The high committee of scholars at Al-Azhar criticised the West’s repeated attacks on Islam and its ‘double standards’ in response to the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, on Sunday.
The top body of preachers at the foremost school of Sunni thought took issue with what it called an inconsistency in Western attitudes on free speech, suggesting that it is acceptable to mock Islam, but not other religions.
“Some Western newspapers have consistently provocatively attacked the Islamic religion and Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) and continue to do so, such as in Denmark”, Al-Azhar said, referring to the republishing of controversial cartoons satirising the Prophet.
The Al-Azhar scholars referred to the previous reported firing of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, Maurice ‘Sine’ Sinet, for anti-Semitism after allegedly insulting the French Jewish community, and continued to suggest that nobody applied equal criticism for attacks on the Muslim community.
In Paris earlier this month 17 people were killed in three days of violence that began with a shooting at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, known for its cartoons mocking Islam and other religions. The attacks triggered a significant international response from political leaders and the media, commenting on the right to free speech and against extremist violence.
The Al-Azhar scholars said: “We condemn the practices of the magazine mocking Islam, however we also condemn the terrorist attacks, which were organised by extremist networks such as ISIS.”
However, referring to the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march in Paris, attended by many world leaders, the committee continued to claim that the West demonstrated its “double standards” in having “terrorists” march at the demonstration against terrorism. Naming the attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they suggested that such behaviour “increased the feelings of provocation towards Muslims”.
The scholars stressed that freedom of expression does not mean it is acceptable to wantonly mock religion, and called for the enactment of international legislation to criminalise insulting heavenly religions, prophets, and apostles.
They stated that it is time to tackle the conflict between “creative freedom and the sanctity of the divine religions, and show that boundaries and controls must be observed in the literary business”.
The committee also suggested that the West was failing to uphold its so-called values of fraternity and equality by allowing racism and marginalisation to overwhelmingly affect Muslims; they identified higher rates of unemployment and racism in the spheres of education and political representation.
The committee’s comments on provocations towards Islam seemed to somewhat echo statements from Roman Catholic Pope Francis last week, in which he made statements that it is wrong to provoke others by insulting their religion. Pope Francis said: “You can’t provoke, you can’t insult the faith of others, you can’t make fun of faith,” and if parties should do so then they should “expect a punch”.