We all have the right to make our voices heard. Practicing this is a basic human right that all people, from childhood and onwards, should enjoy. It is our freedom of speech. Yet freedom of speech has at times caused chaos when it was detached from a sense of social responsibility. In light of the Danish anti-Prophet cartoons and in describing them as freedom of speech, a wave of chaos hit our shores.
Freedom of speech has become a magical phrase. It has been used to cast its power and justify certain situations. While some see freedom of speech as a tool to bring justice and truth forward, others see it as a tool for any type of expression and even those that are purposely offensive. Freedom of speech would then be regarded as unconditional and absolute, but others would disagree and as John Stuart Mill said, “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited: he must not make himself a nuisance for other people.”
Under the banner of freedom of speech, hatred and racism were given room. If such offensive characteristics found a home in such a glorious concept, then it’s time for a reality check to limit this chaos.
The idea of a limitless freedom of speech is a myth. Everyone puts a limit to this freedom, but where the limit is put differs depending on people’s values and morals.
The values and morals in Islaam place certain limits on the definition of freedom of speech for the goodwill of society. Respecting each other is an important value in Islaam. When Islaam, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.), or Allaah is mocked, Muslims cannot digest that as freedom of speech because it is regarded as disrespect to our beliefs and the same applies to mocking other religions. By setting these limits, Islaam does not belittle the value of freedom of speech but elevates its status by giving it a useful role in society.
Islaam sees freedom of speech as a tool to bring justice and truth forward. Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.) said, “Whoever among you sees something which is munkar (hateful or evil in Islaam) should change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do even this, then by his heart – and that is the weakest kind of faith.” (Muslim. Reported on the authority of Abu Sa‘eed Al’kudry.)
This ’hadeeth by the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) shows that taking action and speaking up for what is right is a necessary task. The least preferred method is remaining silent, by the heart, which indicates that freedom of speech is advocated in Islaam. It is the freedom to speak up against what is wrong in hope of changing it, and not the freedom to insult for the sake of insulting.
The concept of freedom of speech as a tool for justice is also emphasized in the following ’Qur a~nic verse, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allaah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allaah can protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allaah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Chapter of Annissaa- :135)
The anti-Prophet cartoons were justified as freedom of speech, and this proves how magical the phrase can be and particularly how magical it is in hiding the depth of the issue at hand. It seems as if talk about freedom of speech was made to distract us from reality. The cartoons in reality are about prejudice and racism and these should not be tolerated or lightly passed as a form of freedom. This was a deliberate offence on Islaam and the Prophet (P.B.U.H.). It is also at a time when the Muslim’s situation is sensitive with feelings of Islamophobia.
However, amid this frenzy, we Muslims should pause to reflect on our situation. The cartoons offended many of us, and to look at ourselves critically seems difficult at this point. Nevertheless, some of the reactions only helped illustrate the violent stereotypes related to Muslims as depicted in some of the cartoons. Yes, we’re humans and it is human to err and to get emotional, but we should always examine our actions. We do want to portray the accurate image of Islaam to the West, but we should do this first and foremost for our oummah because that is what Islaam calls for. Times can get tough, but to endure such situations, we should find the breeze in this chaos, that silver lining in the cloud.
Finding a breeze amid the chaos is what we need. This breeze is found by realizing how this incident united many Muslims as they expressed their love for Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.). People are expressing themselves in honour of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and reflecting more on his great character. This breeze is also found by reminding ourselves that there are voices in the West and worldwide that preach mutual respect, understanding, and communication. This should therefore be taken as an opportunity to talk about the Prophet (P.B.U.H.), to explain what Islaam is, and to reach an understanding.
We will define our true Muslim identity by applying it to our lives and expressing it to others. Yes, there are people out there who will listen and we should define ourselves by ourselves.
On the power of defining, from The Second Sin, the American psychiatrist Thomas Szazs wrote, “In the animal kingdom, the rule is: eat or be eaten. In the human kingdom: define or be defined…he who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; he who defines thereby dominates and lives; and he who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.”
Islaam also calls for people to know one another and it is a universal religion that embraces all races. Allaah says in the ’Qura~n, what can be translated as, “We have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another.” (Chapter of Al’hujuraat:13).
We each have our faults, but we are here to know one another, to see beauty in our diversity, and to become aware of our similarities, not to despise each other. And as long as there’s chaos in the world, we will continue to stand up against injustice and find within it the much-needed breeze that will help us make it through.
This article won I-MAG's Writing Context!
The Writer will receive a copy of Muhammad Asad's translation of the Holy 'Qura~n and a book by John Esposito
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