Terrorism in France and How Muslims should Respond
On 16 October 2020, a French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty was brutally murdered on the streets of the French town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by a violent extremist, who may have been a Muslim in name but certainly not by deed. In addition, earlier today, three people have been stabbed to death in Nice in a suspected terrorist attack. Inevitably, these horrific attacks, conducted on the false pretext of defending the honour of the Prophet of Islamsa have led to outrage and has exacerbated tensions between Muslims in France and the rest of French society.
In recent days, the fallout has deepened as certain Muslim countries, led by Turkey, have called for a boycott of French products in response to recent comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron stating that “Islamists want our future” and that France “will not give up our cartoons”. On the other hand, Western countries have lined up to express their solidarity with France.
Regarding the escalating state of affairs, in a statement, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba states:
“The murder and beheading of Samuel Paty and the attack in Nice earlier today must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Such grievous attacks are completely against the teachings of Islam. Our religion does not permit terrorism or extremism under any circumstances and anyone who claims otherwise acts against the teachings of the Holy Quran and contrary to the noble character of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa.
As the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of the victims and to the French nation. Let it be clear that our condemnation and hatred of such attacks is not something new but has always been our position and stance. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Communityas and his Successors have always categorically rejected all forms of violence or bloodshed in the name of religion.
The fallout from this heinous act has further exacerbated the tensions between the Islamic world and the West and between Muslims living in France and the rest of society. We consider this to be a source of deep regret and a means of further undermining the peace and stability of the world. We must all join together to root out all forms of extremism and to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance. From our perspective, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will spare no effort in our mission to foster a better understanding of the true and peaceful teachings of Islam in the world.”
Violence can never help the Muslim cause
As a teacher, Samuel Paty was acting within the French law and within the confines of the prescribed secular educational curriculum. In this regard, irrespective, of whether Muslims consider the cartoons/caricatures to be offensive, Mr Paty was an entirely innocent and blameless victim.
To respond violently or to advocate a fanatical reaction serves only to benefit those who wish to portray Islam as a fundamentalist and extremist religion. It serves only to entrench the position of those who seek to justify the publication of cartoons depicting the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa as a matter of freedom of expression. Thus, such vile attacks will not deter or diminish the prospects of further cartoons being published but will only lead to their further publication and spread. Recent history has proven this point to be true – the violent reaction that followed the initial publication of caricatures depicting the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa in 2005 did not deter others from doing the same, rather it served to embolden and to strengthen the resolve of others to follow in their footsteps.
To boycott or not?
In terms of economic pressure, the truth remains that boycotting French or Western products or other similar measures are unlikely to have any significant or lasting effect. Given the realities of today’s inter-connected geo-politics it is not realistic for such boycotts or embargoes to be sustained or widespread. Millions of Muslims live in the West and it is simply not possible for them to participate in such boycotts. Thus the call to boycott French products is an emotional response, rather than a rational one. Furthermore, Muslims should not partake in protests that hurt their nation’s prosperity.
Should there be limits on free speech?
We consider the cartoons depicting the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa published by Charlie Hebdo and those published in the past by other publications to be offensive, distressful and provocative. This is a natural human reaction based upon our love and devotion to the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa who we consider to be a perfect role model for mankind. Moreover, we consider it unfortunate that the sanctity of religion is eroding day by day.
With freedom comes responsibility and so when it comes to freedom of expression, it is our belief that it should be utilised with a degree of caution. In today’s society, certain topics are considered out of bounds, despite the value placed on free speech. Thankfully, the mainstream of society does not tolerate racist language or anti-Semitic tropes. Limits have been placed on expression for the betterment of society. It is our belief this should extend to what religious people consider to be sacred.
At the same time, we also recognise that when the opponents of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa hurled abuse at him or mocked him personally, he responded with peace and never permitted any of his companions to react. To cite just one example, see how the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa responded to Abdullah bin Ubayy Bin Salool, who mocked and abused him without limit. After numerous insults and verbal attacks against the Holy Prophetsa, Abdullah bin Ubayy’s own son, who was a Muslim, asked for permission to kill his father for the hurtful and malicious insults he had directed against the Holy Prophetsa. Yet, setting an example of forbearance and tolerance for not only his companions, but for future Muslims, the Holy Prophetsa forbade a violent recourse and instead stated: “I will treat your father with compassion and consideration.”[i] Certainly, the response of the Prophet of Islam demonstrates the immeasurable injustice of those who pick up arms to ‘avenge’ the Prophet of Islamsa.
