Moral Obligations Reinforce Free Speech – Not a Pineapple

by Tahir Nasser, President AMSA UK

Yesterday I was taken aback by a strange incident that took place at Reading University. The University’s Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society (RAHS) named a pineapple ‘Muhammad’ and later ‘Jesus’ which resulted in them being thrown out of the Fresher’s Fair as they refused to remove it from their stand.

What shocks me regarding this behaviour by RAHS is their audacity to stand by these absurd actions in the name of ‘Freedom of Speech.’ Over the last two years we have seen the ‘Arab spring’ in which entire peoples have toppled governments that had brutalised and oppressed their Freedom of Speech for decades. Is this the same Freedom of Speech that the RAHS claim is being infringed in their case? They seem to have not grasped that very point that Roald Dahl put so eloquently, that: [It] puts a severe strain on the very power principle that the writer has an absolute right to say what he likes. In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.

Unfortunately, in their puerile bid to make the headlines (which they have unfortunately succeeded in doing), RAHS have not understood that it is no worthy thing to simply possess ‘Freedom of Speech’ – what is rather praiseworthy is the exercise of one’s speech in a manner which leads to peace and reconciliation between diverse peoples.

As president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA) in the UK and in UCL specifically, such behaviour is something that has been witnessed already last year from their sister society in UCL, which posted a crude cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and it has all become rather tedious. The AMSA’s of the UK, in reply to the shameless video that emerged from the US as well as the repulsive response shown by many Muslims worldwide, is hosting a series of events across Imperial College London, University College London and Queen Mary’s University of London on the 11th, 17th and 23rd of October, entitled ‘The Innocence of Muhammad’ in a bid to educate students about Muhammad’s character and life.

It is our belief that it is such education that is the only path that leads to peace and reconciliation and that it is indeed, the only path that the Prophets himself, may God bless him, would have endorsed.

Tahir Nasser, a public speaker on Islam, writer and medical student, is national President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student’s Association (AMSA) UK.


37 thoughts on “Moral Obligations Reinforce Free Speech – Not a Pineapple

  1. Not really. What is offensive is itself subjective. Relevant to the subject and law should be what would reasonably incite hatred and civil unrest – what would disturb the peace. If today I approached the head Mufti of any religious center, swore at him and then wrote articles accusing him of all kinds of sexual criminality then it is reasonable for me to find myself both criminally and civilly culpable for those actions. Not because I have committed blasphemy, but because public profanity is a crime and libel / slander are civil wrongs. If I went to certain parts of India and started publicly insulting cows and other objects sacred to Hindus then I would deem it reasonable for me to be prosecuted on the grounds that my speech is against the public interest. Laws are pragmatic and public interest takes into consideration such realities where it is reasonable.

    To prosecute someone on the grounds of them rejecting God or His teachings would amount to a blasphemy law. Protecting the public interest, however, is not to establish a blasphemy law and that much should be clear to all. I have never heard a soul say that the anti-semitic laws in certain parts of Europe are blasphemy laws. In those countries an atrocity was perpetrated that was considered so reprehensible by the people of those countries that they felt it in the public interest that no one should be permitted to glorify them in the future.

    Your last statement could be applied to almost anything. Discrimination in the workplace can be very uncertain, as with umpteen other laws – in fact, most laws. Our lawmakers have been doing this for quite some time – a few hundred years – and so I am sure there is a reasonable and fair way to approach this issue.

  2. Try to make a distinction between blasphemy and other matters such as racist speech or incitement to murder, or other speech which incites to break the law.

    You ought to read the character portrayal of the Biblical Jesus, and then you may well realise why Christians and some Muslims might find it offensive.

    As it is a matter of opinion whether such speech is blasphemous or not, who will police and enforce any such law which your current leader proposes?

  3. Ahmadis do not portray Jesus (as) in a negative light and so I don’t accept that. Pakistan has made the error of legislating what religious doctrine is right and thus legal. This has not been the Ahmadi stance given that Ahmadis have no issue with the right of anyone to disagree with any religion or any religious figure or belief.

