Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
First of all, let me applaud our great country, USA, it gives us freedoms, for an ordinary citizen like me, without any elaborate titles or offices, to make the title of my article, A Critique of President Obama’s UN Speech. In older times in many city states, such an endeavor could have been labeled as high treason, punishable by death sentence. I am very glad to be living in the present times, as I can, from the comfort and security of my home and sofa-seat, opine safely, about President’s speech and have possibly thousands, if not millions, of open minded readers, who do not have to hide, what they are reading.
President Barrack Obama condemned the notorious and hateful anti-Islam film in his recent address in the United Nations General Assembly in the following words:
At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.
And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.
For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.
The Muslim Times applauds President Obama for his open and candid response. The President also espoused the importance of free speech in the following words:
Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.
Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views — even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.
We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. We do so because, given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.
I agree with much that the President has said and I also acknowledge that much of the progress of our beloved country USA is due to the freedoms that we have, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But, we should also acknowledge that there are public decency laws in many liberal European countries and USA to protect children from explicit material; laws against insulting the Queen in England; and laws against insulting Jews, gays, blacks, women and indigenous people, and last but not the least, laws against denying holocaust, then it’s obvious that freedom of expression has limits, even in the “free” world, and that the Founders of our great religions of this world should not be any less respected than the Queen of England or the gays and the lesbians.
Every reader can tell from the reading of this article that I am respectfully taking an exception to one of the observations that the President Obama made, but, I am not insulting or defaming him. The point being that usually it is easy to know the difference between “free speech” and hate speech. The public at large should uphold free speech, but, condemn hate speech in any discourse, be it political or religious.
In line with a recent message of His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, ‘The Law about Freedom of Speech is not Heavenly Scripture or the Gospel Truth!’ I want to say and appeal, in the court of public opinion, that I am afraid that unfettered freedom of hateful speech against the Muslims and its Founder, Muhammad, may peace be on him, will ultimately limit the rights, freedoms and security of the Muslims not only in USA but also other countries. We need to go no further than to look at the history of slavery in our own country. Prof. Jeannine Bell, of Maurer School of Law, wrote in Restraining the Heartless: Racist Speech and Minority Rights, in Indiana Law Journal 84 (2009), 963-79; as she defined the risks of unfettered free speech leading to discrimination and racism. She was arguing against the display of Confederate flag, which has come to symbolize slavery and oppression, in USA:
Insofar as the Confederate flag is representative of a social order in which people of color are of comparable status to property, its display creates an untenable atmosphere of racial intolerance. Though the First Amendment is explicit in guaranteeing the right to free expression, hate speech which serves to promote violence towards a particular group or individual is acknowledged to fall outside the boundaries of Constitutional protection. Any interpretation which would seek to narrow the definition of hate speech to only encompass direct exhortations to violence “fails to acknowledge that White supremacists’ racist ideology blames racial and ethnic minorities for all of society’s ills. When demagogues and leaders of hate groups use racist and hateful propaganda, they are seeking followers whose attachment to the organization is premised on seeing members of outgroups as less than human. Once minorities are assumed to be subhuman, there is no longer any reason not to eliminate them by attacking them physically.
If anyone dislikes a particular religion, the correct course of action should be reasoned debate, dialogue and research — not insults. Christians from a variety of sects have successfully employed these skills since the split of the Catholic Church. The same courtesy should be extended to Islam. All reasonable people can tell the difference between an honest dialogue, on one hand and hateful and insulting speech and gestures, on the other. Mr. President you are very well read, you would remember, Where books are burned, they will ultimately burn people also! Let me quote from an article by Abdul Haq Compier, a recent convert to Islam in Netherlands, ‘Where books are burned, they will ultimately burn people also’ − Heinrich Heine’s predictions and his love for Islam:
In his 1821 play, Almansor, the German writer Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘Where books are burned, they will ultimately burn people also’ (‘Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.’ ). The phrase is often quoted to show that Heine had an intuition about the coming of the Holocaust. What is not often put forward, is that Heine was in fact talking about the burning of the Quran. In the work with the Arabic title ‘Almansor’, Heine is commenting on the crimes committed against Muslim Spain by the Christian Reconquista.Heinrich Heine was one of the 19th century German authors who strongly identified with the Arab-Muslim heritage. In those days, Arabic and Persian was studied by the greatest of poets and turbans were worn in Berlin to express the love for Islamic literature. Authors include the best of German philosophy and literature, such as Johann Gottfried von Herder, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, August von Platen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Rückert and Christoph Martin Wieland. The most celebrated of all, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote in his books confessions of having converted to Islam. His work sports titles such as ‘Western-Eastern Divan’, ‘The Song of Muhammad’, etc.…
Works by Heinrich Heine were included among the thousands of books burned by the Nazis in 1933. To commemorate the terrible event, the famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play were engraved in the ground at the site; ‘Where books are burned, they will ultimately burn people also.’