Violence is an admission of intellectual defeat
During the time of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the book ‘Ummahatul Momineen’ was published in which extremely derogatory and hateful language was used to describe the Holy Prophet of Islamsa and his wives. Upon its publication and dissemination, the fury of Muslims in India was ignited. In addition to demanding that the book be banned, widespread protests and disorder resulted. The Promised Messiahas rejected this reaction as un-Islamic and said that resorting to banning books or inciting disorder was the response of those who had accepted an intellectual defeat. Rather than violence or coercion, the Promised Messiahas sought to peacefully persuade those in power of the need for civilised debate and the benefits to society of placing certain limits on expression for the sake of the peace and unity of society. Instead of responding with violence, the Promised Messiahas sought to manifest the true and noble character of the Holy Prophet of Islamsaw and called on other Muslims to do the same.
Bring forth the virtues of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa
In a similar vein, in the late 1920s, another book unjustly maligning the character of the Holy Prophet of Islamasentitled ‘Rangeela Rasul’ was published. Once again, Muslims were outraged but the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmud Ahmadra rejected all forms of violence or disorder. Instead, he called on Muslims to hold conventions and programmes dedicated to portraying the true character and personality of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa.
At the time, the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmud Ahmadra said:
“O brothers! I say with heart-felt compassion one more time that one who starts fighting is not brave. He is a coward because he has been overcome by his ‘self’. According to a Hadith, the one who suppresses anger is truly brave. It is said that the brave is one who makes a resolute determination and then does not waver from it until he accomplishes it… Make a pledge for three things for the progress of Islam; first of all you will have fear of God and will not be flippant about religion. So, firstly reform yourself. Secondly, be fully interested in conveying the message of Islam. The teachings of Islam should reach each person in the world. The qualities of the Holy Prophetsa, the virtues of his beautiful life, his blessed modelsa should be known. Thirdly, you should fully try to save the Muslims from social and economic subjugation.”[ii]
In this regard, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community led the way and till this day continues to hold regular events across the world in order to educate and enlighten non-Muslims to the true character of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa.
The wrong way to respond
Following the publication of cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, the World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba made it clear that those Muslims who burned buildings or effigies and perpetrated violence and disorder were acting in a way incompatible with Islam’s teachings.
At the time, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba said:
“I also say this to those who are known as Muslims, whether or not they are Ahmadis, Shias or Sunnis or belong to any other sect of Islam; When the person of the Holy Prophetsa is attacked, rather than exhibiting momentary passion, burning flags, causing damage and destruction and attacking embassies, reform their deeds instead, so that the others do not get a chance to point their finger at them. Do they believe that setting fires, God forbid, is all that demonstrates the honour and station of the Holy Prophetsa and by burning flags or burning the property of an embassy that they have had their reprisal? No!”
Instead, His Holiness reiterated the need for Muslims to portray the true character of the Prophet of Islamsa to the world.
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba continued:
“We are followers of the Holy Prophetsa, who came to put the fire out, who was the Ambassador of Love, was the Prince of Peace. So rather than take harsh actions, impart this beautiful teaching to the world.”[iii]
The right way to respond
Following the murder of Samuel Paty, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in France immediately issued a statement condemning the attack and asserting that it unconditionally violated the teachings of the Holy Quran. The statement also expressed its sympathies to victim’s loved ones and the wider French society.
In the days that followed, Ahmadi Muslims living in France participated in memorials held in tribute to Samuel Paty and held aloft posters proclaiming ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’. At a memorial in his hometown, Ahmadi Muslims formed a human chain and marched forward in solidarity with the French nation and in defence of the true message of Islam. They laid flowers at the school where Samuel Paty had taught. Many local non-Muslims voiced their surprise that Muslims had come to condemn the attack as un-Islamic. In addition, representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were approached by national and local media outlets in France and were able to give interviews broadcast on primetime national television, as well as circulated on social media.
