Source: Muslim Sunrise, the First Muslim Publication of North America
Editorial by the Editor: Falah Shams
In the aftermath of the heinous attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the subject of free speech garnered prominent headlines. It became part and parcel of the globally televised of the attack itself. Overnight Hebdo became a symbol for free speech. But, should it be? Hebdo’s editorial staff would have us defend the practice of insulting religious figures like Jesus and Muhammad, may peace be on both, under the guise of “free speech.” We respectfully disagree.
Setting limits on free speech has been debated fiercely for many centuries all around the world. In the U.S., libel, slander, child pornography, and falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater are all unprotected by the first amendment, and punishable under the law. Thus, contrary to what some might suggest, there should be and indeed are limits to free speech—both in the U.S. and in Islam. But such limits do not exist to stifle free speech, so much as to promote it. By prohibiting only the worst forms of speech, we create an environment where all other speech is protected.
A Prophet of God, for example, comes to people when they are engrossed in erroneous beliefs; when he speaks, he is the lone voice of reason, and invariably persecuted for his speech. Why then would he be the one to limit free speech, within reason.
This issue examines several complex topics, including what exactly is free speech and its limits within Islam, and how blasphemy should be addressed (or not addressed) in Islamic law. It includes extracts from the sermon of the Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, on this very subject. We also juxtapose the actions of misguided Muslims in response to blasphemy with the response of the Holy Prophet Muhammad himself. At the same time, we take a critical eye to what transpired in France following the attacks in Paris. We trust that those who wish to exercise their right to free speech responsibly will find this issue informative.