Dialogue, Not Death Sentences

Montreal Muslim News Editorial

Montreal February 17, 2006: The press is reporting that Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, Imam of the historic Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar,  has publicly offered a 1.5 million rupee reward ($25,000 US) and a car to anyone who kills the cartoonist who drew the offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. The caricatures, which have angered Muslims worldwide, were first published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten back in September and reprinted in several European countries last month, as well as a few publications here in Canada.

The Associated Press also reported that Imam Qureshi said a local jewelers' association would hand over $1 million US, although no representative of the association was available to confirm it had made the offer.

The Associated Press quoted him as saying: "This is an unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophet deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize."

It is regrettable that the justifiable anger regarding the publication of these caricatures, which is essentially a slap in the face to Muslims everywhere, would lead to a religious leader to make such an announcement.

It is most certainly not "an unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophet deserves to be killed," as Imam Qureshi states. In fact, Islam teaches no such thing and he is merely venting is own opinion based on his emotions and not on the sound teachings of Islam.

It is our opinion that these pronouncements of death on the cartoonist serve no useful purpose. In fact they are counter-productive and are not based upon the example of what the Prophet himself would do under such circumstances.

"He certainly does not speak for me or anyone I know and respect," stated CIC national president Dr. Mohamed Elmasry earlier today in a press release.

Elmasry further stated that: "What has been said and done by this irresponsible individual is totally against the teachings of the Qur'an, which condemns the taking of human lives. On behalf of all Canadian Muslims, the CIC repudiates and utterly rejects any call for death or injury to those charged with insulting our faith. Only God is ultimate arbiter and judge of those who do wrong."

In a February 14th media communiqué, Muslim Council of Montreal President Salam Elmenyawi stated that "for Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the ultimate example of character and restraint in the face of opposition and hostility."

In the communiqué Elmenyawi noted that "the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had many enemies during his lifetime and he was verbally abused and physically attacked many times. However, he never responded harshly to any of his critics and actually prayed for them. In fact, his good character won over many of his former enemies who went on to be great heroes in Islamic history."

The MCM communiqué encouraged members of the Muslim community to continue dialogues and "resist the urge to respond harshly to those who would seek to insult or provoke, especially in radio phone-in shows where many hosts seek to incite and insult in order to illicit a response."

Many Muslim organizations, including the  Council on American Islamic Relations(CAIR), are working diligently by employing the cartoon issue as an opportunity to  launch a year-long public educational program aimed at providing information about the Prophet Muhammad to anyone who is interested.

In a February 15th press release, CAIR's  executive director, Nihad Awad, stated that: "By declaring 2006 a year of learning about the Prophet Muhammad, we send a message to Muslims worldwide that there are positive and pro-active ways to challenge Islamophobia and anti-Muslim stereotypes."

The council's sister organization in Canada (CAIR-CAN) issued a similar announcement.

We applaud those initiatives which seek to open dialogue and calmly educate non-Muslims about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. 

At least 5 people have already died in protests in Pakistan and as we write these words 11 more people have died and 55 injured in anti-caricature demonstrations in the Libyan city of Benghazi outside the Italian consulate. The demo was in response to recent remarks by Italian minister Roberto Calderoli who had the offensive caricatures placed on T-shirts, which was interpreted as a further provocation. In total, there are now 28 people worldwide who have died in the anti-caricature demonstrations. This loss of life is so utterly sad and unnecessary.

Yes, Muslims are angry. and have a right to be so, as the publications of these caricatures were nothing more than a hateful provocation. But we must channel these strong emotions into efforts which educate the world about who the Prophet Muhammad really was and his message to humanity.

We hope that Imam Qureshi and those around him would rescind these comments and join efforts to project a positive image of our faith and the Prophet Muhammad. These death sentences will only hurt the cause of Islam and make it seem that Muslims are not capable of defending their religion and way of life other than with a sword in hand.

We agree with Salam Elmenyawi who stated that: "The best way to honour the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is to follow his noble example and be gentle with the people and to just leave those who are argumentative alone."