One of the Ahmadi Muslims organisers, Dr Talha Rashid describes the reaction:
“When we arrived at the marches and memorials, we were very apprehensive. We did not know how we would be received, as the climate could not be described as ‘Muslim friendly’. However, non-Muslims in France were very relieved to hear our message and even became emotional upon hearing the message of love and peace that we carried in our hearts and on our T-shirts. This peaceful human chain which we formed drew attention. As we slowly marched as part of the French society it intrigued everyone. The media very quickly came to ask us the same questions: “What meaning do you give to your presence here?” To which we replied that we have come to carry this message of love and peace taught to us by Islam and the Holy Prophet of Islamsa. During this walk we were interviewed by two national radio stations, one local radio station, two national television channels and we were filmed live by two online media which had almost two million and 6 million followers respectively. We had come to condemn but we also wanted to relay the true message of Islam and to break down barriers that exist between Islam and the wider society.”
Dr Talha Rashid continues:
“The local President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community unveiled a banner along with his sons with the words ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ The effect was immediate, people applauded, smiled at them – they needed to hear this message from the Muslim community. In addition, the media also flocked to take a picture of the banner. The local President was interviewed on prime time by BFM TV, which is one of the most viewed news channels in France.”
During the BFM TV interview, the local President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Abdelghani Belarbi said:
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has always been present at all gatherings and throughout France whenever there was a terrorist attack to say this is not Islam. Islam is all about peace, love and tolerance. The slogan we are holding, “Love for all hatred for None” is what we have in our hearts for the French people. I was born in France and I am shocked that a teacher has been beheaded. The first verse which was revealed to Holy Prophetsa was “Iqra” that means “Study”; so the terrorist not only attacked the teaching body which is the backbone of the French republic, which taught us to read, write to live, but also attacked a whole system which is an integral part of the French republic, whether we are of Jewish faith, Muslim faith, or atheist, we can all live together. It is quite possible. I was born in this country and I have lived it, these people must not succeed in dividing us.”
Consequently, in the days following the attack, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was able to represent and present the true teachings of Islam to an audience of at least 18million French people through various platforms and, in response, hundreds of messages of appreciation were received from non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
After seeing the media coverage, a non-Ahmadi Muslim commented:
“I am happy to see that finally someone is defending Muslims in the media, and on top by citing a verse of the Qur’an.”
Another non-Ahmadi Muslim stated:
“It was a great message that presented the values of our republic alongside the values of Islam.”
A French Christian wrote:
“It’s a pity that we don’t hear such messages more often.”
We fully concur with such sentiments. If Muslims desire to change the false narrative that has distorted the view of Islam in much of the world, they must seek to exemplify and convey its true teachings and to drown out the message of extremists and terrorists at every opportunity. It is hoped that peaceful Muslims are given the platforms to amplify the real teachings of their religion through the media and elsewhere under normal circumstances and not only in response to such tragic events.
A time for pause
The killing of Samuel Paty and the spate of terrorist attacks by so-called Jihadis in recent times has caused great harm to the cause of Islam. Rather than adopting violence or to call for boycotts, Muslims should respond to any form of provocation by increasing their prayers and supplications before Allah the Almighty and invoking blessings upon the Holy Prophet of Islamsa.
Muslims should seek to spiritually and morally reform themselves and to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, who was sent by Allah the Almighty as a source of everlasting Mercy for all Mankind. They should seek to portray the character of its noble Prophetsa and to enter constructive dialogue with governments, local authorities and the wider society in order to promote a need for tolerance and empathy.
We pray for peace and for a world in which all communities and people may live together in harmony with mutual respect, safe from the hateful endeavours of extremists who seek to exploit the division that they themselves are responsible for creating.
As Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba states:
“People must realise that words can have far-reaching consequences and so rather than speaking of a ‘clash of civilisations’ or needlessly ratcheting up tensions between different communities, people should refrain from attacking the religious teachings of one another… Let us all, irrespective of our differences, join together and work with a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and affection for the peace of the world and to promote freedom of belief.”
[i] Life of Muhammad, page 81 (https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Life-of-Muhammad.pdf)
[ii] Anwarul ‘Ulum, Vol. 9, PP. 555-556
[iii] The Blessed Model of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and the Caricatures, Pages 22-23