The Mohammed video and freedom of speech

By Adam Walker, September 27, 2012

As the oldest Muslim youth organisation in the UK, we denounce the utterly reprehensible film Innocence of Muslims The film, we believe, amounts to a grossly unprincipled use of the right to freedom of speech and a flagrant attempt to incite the emotions of a large proportion of the world.

It is also sad that false prejudices about the Jewish community were played upon and reinforced by those in the media who instantly, and with no basis, stated that the film was backed by "Jewish money". Rather than being a time for divisiveness, such moments present people of faith and moral grounding with an opportunity to stand together and call for the respectful and dignified treatment of the world's religious founders and teachings.

While freedom of speech is rightfully an important part of western democracy, it is not a license to ridicule. Rights are those things that everyone must be allowed to exercise free from any interference from the state, and from others. There is, therefore, a presumption that people can express themselves as they wish, with restrictions only allowed where this expression violates the rights of others, or extremely important public interests.

Nevertheless, it is important to consider how rights should be exercised. Just because one has a right, does it mean that one must or even should exercise that right? We should all be free to think, feel and express however we choose, subject to other people's rights and interests. But we should also exercise those rights by adhering to basic universal principles of love, tolerance, dignity, respect, trust and mutual harmony.

Many voices from within the Muslim community are calling for Western governments to prohibit their citizens from insulting the Prophet Mohammad. It appears that the proponents of this view neglect an important area of enquiry. Would Mohammad have accepted criticism of himself? Yes, and in fact he did. But would he have stooped to insult, ridicule, mock and disrespect others in the manner of those who attacked him? No, because he rose above that, and strove to embody goodness with his deeds and words.

In fact, the Holy Koran clearly instructs its adherents to act with this very resolve, stating: And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, 'Peace."

And so ''Peace,'' the literal meaning of the word Islam, must form the foundation of any Muslim response. The Prophet Mohammad is the example par-excellence for Muslims and in the face of abuse always reacted peacefully by either removing himself from the situation or responding with reasoned intellect.

Further outlining this position, the world-wide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stated in 2006: "Do they believe that setting fires, God forbid, is all that demonstrates the honour and station of the Holy Prophet, and by burning flags or burning the property of an embassy they have had their reprisal? No! We are followers of the Holy Prophet, who came to put the fire out, who was the ambassador of love, was the Prince of peace. So rather than take harsh actions, impart his beautiful teaching to the World."

With this in mind, it is beyond belief, and completely detached from the true teachings of Islam and each of the great monotheistic religions, that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons in some countries has led to the loss of life and destruction of property.

It is our firm belief that rather than circulating films and cartoons which hurt a large community of people, who regard both the Prophets Moses and Mohammad (Peace be upon them) as champions of virtuosity and justice, their removal would be a powerful indicator of a greater commitment to intellectual rigour and debate.

Adam Walker holds degrees in law and Arabic. He is the national spokesperson of the London based Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association

Last updated: 8:55am, September 27 2012