    You are not able to walk down a British street and use profanity to discriminate against someone on the basis of his/her colour. Not only does this attack his/her personal rights as a private citizen, but also public interest rights. For example, that you are likely to incite racial hatred and invite a violent reaction.

    Why is it less destructive for someone to discriminate against another on the basis of his or her religion which for a believer is far dearer to them than even their own skin colour. Our freedoms should not curtail the freedom of others. There should be a balance of rights.

  4. What I mean is that if laws against blasphemy of religions is promoted, literature which depicts the character of the Biblical Jesus in a negative manner, would be deemed offensive by Christians as well as Muslims, and restrictions would also be placed against Ahmadiyya literature, as it is in Pakistan.

  5. In what category is the literature reminding Christians of the character of the Biblical Jesus?

  6. @handoftalha

    Here you are talking about promotion of freedom of speech which does not incite hatred, while at the same time you prevented me from attempting to respond to adam in a reasonable manner which would have addressed his problems. I wonder at your contradictory behavior!

    Nasir M.

  7. Your opinion is not legally sound and confuses various issues. Free speech and free religion are two different aspects of the law. If I go on television and rant about how I vehemently disagree with something then that is free speech. If, however, I describe that same thing in such a way that would incite hatred and civil unrest then I may have overstepped the legal boundaries of free speech (I stated ”may” as each case should be looked at subjectively). The law would have a right to hold me accountable for the incitement I caused. It would, in such a case, not seek to punish my right to have an opinion, but that I expressed that opinion in a way calculated to incite civil unrest.

    As you will know, the Qur’an contains lots of references to fitna (sedition) which is the antonym of maslaha (public interest; i.e., what is in the best interests of the public). Placing the above to the side, the argument of public interest would even more forcefully apply to Muslim hate preachers who incite hatred and civil unrest in relation to non-Muslims simply because they are non-Muslims. By your own logic, however, violent and hate driven Muslim groups and leaders are well within their rights to continue instigating unrest, sedition and hate as that methodology represents their religious ideology and should be protected on account of their right to free speech and religious freedom.

    The rule of law must prevail at some point in this discussion or do you believe that the Qur’an has no concept of justice and the rule of law? That people can speak as they wish only for their words to remain unfettered?

  8. Peace.

    Prophet Jesus [pbuh] is reported to have symbolically likened his teachings to the eating of bread. The Holy Qur’an also makes use of such metaphors, and the term ‘spiritual food’ is in use among many sections of Muslims to refer to the teachings of religion which nurture the soul.

    A pineapple is a delicious and nutritious fruit, so one can only wonder what the fuss is about, given the really insulting ongoing assaults against the honour of prophets. Even so, the Qur’an teaches in numerous verses that the responsibility of real believers is not beyond reminding and admonishing those who belittle and ridicule God’s signs [6:69-71; 4:141], and leave them alone [6:113; 33:49; 43:84; 70:43], leaving any punishment to God [68:45-46; 73:12].

    Anything beyond that is a violation of Islamic teachings by Muslims themselves who either hypocritically or unknowingly claim to be followers of them, exposing Islam to further ridicule by those who don’t believe in it. There is no compulsion in religion, and thus no coercion in conscience or speech [2:257], and everyone has been given free-will to follow their own religion or ideology [109:7].


  9. I do agree with you, but your statement and selected verses, which are magnificent, are not necessarily apt for every eventuality. The Qur’an does not suggest that hate speech which would incite civil unrest (fitna) is simply to be ignored. Based on the merits of each and every case there are instances where a person could be legally accountable for using speech that incites people towards violence or hatred; or that leads towards civil unrest. It is a complicated legal issue and I do not mean to offer definitive answers in this short space. It is something that needs more thought and depth.

  10. A laugh and ridicule are two quite different things. Week after week we are seeing various attempts to ridicule and attack the Prophet Muhammad. If you want to have an innocent laugh about some Islamic practices that appear strange to you then we can be jovial about that and use our humour to lighten the subject and as a means of opening up debate.

    What you do not understand is that, for a Muslim, vulgar attacks on the Prophet are more hurtful than attacks on our parents. Now I challenge you to tell me that you would be quite happy if one week someone was writing that one of your parents was a paedaphile; the next week they were setting up websites about it; the next week writing fictional books about it that make ”fictional” intimate slurs upon your parent; the next week magazines were printing provocative caricatures of your parent; the next week they are using facebook and twitter to propagate the slur; the next week they were making films to depict your parent in a provocative and obscene way; the next week more cartoons; the next week some took a pineapple and named it after your parent to stir debate. Context is everything.

    What would you then feel if I came along and said that I am sorry but your parent has got no right not to be laughed at? You are not acting appropriately unless you sit back, allow your parent to ridiculed every week and take no offense. Lighten up mate – it’s just a joke; an attempt to create intellectual debate on an important subject.

    I find it staggering that anyone thinks we can ridicule what is most dear to others to such an overwhelming degree and still remain jovial and buddy like. If we want to co-exist in the same world and breath the same air then we must have at least some degree of decorum and civility between one another. O is your right to laugh at and insult me more important than that?

  11. Yes, but that’s the point isn’t it. We should be allowed to laugh. It’s not inciting hatred. It was a pineapple. I’m sorry, but your religion does not have any special right not to be laughed at.

  12. Whilst I cannot in any way agree with disrespect of God or His prophets in any way, and would advise against it, God Himself tells us to be patient and leave alone those people who are guilty of such dishonour, in numerous verses such as:

    [70:43] So leave them alone to indulge in idle talk and play until they meet that day of theirs which they are promised

    [73:11,12] And bear patiently all that they say; and part with them in a decent manner. And leave Me alone (to deal) with the rejectors.

    However, it is most unfortunate that many Muslims remain oblivious to the real teachings of Islam, and speak and act in a manner which is contrary to them.

  13. Wassalamu ‘Alaikum

    1. Public interest was mentioned in relation to UK law. It is also relevant to Islam and does change over time. If, for example, their is a famine then it may be in the public interest for food to be distributed in a set way established by the state. To act in a way contrary to that may be deemed illegal. There are countless examples of this.

    2. The position of our leader is actually tempered with much mercy and empathy. I suggest you read what the most prominent jurists in Islamic history have written about insulting the Prophet (saw) (sabb al-rusul) and you will find that my beloved leader (abta) is quite moderate in his position vis-a-vis the jurists of the past who, as you will be very aware, issued rulings on the basis of their understanding of the primary texts (Qur’an and Sunnah).

    There are lots of verses in the Qur’an which, for example, discuss issues of public interest in a generic sense and highlight that civil discord is not conducive to a functional society and can, therefore, be considered illegal in some circumstances. This is quite straight forward and very reasonable. And so, returning to the initial point, law makers need to look at this and ascertain what the boundaries are given the existing context. We will then know where we are.

    Your premature comments regarding my beloved leader (abta) are presumptions, unfair and appear highly prejudicial.

  14. Your statement does not stand. At school a child could not do what was done at Reading because it would be deemed bullying; in the work place an employee would be put through the disciplinary process if he/she did that – probably sacked; If someone did that outside his home then it would ruin the relationship, if any, he/she enjoyed with any Muslim neighbours.

    The point that you are missing is that the sign was their to create controversy and not debate. They could have done any number of things which would have encouraged debate and not created controversy. They did not. To suggest some higher value of learning propped up their action is a delusion. They are at University and could have, for example, put on the table some enlarged quotes from Patricia Crone’s book Hagarism which challenge Islam. The fact, however, that they would have had to ”read” to dig out the quote or that Crone is a Professor at Princeton (perhaps sounds a bit too intellectual for them) is precisely why they did not. Intellectual vigor was not behind their action; just plain old ”lets have a laugh at the Muslims – the people that are ”deluded” enough to believe in God – and see what happens.

    Irresponsible and poor form.

  15. You have all missed the point entirely. The pineapple was used to promote debate, to raise the issue of freedom of speech. In case you hadn’t known, universities are supposed to encourage debate and learning. Kicking out the students solves nothing and just makes the Muslims involved look silly.

  16. Salaam ‘Alaikum.

    “So leave them alone to indulge in vain discourse and amuse themselves until they meet that Day of theirs which they have been promised.” [43:84]

    There are about ten similar verses I know of from my ‘heavenly scripture’ on the subject of freedom of speech.

  17. Dear ‘handoftalha’,

    Assalaamu Alaikum.

    1. New Qur’anic insights do not devalue correct previous statements, whereas the Qur’an and Sunnah devalue anything said which is contrary to them.

    2. The principles do not change according to time-related notions based on public interests and fancies.


    The question is not whether divine communication occurs, but whether your leader is a recipient of it or not. It is relevant to this issue because what he is saying is not in agreement with the highest source of divine communication available to us, the Holy Qur’an.

  18. Such a question is better directed towards our beloved leader (abta) and not a blog which in no way seeks to answer on behalf of our beloved leader (abta). There is no wishful thinking in the belief that Almighty Allah continues to communicate with his creation.

  19. 1. As mentioned, the proof is in the Friday Sermons. I find it odd that you seem to devalue what was said in the past. As the founder of our Community stated numerous times, he was sent to revive / re-establish the teachings of the Qur’an and Prophet (saw) which had been eroded over time. The task at hand, therefore, is not to bring something new other than what Almighty Allah (swt) and His Prophet (saw) foretold. The human perfection of the Holy Prophet (saw) cannot be surpassed.

    2. Again, you have quoted something which is context specific and that is rarely helpful. The issues faced with each controversy are not a precise replication of a past incident. It is imprudent, therefore, to not treat things independently. This is itself a principle of Islamic law, indeed all legal systems. Previous statements should of course be referred to, but must be applied to the independent facts.

    3. Again, I am not sure who has called for anti-blasphemy laws and don’t know why you are labouring this point. Islamic law is pragmatic and public interest plays an important role. Public interest changes depending on any particular population’s demographic. Traditionally, what was a cause of public unrest in China was not the same for Holland. Today, however, the world is much smaller following globalisation and so the consideration of public interest on a global level is also worth consideration. If something is a cause of civil unrest then it is right for the law to consider its’ legality.

    Again, I am still wondering what point you are trying to make. Your statements appear skeptical at best.

  20. My post above was a reply to ‘handoftalha’, not Nasir M.

    Has your leader ever claimed to be a recipient of divine revelation, or do others just make such a claim on his behalf? If so, are they even entitled to make such a claim, which would appear to be based on an suumption or mere wishful thinking?

  21. Dear Nasir M,

    “Our leader always looks towards the guidance of Almighty Allah, His beloved Prophet (saw) and the appointed Imam of the Age (as) when making his decisions.”

    I am questioning this, and asking proof for it, and you are merely stating your ‘aqeedah’ about him. in the Friday sermons, he appears to simply regurgitate what others have written, and whether or not that is according to Qur’an and Sunnah is questionable at times. Please provide any example of Qur’anic insights of his own.

    I have also read the original response to the memorial of Anjuman Himayate-Islam recorded on page 40-45 of volume 3 of Majmu’a Ishtihaaraat, and your current leader seems not to be going along with it, hence my query. You appear to have an aqeedah of divine communication with your current Khalifa; Catholics also have such an aqeedah about their Pope without any real evidence. ‘Blind faith’ can lead to spiritual blindness.

    I am also in favour of promoting respectful and dignified speech, and not reviling holy personages, but by means of giving naseehah. The whole world does not want this, but my understanding is that the Qur’an and Sunnah do not lay down legal punishments for blasphemy to be carried out by the state authorities.