Dear President Obama, we do not want to propose any new laws in favor of Islam or the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, for that will be in violation of the principle of the separation of Mosque-Church and State, but, we do want to pursue our case in the court of public opinion. The Muslims only want to urge their Christian brethren and sisters that if someone abuses your mother or your father your frustration and anger is but natural. The 1.5 billion Muslims love the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, more than their mother and father combined, so please ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ and appreciate that ’The Law about Freedom of Speech is not Heavenly Scripture or the Gospel Truth!’ The peace and harmony of our global village is far more important than any man made law or understanding of it. Last week I had issued an appeal to all our Christian readers in the post: Love thy Neighbor is a Christian Value, Hate and Stereotyping aren’t. Our world has become a global village as President Obama pointed out, “We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.” Of course, it is impractical to pursue precise laws and their application, but, we can certainly see that just like impolite and hate speech disrupts the peace and harmony of a home, a family, a classroom, a school, a company, a corporation, a society, a city, a country, unfettered hate speech against the Founders of the great religions of our planet will disrupt harmony and mutual trade of our global village also. No one likes hate speech against him or her, especially if it begins to take hold and creates possibility of discrimination, hatred, mayhem and murder. No wonder there are laws against hate speech, against antisemitism and even against holocaust denial. This is exactly why there is a concept of defamation and laws against it.
His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, made a case for the honor of the Founders of all the great religions of the world, during his most recent Friday Sermon, by reading the following extract from the book Tohfa e Qaisariyyah (A Gift To The Queen), by the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as he argues the universal application of honor of all religious founders, in the court of public opinion:
Therefore, this law is part of the eternal practice of Almighty God that He does not grant respite to a false prophet. Such a person is soon seized and suffers his punishment. In view of this, we shall honor and accept as true all those who claimed to be prophets at any time, and their claim was established and their religion became widespread and flourished over a long period. If we should discover mistakes in the scriptures of their religions or should observe the misconduct of their followers, we should not attribute these faults and shortcomings to the founders of these religions, inasmuch as the perversion of scriptures is possible and it is possible that mistakes of interpretation might find their way into the commentaries. But it is not at all possible that a person should fabricate lies against God and claim to be a prophet and then put forward his own compositions as the word of God falsely, and yet God should grant him respite like the righteous and allow him wide acceptance worthy of the truthful. This is our task which should be discharged with determination.
Therefore, this principle is an ultimate truth and endless blessing, and withal lays the foundation for conciliation, in that we affirm the truthfulness of all prophets whose religion has been well-established, has survived for a long time period and has had millions enter its fold. This is a very blessed principle. If all the world were to adhere to this fundamental principle, thousands of disorders and blasphemies, which disturb the peace among general public, would be eradicated. It is apparent that people who consider the adherents of a religion to be following a person who, in their view, is a liar and fabricator, lay the foundation of many tribulations. They certainly commit the crimes of defamation and speak of the prophets with extremely disrespectful words, going as far as employing abusive language, and disrupt harmony and peace among the general public; notwithstanding that their estimation is wrong and they are transgressors in the eyes of God with regard to their disrespectful views. God, who is Merciful and Beneficent, does not like that a liar should prosper unfairly and then put people in doubt by establishing his own religion. Nor does He allow that, in the eyes of the world, a person be raised to the level of true prophets while he is a fabricator and a liar. Therefore, this principle lays down the foundation of love, peace and harmony, and supports moral values, in that we consider all those prophets true who appeared in the world—whether in India, or Persia or China or any other country. God instilled their respect and grandeur in the hearts of millions and made firm the roots of their religion, which remained established for centuries. This is the principle that the Quran teaches us. In light of this principle, we honor all religious founders who fall under this description whether they are the founders of the religion of the Hindus, or the religion of the Persians, or the religion of the Chinese, or the religion of the Jews or the religion of the Christians. Unfortunately, our adversaries cannot treat us this way, and they do not bear in mind the pristine and unalterable law of God that He does not give that blessing and honor to a false prophet that He bestows upon the true one. The religion of a false prophet does not take root and does not last long as does the religion of a truthful prophet. Therefore, people subscribing to this kind of belief—who defame the prophets of other nations by declaring them false—are always enemies of peace and harmony, because there is no greater mischief than abusing the elders of other nations. Sometimes a person would rather die than hear disparaging words for his elders. If we have an objection over the teaching of a religion, we should not attack the honor of the prophet of that religion or mention him in an unseemly manner. Rather, we should object only on the current practices of that nation. We should be certain that the prophet whom God Almighty has graced with the honor of acceptance by millions, and whose acceptance has continued for centuries, is thus firmly proven to be from Allah. If he were not the beloved of God, he would not have achieved so much respect. It is not the practice of God to grant honor to a fabricator, to spread his religion among millions, and to safeguard the fabricated religion for a long time.
