We hear a lot of intolerance and Islam. When there’s a complaint in Europe or north America about Islamaphobia or suggested restrictions on the wearing of the full-face veil, you can be guaranteed that someone will remind us that when it comes to intolerance, Islamic states can be hard to beat. “Try walking through Mecca in a mini-skirt,” they’ll say. “Or proselytizing for Christianity. You’ll soon know what real intolerance is like.”
He’s written an interesting paper called No Compulsion in Religion: Islam and the Freedom of Belief. I reproduce some of it here. I’ve cut a lot for brevity and scrapped the footnotes. So I recommend you read the original. But in the meantime, please read this. It enlightened me.
Following the international furore in 2012 over the amateurish, inflammatory and offensive film, Innocence of Muslims, there were calls around the world to introduce or strengthen rules that would become akin to global blasphemy laws. Dozens of people were killed during violent protests in Muslim-majority countries, including US Ambassador Stevens in Libya by a terrorist attack under cover of anti-film protests, and a Pakistani minister placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the film-director.
For many of us, this felt like a case of “Here we go again.” From books and films to cartoons, teddy bears and desecration of copies of the Qur’an by a handful of American fundamentalists and soldiers, the story is the same: instead of ignoring material insulting and offensive to Islam, or forgiving their authors as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have done, some immature Muslims resort to violence that ends up killing people who had done more than most to actually help Muslims or Muslim-majority countries. Furthermore, the poor-quality “offending” material receives far more publicity than it deserved, and the image of Islam is dragged through the mud yet again, to the exasperation of the vast majority of ordinary, decent Muslims.
In the 1980’s, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, an expletive-laden, largely-unreadable book was catapulted, along with its author, into international fame by an Islamist campaign of “raising awareness” by publicising its satirical insults towards holy figures of Islam, culminating in Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious fatwa ordering Rushdie’s murder. The same story was repeated, two decades later, with the Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): these were largely unknown when first published, until a Denmark-based Egyptian cleric began a campaign publicising them. Surely, to love the Prophet and his disciples means not to publicise gross insults directed at him. If people insult our loved ones, such as parents, children or siblings, would we broadcast those offensive comments or depictions to the whole world?
In all these cases, dozens of ordinary people died in riots and protests around the world: this is extremely ironic, when the Prophet himself is said to have taught that the destruction of the Ka’bah, the holiest site of Islam, is lighter in the sight of God than the taking of a single life Continue reading