  22. Our leader always looks towards the guidance of Almighty Allah, His beloved Prophet (saw) and the appointed Imam of the Age (as) when making his decisions. This should be quite clear from his each and every Friday sermon.

    Your statement with regards to our founder is a little presumptuous on your part given that single statements, taken in isolation, have little bearing on things. We deal in holistic understandings of issues.

    Any communication between Almighty Allah and our leader, or any individual in fact, is not our concern unless Almighty Allah has explicitly instructed the recipient of that revelation to make it know to the world. If that were the case, then we would know about it.

    To offer our bay’ah is to sell ourselves to the person it is being offered to. The Holy Prophet (saw), Khulafa’ and our current beloved Khalifa have all asked that we obey them in all that is good. It is our willful joy and pride that we obey our beloved leader and it is that very obedience, and the unity it gives birth to, that distinguishes our Community from others. In this instance our beloved Khalifa is quite simply asking for respect and dignity in how we each talk about others, their beliefs and holy personages. I should hope that is something the whole world wants, regardless of their faith.

  23. Dear Nasir M., I am trying to ascertain the basis on which your leader is promoting his ideas.

    Is it from Allah s.w.t. and Rasul s.a., or from your founder, or from a perspective of it being ma’ruf?

    I am also aware that your founder has given differing advise on how to deal with such issues, for which he claimed divine support [Nuzulul-Masih, pp. 225–226, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 18, pp. 603–604].

    Does your leader say he has received ilhaam/wahi to take this direction? Do you have a record of instances of his claimed wahi, and if not so, is he following cultural conceptions? And if so, are you bound to obey him in such matters?

  24. @ adam

    I would like to understand what you are saying more clearly before I attempt to respond.

    So you are saying that according to us, there is nothing in Shariah that can be formed as so-called blasphemy laws, but that according to our leader’s words (which you quoted earlier), we are trying to get some sort of blasphemy law established outside of Shariah (which you have called expedient of us)?

    Or in other words, that within the reasonable limits of freedom of speech provided by law, we are trying to restrict it further despite saying that there is freedom of speech in Shariah? Is that correct?

    –Nasir M.

  25. “I have not asked for Shari’a law to be introduced in the UK or for blasphemy laws to be introduced.”

    Blasphemy laws were annulled in the UK a few years ago, to the best of my knowledge. As for Shari’ah, does it lay down any prohibitions or punishments for non-believers who blaspheme God or insult the Prophet [pbuh], other Prophets [pbut] or Islam?

    If so, what is the basis for such laws? If not, then why is your ‘leader’ apparently calling for them to be framed? People don’t like their loved ones to be insulted, and it is generally not a good idea to give ‘savages’ an excuse to go on the rampage. Also keep in mind a few incidents of Christians who were beheaded for blasphemy in Muslim Spain.

    And if shari’ah does not call for enacting such laws, and instead calls for Muslims to be patient and control themselves [3:186], then you’ll have to admit some sort of ‘expediency’, which has been a source of corruption in Islam over the centuries. Ahmadiyya claims to be a reform movement which was established so as to do away with corruption, so if your leader is calling for those same laws whilst he is not in power, what will he do with the rights of others if he had worldly power?

    Do you get the point?

  26. You are confusing things here.

    Islamic law of course has laws in place, just as in the UK, which place emphasis on public interest and third party rights. Individual rights are not the only rights that exist in any society and so the law seeks to protect a balance of rights. I am suggesting that a discussion takes place between the law makers wherein they consider whether or not the intended incitement / provocation of Muslims, or any group, is something that should be legal or not.

    As shown in the articles I sent you before, this legal system, operating today in the UK, curtails the right to free speech in various instances. I think it is a bit unfair for you to then divide the argument into Shari’a vs. UK law. I am a UK citizen and I am discussing the laws that exist in my country. I have not asked for Shari’a law to be introduced in the UK or for blasphemy laws to be introduced. This much should have been clear. If not, it is now.