Therefore, a religion which spreads in the world, takes root, and finds honor and long life, cannot at all be false in its origin. Therefore, if anything in that teaching is found objectionable, it can either be because the teachings of that prophet have been altered, or because a mistake has been made in the explanation of his teachings. It is also possible that we may not be justified in our objections. It may be observed that some priests raise objections about certain tenets in the Holy Quran, even though they believe them to be true and as the teachings of God according to the Torah. Therefore, such objections are due to one’s own mistake or due to haste.
In summary, welfare of humanity, peace, harmony, righteousness, and fear of God call for adhering to the principle that we do not declare such prophets as false concerning whose truth the opinion of millions of people for centuries has been established, and they have been supported by God since time immemorial. I am confident that a seeker of truth, whether Asian or European, will cherish this principle, and will profoundly regret that he did not believe in it all along. I place this principle before Her Majesty, the Queen, the Empress of India and England because only this principle can spread peace in the world. This is our principle. Islam is proud to be unique in subscribing to this beautiful and handsome principle.
Is it befitting that we malign the sages to whom God has subjugated a world and kings have been bowing to them for centuries? Is it befitting that we be distrustful of God, thinking that He wants to deceive people by giving the status of the truthful to the liars, making them the sages of millions, giving their religions long lives and showing heavenly signs in their favor? If God Himself were to deceive us then how could we differentiate right from wrong?
This is an important tenet: a false prophet should not achieve the grandeur, acceptance and greatness as that of a truthful one. Prosperity should not result from the plans of liars as it does from the activities of a truthful one. That is why the first sign of the truthful is that perpetual support is with the truthful, and God plants his religion in the hearts of millions, and grants it long life. Therefore, keeping in view the day of our passing away and the day of recompense, we should not malign such a great sage; rather, we should garner true respect and true love for a prophet who carries such signs. This is the first principle which God has taught us. Through this we have become inheritors of a great moral code.’ (‘A Gift to The Queen’, pp. 5 – 9)
Let all the believers in God, come to an understanding that we will not allow hateful speech against the Founders of great religions of the world, who preached in the name of Allah, God the Father, be it Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Zoroasterism or any other religion that claims to be from God. For a Muslim this concept is very easy to understand, for the Holy Quran says:
Allah likes not the uttering of unseemly speech in public, except on the part of one who is being wronged. Verily, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Al Quran 4:149)
And revile not those whom they call upon beside 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. (Al Quran 6:109)
In the end, knowing that President Barrack Hossein Obama’s father was a Muslim, I would believe that he still has a soft corner for Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, I want to link three biographies of the Prophet of Islam, for his kind review. First please allow me to introduce the first author. Encyclopaedia Britannica states about Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan:
“Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan was a Pakistani politician, diplomat, and international jurist, known particularly for his representation of Pakistan at the United Nations (UN).
The son of the leading attorney of his native city, Zafrulla Khan studied at Government College in Lahore and received his LL.B. from King’s College, London University, in 1914. He practiced law in Sialkot and Lahore, became a member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1926, and was a delegate in 1930, 1931, and 1932 to the Round Table Conferences on Indian reforms in London. In 1931–32 he was president of the All-India Muslim League (later the Muslim League), and he sat on the British viceroy’s executive council as its Muslim member from 1935 to 1941. He led the Indian delegation to the League of Nations in 1939, and from 1941 to 1947 he served as a judge of the Federal Court of India.
Prior to the partition of India in 1947, Zafrulla Khan presented the Muslim League’s view of the future boundaries of Pakistan to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the man designated to decide the boundaries between India and Pakistan. Upon the independence of Pakistan, Zafrulla Khan became the new country’s minister of foreign affairs and served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973.
He was knighted in 1935. He is the author of Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man (1962) and wrote a translation of the Qur’an (1970).”
The biography by him, Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets can be read online.
The second biographer that I want to introduce here is Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (1889-1965), who was mentor of Sir Zafrulla Khan. He led the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from 1914 till 1965, as Khalifatul Masih II. He was one of the greatest Muslim thinkers of his time. The community progressed remarkably during his leadership. The biography by him, Life of Muhammad can also be read online.
The third biographer that I want to introduce here is Hadhrat Mirza Bahir Ahmad, one of the sons of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He himself was also a man of God and recipient of many Divine revelations and visions and would not disclose them except rarely. One of his revelations was “Assalam-o-Alaikum” meaning, “Peace be upon you” and another was, “Rise Muhammadi, the time of your eminence has drawn near.” The detailed biography by him is: The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets sa, Vol. 1
If President Obama would rather watch a movie, here is one:
Let me also link a few apologies for the Holy Prophet Muhammad: