Muslims everywhere—from the heads of the most prestigious institutions, such as Egypt’s Al Azhar, to the common rank and file—are calling for the international equivalent of their own blasphemy laws, which ban any critical or offensive talk against Islam and its prophet Muhammad, often on pain of death.
Although the recent beheading of a French teacher who showed a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet of Islam in the context of free speech occasioned this latest demand, in fact, Muslim calls to criminalize free speech against Islam regularly flare out whenever Muslims kill Westerners in the context of exercising their rights to free expression.
For example, in 2015, after Muslim gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo offices for publishing the same satirical caricatures of Muslim prophet Muhammad, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the “collective voice of the Muslim world” and second-largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations, called—and is again predictably calling—for the United Nations to criminalize “blasphemy” against Islam, or what it more ecumenically calls, the “defamation of religions.”
Yet the OIC, Al Azhar, and countless other Muslim groups and individuals seem to miss the grand irony: if international laws would ban free speech, cartoons, books, and films on the basis that they defame Islam, they would also, by logical extension, have to ban the entire religion of Islam itself—the only religion whose core texts actively and unequivocally defame other religions, including by name.
To understand this, consider what “defamation” means. Typical dictionary-definitions include “to blacken another’s reputation” and “false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel.” In Muslim usage, defamation simply means anything that insults or offends Islamic sensibilities.
However, to gain traction among the international community, the OIC and others cynically maintain that such laws should protect all religions from defamation, not just Islam (even as Muslim governments regularly ban churches, destroy crucifixes, and burn Bibles). Disingenuous or not, such wording suggests that any expression that “slanders” the religious sentiments of others should be banned.
What, then, do we do with Islam’s core religious texts—beginning with the Koran itself, which slanders, denigrates, and blackens the reputation of other religions? Consider Christianity alone: Koran 5:73 declares that “Infidels are they who say God is one of three,” a reference to the Christian Trinity; Koran 5:72 says “Infidels are they who say God is the Christ, [Jesus] son of Mary”; and Koran 9:30 complains that “the Christians say the Christ is the son of God … may God’s curse be upon them!”
Considering that the word “infidel” (kafir) is not only Islam’s most derogatory term, but sharia requires Muslims to subjugate or kill infidels, what if a Christian book or Western cartoon appeared declaring that “Infidels are they who say Muhammad is the prophet of God—may God’s curse be upon them”? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that the Koran defames Christians and Christianity.
Similarly, consider how the Christian crucifix, venerated among millions, is depicted—is defamed—in Islam: according to canonical hadiths, when he returns, Jesus (“Prophet Isa”) will destroy all the crosses; as for Muhammad, who never allowed the cross in his presence, he once ordered someone wearing a cross to “throw away this piece of idol from yourself.” Unsurprisingly, the cross is banned and often destroyed whenever visible in many Muslim countries.
What if Christian books or Western movies declared that the sacred things of Islam—say the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba, which Muslims venerate and adore while circumambulating—are “idolatry” and that Muhammad himself will return and destroy them? If Muslims would consider that defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islamic teaching defames the Christian Cross.
Here is a particularly odious form of defamation against Christian sentiment, especially to the millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. According to Islam’s most authoritative Koranic exegetes, including the revered Ibn Kathir, Muhammad is in paradise married to and copulating with the Virgin Mary.
What if a Christian book or Western movie portrayed, say, Muhammad’s “favorite” wife, Aisha—the “Mother of Believers”—as being married to and having sex with a false prophet in heaven? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islam’s most authoritative Koranic exegetes defame the Virgin Mary.
Nor is such defamation of Christianity limited to Islam’s core scriptures; modern-day Muslim scholars and sheikhs agree that it is permissible to defame and mock Christianity. “Islam Web,” which is owned by the government of Qatar, even issued a fatwa that legitimizes insulting Christianity.
The grandest irony of all is that the “defamation” that Muslims complain about—and that prompts great violence and bloodshed around the world—revolves around things like cartoons and movies, which are made by individuals who represent only themselves; on the other hand, Islam itself, through its holiest and most authoritative texts, denigrates and condemns—in a word, defames—all other religions, not to mention calls for violence against them (e.g., Koran 9:29).
It is this issue, Islam’s perceived “divine” right to defame and destroy, that the international community should be addressing—not free speech and expression in the guise of silly cartoons.