  27. If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that whereas there is no valid basis in the static Islamic Shari’ah for curtailing people’s hurtful or sinful speech, yet you are calling for it on the basis that non-static (non-Islamic-Shari’ah) laws have such precedents, which you’d like transferred to the cases of insults directed against Islam. Where is the wisdom in this given that Ahmadiyya material is proscribed and banned in some Muslim nations on the charge of being of a blasphemous or inciteful nature by means of such laws?

  28. Dear Adam, our Community has written long and hard on this subject and we do not believe that a person should be punished because they commit blasphemy or if they leave Islam.

    As you are aware, however, free speech is not unlimited here in the UK and matters of public interest and third party rights shape certain areas of the law. For example, an East London mural is to be removed because it caused offense to the Jewish Community (see here). Also, a man in Lancashire has been jailed for 12 weeks for posting derogatory and filthy comments on facebook about the young girl April Jones (see here). We also have laws which curtail speech which incites violence, the secrecy act which prevents, in theory, sites like Wiki Leaks, the recent Trolling law, and various other laws. See, for example, what would happen if a Hindu gentleman was referred ridiculed in his workplace on the basis of his beard or turban. Someone would end up in front of a Tribunal.

    UK law is not static and develops over time and in accordance with the reasonable needs of the population in accordance with the principles that underpin justice and what is fair. In that regard, it is perfectly proper to say that our laws are not Divine in nature and open to change as in accordance with the current legal / political framework in place. A blasphemy law would entail that, for example, the Prophet Muhammad could not be challenged or referred to in a negative light. We have not asked for that. In fact, we encourage debate and difficult questions on this issue. Surely, however, it must be possible for the law to distinguish between someone who genuinely does not like the Prophet and someone who specifically refers to him in a derogatory manner so as to incite hatred in others? It does so in many other areas.

  29. Handoftalha, your leader is reported to have said that:

    “The law about freedom of speech is not heavenly scripture. … this is what he had told the politicians in his address in USA. That there can be flaws in man-made laws”

    The poster above wrote: “The right to agree to disagree is something different, and rude, blatant disrespect and slander is something quite different.”

    Correct me if I am mistaken, but it would appear from this that you are heading in the direction of curtailing freedom of speech, which means you wish to lend some sort of support to blasphemy laws.

  30. Dear Adam, thank you for your comment. Difference of opinion is always welcomed here. I cannot see how there is any difference here. The position forwarded in the article is that self-restraint should be adopted. Where is the compulsion in that? People have rights which are enshrined in the law. This article proposes that the right to free speech should simply be used in a meaningful way and not irresponsibly. By way of analogy, I have a right to drive whatever car I want. Nevertheless, I do accept the argument of environmentalists that cars which have a lower carbon imprint are preferable to those with a greater one. I would not read into that that they want to force or compel me to not purchase a petrol guzzler.

  31. Ok, but if there is no compulsion in religion, and no punishment for blasphemy in Islam (even though it is a sin), then are you now seeking to punish people for the sin of blasphemy? Do you not know how the unIslamic blasphemy laws have been misused?

  32. A Critique of President Obama’s UN Speech
    Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD

    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 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:

    The Message: Mohammed: Messenger of God (A movie)

    Let me also link a few apologies for the Holy Prophet Muhammad:
    A Beautiful Book to Introduce Islam to the non-Muslims!

    Thomas Carlyle, Karen Armstrong, John Davenport and Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri

    Muhammad: the Light for the Dark Ages of Europe!

  33. You have done very well in pointing out a very fundamental characteristic of any “civilised” society and I would just like to reiterate. Without self control, without limits, without restrictions, and without respect and regard for the emotions and sentiments of other fellow human beings who also coexist with you and share the same oxygen as you, we cannot claim to be living civilised lives. A life without barriers and limits is a life of animals.

    Therefore we should not use the label of freedom of speech in such a manner as creates unrest in society. The right to agree to disagree is something different, and rude, blatant disrespect and slander is something quite different.

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