Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, said on Sunday that insulting prophets only serves extremists who wish to spread hatred among societies, state news agency SPA reported.
“The duty of wise people all around the world… is to condemn such insults which have nothing to do with freedom of thought and expression and are nothing more than pure prejudice and a free service for extremists,” the council said in a statement.
The council highlighted that Islam prohibits any disparagement of any of God’s prophets.
The statement comes amid controversy over the use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a French school class on freedom of expression whose teacher was then murdered by someone French President Emmanuel Macron labeled an “Islamist.”
Macron had criticized those he labelled as “Islamists” and defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
This came after a French teacher was beheaded last week near Paris after he had shown cartoons of the Prophet during a class about free speech. Macron had said the slain teacher was a “victim of an Islamist terrorist attack.”
The French president also said: “We will not give up cartoons,” in a ceremony to honor the teacher last week. He added: “He was killed because Islamists want our future,” while vowing “they will never have it.”
The incident has ignited debate about respecting religions and spurred many leaders in the Islamic world to condemn the crime but stress the importance of respecting prophets.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar condemned the beheading of a French teacher but said insulting religions in the name of free speech was an "invitation to hatred," in a speech read out on last Tuesday.
The address written by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Egypt's prestigious Sunni Islamic institution was read out in Rome's Capitol Square in front of a gathering of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist leaders including Pope Francis and France's Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia.
"As a Muslim and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, I declare that Islam, its teachings and its Prophet are innocent of this wicked terrorist crime," Tayeb said in his speech, referring to the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty last Friday.
"At the same time, I emphasize that insulting religions and attacking their sacred symbols under the banner of freedom of expression is an intellectual double standard and an open invitation to hatred."
Paty, 47, was attacked and killed by an 18-year-old Chechen on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris.
He had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, infuriating one father who led an online campaign against the teacher and was in contact with the killer in the lead-up to the crime, an investigation revealed.
The killer, Abdullakh Anzorov, posted images of the decapitated body on Twitter before he was shot dead by police.
"This terrorist doesn't speak for the religion of the Prophet Mohammed any more than the terrorist in New Zealand who killed Muslims in the mosque spoke for the religion of Jesus," Tayeb said in his speech.
French police have arrested 16 people, including a known "Islamist radical" and four members of Anzorov's family.
- With AFP