By: Ridhwana Ahmad Sinayoko, A graduate of School of Journalism and Digital Media of the University of the Gambia.
On June 29th, last week, reports by different news media around the world including the Aljazeera broadcasting channel reported that Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi man who fled to Sweden several years ago, was seen on the spot tearing up and lighting pages of the Islamic book called The Holy Quran on fire. This occurred on Thursday as Muslims celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday.
The report has indicated the scene to be an act of intention to shock and antagonize the Muslim community while celebrating their Eid al-Adha holiday. Nevertheless, the display was largely, dismissed, and backlashed in social media within Sweden and beyond, including Muslims gathered outside the Stockholm Central Mosque to show their disappointment and displeasure on the incident.
As the crowd face the incident, some believed the act was a trick to plan hate to provoke the reaction of the Muslims which could be used to portray Muslims as violent people in the West. It has further indicated that the action was supported by the police officers, whose actions of detaining a man who approached the security cordon with three rocks held in his hands behind his back were held captive.
This has brought complaints from people who witnessed the scene, as a form of their disappointment against the officer’s decision to grant permission for the protest, especially during the Muslim holiday.
The incident doesn’t only bring chaos among people, but it also brought unfavourable chaos among different states of the NATO membership. Officials from various countries, including many in the Middle East, have attested to condemn the desecration of the Holy Quran, with Turkey being the main leading country.
It’s quite very concerning and pathetic that the inflammatory speech made by certain high-profile people in multilateral global institutions like NATO, which claimed to be activists for peace and security in the world, unfortunately, added more fuel to the episode of burning the Holy Quran by referring to the act as freedom of expression.
Moreover, from historical facts, this has not been the first of its kind in Sweden for people to contempt the deities of the Islamic religion, whether it be the vandalization of the holy scripture of Muslims in the public domain or the making of a disgusting caricature of the holy founder of Islam Prophet Muhammad (saw) by the infamous Charli Hebdo magazine.
Sadly, whenever such notorious actions take place in Sweden, it has been observed that the state gives a blind eye or fails to strictly hold those responsible for inciting violence and hurting the sentiments of others; just in the name of protecting so-called freedom of expression and speech.
Islam Champions Freedom of Speech and Expression
From its inception, Islam has championed the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and has deemed it essential to the spread of the message of prophets and to uphold the dignity of man. Islamic teaching ushers that no religion is worthy of any consideration unless it addresses itself to the restoration and protection of human dignity.
The Holy Quran contains a plethora of verses whereby Allah the Almighty in argumentative and rational manner confronts the disbelievers to bring proofs of their so-called claims if they are truthful.
Allah the Almighty states; Ch. 2: Al-Baqarah: 112
“They say, ‘None shall ever enter Heaven unless he be a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their vain desires. Say, ‘Produce your proof, if you are truthful.”
Another place God says 41. Ch. 21: Al-Anbiya’: 25
“Have they taken gods beside Him! Say, ‘Bring forth your proof. Here is the Book of those with me, and those before me!’ Nay, most of them know not the truth and so they turn away from it.”
In another place God the Almighty says in Ch. 37: Al-Saffat: 157–158
“Or have you a clear authority? Then provide your Book if you are truthful”.
All these verses clearly indicate that Islam promotes freedom of speech or expression, objective discussions, and interfaith dialogues and has termed them as great means of revealing facts for seekers after truth.
However, speech is inappropriate or evil when it is offensive, immoral or hurtful. Evil speech does not promote the discovery of truth and thus violates human dignity. Therefore, restricting evil speech is justifiable for freedom of expression.
Allah the Almighty states:
Allah likes not the uttering of unseemly speech in public, except on the part of one who is being wronged… (Ch.4:V.49)
Allah the Almighty commanded Muslims in the Holy Quran to respect and honour the deities of other religions and has instructed that they should not use profane language even on the idols of the idolaters lest they also use a discourteous speech on Muslim deities ignorantly.
God the Almighty says:
And revile not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus unto every people have We caused their doing to seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do. (Chp:6 V: 109)
How should Muslims reply to mockery or jest?
The Holy Quran orders Muslims to maintain restraint and exhibit patience in hurtful times when their beliefs or things important to their religions are being mocked or dishonoured in any way.
Allah the Almighty says:
… and those who suppress anger and pardon men; and Allah loves those who do good. (Ch.3:V.135)
The founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet (saw) also admonishes Muslims to stay away from inflicting injuries on others. He Says:
A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe. (Muslim, No. 69)
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community through the guidance of its leadership, the community leaves no stone unturned in refuting blasphemous acts against Allah the Almighty and our lord and master the Holy Prophet (saw).
The Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) guided members of the Community in Sweden during a virtual audience on the manner to reply to such an incident, when a copy of the Holy Quran was set ablaze in Sweden in 2020. This particular virtual audience was the day after political activists in Sweden had burned a copy of the Holy Quran. His Holiness (aba) also stated:
‘The truth is that most people in Sweden and other Western countries remain unaware of the true teachings of Islam, and this enables extremists to take individual verses of the Holy Quran completely out of context for the sake of their false propaganda. People who conduct such hateful acts have no knowledge of Islam or the actual conditions laid down in the Holy Quran for Jihad. They ignore the fact that the Bible has many more verses that can be taken out of context and used to justify the use of force. Regardless, Ahmadi Muslims must introduce and exemplify the true and peaceful teachings of Islam in each and every city and town so that people understand the reality of our religion.’
Today the world is passing through turbulent times, we hear almost on a daily basis in the media, seminars and global conferences; world-leading political leaders campaigning on the dire need for the prioritization of peace, to safeguard our planet from potential wars and conflicts.
However, the disrespect for the religious beliefs and sentiments of the followers of other religions can be counter-productive towards the promotion of peace and harmony. His Holiness elucidated during one event stated that:
‘If we truly desire peace in the world, we need to think of the consequences of our words and deeds. We need to be respectful of the beliefs and values of others. This is the way to break down barriers and knock down the walls of enmity and resentment that have been erected in so many parts of the world. Certainly, establishing peace is the most critical and urgent need of the time. This should be our foremost ambition and objective.’
His Holiness also addressed the Muslim communities that no matter the atrocities and injustices committed against them; they must uphold the true teachings of Islam. His Holiness said:
‘If only the Muslim organisations that commit mayhem in the name of Islam could understand that Islam’s teachings of love and affection can bring the world into the fold of Islam so much quicker. The teaching Islam gives on patience and forbearance cannot be matched by any other religion. Materialistic people are blind to faith and do not even refrain from mocking God Almighty, let alone the prophets. If we respond to the actions of the ignorant with ignorance also, it will only lead them to persist further in their actions. Therefore, God Almighty states that instead of responding to them you should pass by and distance yourself from such people who commit vain acts. Not only does socialise with such people or concurring with them make us sinful, but if we respond to the wrongdoer and in return, they mock or abuse God Almighty or speak or express anything against the Holy Prophet (sa) in degrading terms, then we too partake of their sin. Thus, a true Muslim should try to refrain from this and leave the matter with God Almighty.’