Whenever an issue erupts somewhere in the world concerning Islam or its legislation and symbols, extreme chaos ensues. Examples of that are arguments between people of various dissonant ideologies after the terrorist beheading of the French teacher who showed his students insulting drawings of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), and after the terrorist attack that targeted the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and resulted in killing many of its editors and employees.
As soon as one party takes a stance on an issue, their opponent takes the opposite position without checking its validity, justification, or credibility. This is a mistake that an opponent can exploit. For instance, the majority of the various ideological currents in the Arab world condemned the barbaric murder of the French teacher.
But since conservatives demand the condemnation of hatred and its ensuing offense to religious symbols such as the Quran and the prophets, and call Western governments to enact laws that criminalize hatred and insults to religious symbols, opponents of conservatism oppose these reasonable demands on the pretext that when it comes to the West’s freedoms and laws, we Middle Easterners have no business teaching them what to do.
Many Western leaders actually denounced the culture of hate that threatens societal peace in their countries, such as Germany’s chancellor, the prime minister of Canada, and other Western officials who explicitly affirmed that freedom of expression should not be without limits or controls.
Even the French government that defended the right of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper to publish offensive cartoons before, changed its position in another incident and arrested an extremist right-wing Frenchman who was planning to burn the Holy Quran under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The opponents of conservatism sometimes give it free publicity, by portraying conservatists around the world as the biggest defenders of Islam, and the ones behind the demonstrations, marches, and gatherings denouncing insults to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
However, this is not true. These are rather popular and official positions expressed by major Arab and Islamic countries, which also condemn anti-hate violence, in words or deeds. Indeed, negative actions and words cannot be addressed with negative actions and words.
The same applies to the positions, trends, and ideas of conservatives. While it is necessary to criticize and evaluate them and unveil their shortcomings, it is a grave mistake for this criticism to be applied to true and clear religious rules only because they are present in the conservative literature. Religious matters should be kept separate from partisan and ideological arguments.
Using religion in slogans does not harm it and promoting it by conservative parties does not distort it or reduce its sanctity. The Prophet Mohammed did not care about the prayers and frequent fasting of extremists, nor did he care about their long beards and tearful nightly invocations.
He rather described them in the harshest terms, “and if you compare your prayers with their prayers and your fasting with theirs, you will look down upon your prayers and fasting, in comparison to theirs. Yet they will go out of the religion as an arrow darts through the game’s body.”
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.