate his noble teachings.

While explaining how Muslims should respond to such provocations against the Holy Founder of Islam (sa), the Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), once said:

‘If we respond to ignorance with ignorance, we would be committing greater ignorance. God commands us to remove oneself from such situations. Socialising with such people or to concur with them makes us sinful, but if we respond to their wrong actions with wrong actions and they end up degrading our Prophet, this also makes us party to their sin. True Muslims should avoid such practices and leave everything with God Who has stated that when everyone will return to Him they will bear the consequences of such actions. In this age, the enemy of Islam harms Islam and the Holy Prophet (sa) not with force, but with such petty ploys. By stating that God and His angels send blessings on the Prophet the principle is explained that these ploys cannot harm the status of the Holy Prophet (sa) in the least. Rather than react with similar ignorance, true Muslims invoke blessings and salutations on the Prophet (sa).’ [10]

About the Author: Marwan Gill is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Theology and Modern Languages UK, and currently serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina. He also serves as the South American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 6:35

[2] The Holy Qur’an, 25:64

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 6:109

[4] Sunan an-Nasa’i, 4995

[5] Muwatta, Hadith, 958

[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, 3231

[7] The Holy Qur’an, 63:8

[8] Sahih al-Bukhari, 4672

[9] The Holy Qur’an, 21:108

[10] Friday Sermon, 16th January, 2015