17 February 2015 | Soon after Muslim gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo offices, which published satirical caricatures of Muslim prophet Muhammad, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—the “collective voice of the Muslim world” and second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations—is again renewing calls for the United Nations to criminalize “blasphemy” against Islam, or what it more ecumenically calls, the “defamation of religions.”
Yet the OIC seems to miss one grand irony: if international laws would ban cartoons, books, and films on the basis that they defame Islam, they would also, by logical extension, have to ban the entire religion of Islam itself—the only religion whose core texts actively and unequivocally defame other religions, including by name.
To understand this, consider what “defamation” means. Typical dictionary-definitions include “to blacken another’s reputation” and “false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel.” In Muslim usage, defamation simply means anything that insults or offends Islamic sensibilities.
However, to gain traction among the international community, the OIC cynically maintains that such laws should protect all religions from defamation, not just Islam (even as Muslim governments ban churches, destroy crucifixes, and burn Bibles). Disingenuous or not, the OIC’s wording suggests that any expression that “slanders” the religious sentiments of others should be banned.
What, then, do we do with Islam’s core religious texts—beginning with the Koran itself— which slanders, denigrates and blackens the reputation of other religions? Consider Christianity alone: Koran 5:73 declares that “Infidels are they who say God is one of three,” a reference to the Christian Trinity; Koran 5:72 says “Infidels are they who say God is the Christ, [Jesus] son of Mary”; and Koran 9:30 complains that “the Christians say the Christ is the son of God … may God’s curse be upon them!”
Considering that the word “infidel” (kafir) is one of Islam’s most derogatory terms, what if a Christian book or Western cartoon appeared declaring that “Infidels are they who say Muhammad is the prophet of God—may God’s curse be upon them”? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that the Koran defames Christians and Christianity.
Indeed, it is precisely because of this that some Russian districts are banning key Islamic scriptures—including Sahih Bukhari, which is seen as second in authority after the Koran itself. According to Apastovsk district RT prosecutors, Sahih Bukhari has been targeted because it promotes “exclusivity of one of the world’s religions,” namely Islam, or, in the words of Ruslan Galliev, senior assistant to the prosecutor of Tatarstan, it promotes “a militant Islam” which “arouses ethnic, religious enmity.”
Similarly, consider how the Christian Cross, venerated among millions, is depicted—and defamed—in Islam: according to canonical hadiths, when he returns, Jesus (“Prophet Isa”) will destroy all crosses; and Muhammad, who never allowed the cross in his presence, once ordered someone wearing a cross to “throw away this piece of idol from yourself.” Unsurprisingly, the cross is banned and often destroyed whenever visible in many Muslim countries.
What if Christian books or Western movies declared that the sacred things of Islam—say the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba—are “idolatry” and that Muhammad himself will return and destroy them? If Muslims would consider that defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islamic teaching defames the Christian Cross.
Here is a particularly odious form of defamation against Christian sentiment, especially to the millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. According to Islam’s most authoritative Koranic exegetes, including the revered Ibn Kathir, Muhammad is in paradise married to and copulating with the Virgin Mary.
What if a Christian book or Western movie portrayed, say, Muhammad’s “favorite” wife, Aisha—the “Mother of Believers”—as being married to and having sex with a false prophet in heaven? If Muslims would consider that a great defamation against Islam—and they would, with all the attendant rioting, murders, etc.—then by the same standard it must be admitted that Islam’s most authoritative Koranic exegetes defame the Virgin Mary.
Nor is such defamation of Christianity limited to Islam’s core scriptures; modern day Muslim scholars and sheikhs agree that it is permissible to defame and mock Christianity. “Islam Web,” which is owned by the government of Qatar, even issued a fatwa that legitimizes insulting Christianity. (The Qatari website also issued a fatwa in 2006 permitting burning people alive—only to take it down after the Islamic State used the fatwa’s same arguments to legitimize burning a Jordanian captive pilot.)
The grandest irony of all is that the “defamation” that Muslims complain about—and that prompts great violence and bloodshed around the world—revolves around things like cartoons and movies, which are made by individuals who represent only themselves; on the other hand, Islam itself, through its holiest and most authoritative texts, denigrates and condemns—in a word, defames—all other religions, not to mention calls for violence against them (e.g., Koran 9:29).
It is this issue, Islam’s perceived “divine” right to defame and destroy, that the international community should be addressing—not silly cartoons and films.