Like every sane and rational person, Muslims around the world are shocked and deeply hurt by the Paris attacks which left so many dead and injured. It is even more painful that this attack was done in the name of Prophet Muhammad – the messenger of peace – and Islam, the religion of peace and reconciliation.

Islam teaches tolerance, love for others, respect, mutual understanding and kindness. We stand united against these terrorists.

The worldwide leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has also categorically condemned the attacks and prayed for peace in the world.

Speaking during his weekly Friday sermon, delivered in London, he said: “The perpetrators of this brutal attack may seek to justify their acts in the name of Islam and its Holy Founder Muhammad (peace be upon him) but their acts have no relation whatsoever to the true teachings of Islam. Nowhere does Islam permit taking the law into one’s own hands or to injure or murder anyone. Yet these so-called Muslims and Muslim groups still do not abstain from such cruelties and atrocities.”

The attacks have ignited a debate about freedom of speech and many are questioning whether Islam upholds the value of freedom of expression.

Freedom of speech and expression is vital to the spread of any message as well as to restore the dignity of man. In fact, it is impossible for a religion like Islam to deny freedom of speech and expression.

On the contrary, Islam upholds this principle in a great manner, as the Holy Quran declares: “Have they taken gods besides Him! Say, ‘Bring forth your proof’”(21:25). “We shall draw from every people a witness and we shall say to them, ‘Bring your proof’” (28:76). “Or have you a clear authority? Then provide your Book if you are truthful” (37:157-128).

I have just presented a few examples where it is abundantly clear that Islam not only upholds the value of freedom of expression but also says that people should speak and present their arguments to support their claim, without any fear and hesitation, but with decency and civility.

The perpetrators of this brutal attack may seek to justify their acts in the name of Islam and its Holy Founder Muhammad (peace be upon him) but their acts have no relation whatsoever to the true teachings of Islam

Islam champions the cause of liberty and freedom of expression, but not in a manner as to cause disorder, chaos and indiscriminate vengeance causing suffering to the innocent. “And God does not like disorder” (2:206) is the message of Islam.

Islam, like every other religion, emphasises the role of balanced freedom in a spirit of give and take. The concept of absolute freedom is hollow, weird and unreal in the context of society. Sometimes, the concept of freedom is so misconceived and misapplied that the beauty of the cherished principle of freedom of speech gets transformed into the ugliness of freedom to abuse, hurl insults and to blaspheme. I think it is rightly said that “your freedom ends where my nose begins”.

Thus, it is highly essential and critical to make a distinction between protecting free speech and promoting moral and wise speech. The promotion of respect and dignity is as essential as the protection of freedom of speech. Both are core values of a prosperous and harmonious society, and must go alongside each other, without compromising any of these.

This is why the Holy Quran – while championing free speech for all people – prescribes that Muslims hold themselves to a higher standard and says: “And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best” (41:35); “Call… with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best” (16:126). Muslims are also commanded to respect the religious sentiments of others. The Quran states: “And abuse not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, abuse Allah in their ignorance” (6:109).

During the last few centuries, in subcontinental India, there was a split between Muslims and Hindus on the issue of cows. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community presented a feasible solution and said that, for the establishment of peace and harmony, Muslims could stop slaughtering and eating the meat of cows because it is considered holy by the Hindus. He said, “Remember if we are permitted to eat something, it does not follow that we have to eat it. Everything permissible is not obligatory.”

He also instructed Muslims to treat Hindus with respect and let decent behaviour be their second nature, and that they refrain from all such measures that might cause them pain.

I think the time has ripened and this should be a decisive moment for having healthy discussions and reaching conclusions about the limits and codes of free speech. It would be ideal if governments made sure that people’s religious sentiments were not hurt, as this leads to chaos and conflict, and that no one be allowed to take the law into their own hands and injure or kill people.

I don’t see it as a restriction or sanction on free speech, but a step forward for fostering the values of respect, tolerance, harmony, bridging the gaps and a move for the establishment of a peaceful and harmonious society – the fruits of which will be cherished by all mankind.

Laiq Ahmed Atif is president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta.

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