Reflecting On The Charlie Hebdo Attack: For Muslim Eyes Only

In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied all across France today in solidarity after two gunmen – apparently seeking to “defend the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)” – stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people. The magazine has remained defiant, vowing to continue publication of its, many times, caustic headlines and editorials. And the whole of France is behind it, vigorously defending freedom of speech and expression.

Now, indeed, I did tweet out – in the wake of the attack – with the hashtag “JeSuisCharle,” or “I am Charlie.” I stand by those tweets. I do not – and will never – support the maligning of the Prophet Muhammad in any publication. I never liked the particulary ugly portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad in that magazine. Moreover, I followed up with tweets supporting the Muslim police officer who was also killed during the attack, Ahmed Merabet, with the hashtag “JeSuisAhmed,” or “I am Ahmed.”

But I do not – and will never – support violence and murder in response to the denigration of the Prophet (pbuh). Violence and murder is no way to “defend the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).” The murders of the journalists in Paris did not “avenge” the Prophet (pbuh). The murderers did not “honor” him but, rather, they spat in his face.

The Qur’an says in clear language:

And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine write that, whenever you hear people deny the truth of God’s messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things – or else, you will become like them. Behold, God will gather together those who deny the truth and the hypocrites in Hell. (4:140)

Now, whenever you meet such as indulge in [blasphemous] talk about Our messages, turn your back upon them until they begin to talk of other things, and if Satan should ever cause you to forget [yourself], remain not, after recollection, in the company of such evildoing folk. (6:68)

There is no mention of lashing out in violence; No mention of having to violently attack in “revenge.” The Prophet was constantly ridiculed, even by his own family, and he did not have the elite of the Quraysh who were his followers respond violently. In fact, the Qur’an is full of verses that respond to the attacks against his character, such as these:

For this fellow-man of your is not a madman (81:22)

Behold, this [Qur’an] is indeed the [inspired] word of a noble apostle. And is not – however little you may [be prepared to] believe it – the word of a poet. And neither is it – however little you may [be prepared to] take it to heart – the word of a soothsayer. [It is] a revelation from the Sustainer of all the worlds. (69:40-43)

Again, no mention that violence needed to be meted to those who attacked the Prophet’s character.

Now, some may say that verses 6:68 and 4:140 were revealed at at time when the Prophet was weak and could not react violently. Indeed, chapter 6 was revlealed in Mecca, when he was indeed weak. Chapter 4, however, was revealed in Medina, where the Prophet was both politically and militarily stronger. Yet, the message of the two verses, revealed months – if not years – apart is the same: turn away from those who mock God and His Prophet. It does not say “kill them.”

In addition, the Qur’an also says:

Repel evil with that which is best: We are well acquainted with the things they say. (23:96)

Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate! (41:34)

Is murder “that which is best”? Is attacking unarmed journalists – in any way, shape, or form – repelling “evil with that which is best”? Absolutely not! As the Qur’an says, God knows exactly what people are saying about the Prophet (pbuh). Still, it says to repel evil with that which is best. And the Prophet (pbuh) did so during his whole life.

Also, read this verse in the Qur’an:

But do not revile those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for, goodly indeed have We made their own doings appear unto every community In time, [however,] unto their Sustainer they must return: and then He will make them [truly] understand all that they were doing. (6:108)

In his commentary on this verse, Muhammad Asad wrote:

It is in the nature of [humanity] to regard the beliefs which have been implanted in him from childhood, and which he now shares with his social environment, as the only true and possible ones – with the result that a polemic against those beliefs often tends to provoke a hostile psychological reaction.

Please think about it. What was the result of this heinous attack? Did other newspapers refrain from printing cartoons denigrating the Prophet (pbuh)? No. They reprinted them all over the world. If it bothers people – as it should – that the Prophet is denigrated in a cartoon, then why respond in a way that will ensure more denigration?

In fact, future cartoons – in response to this ugly attack – may be even worse and more vulgar, just as Asad had written decades ago. Again, no one should be murdered for any reason. Period. But to murder someone in order to “avenge the Prophet (pbuh)” – apart from being horribly wrong and terribly sinful – will only guarantee that more people will follow in Charlie Hebdo’s footsteps and malign the Prophet (pbuh) even further.

In addition, during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh), countless poets wrote denigrating poetry against him and Islam. At that time, poetry was like the Internet: it spread like wildfire. What was his response? He had his poet, Hassan ibn Thabit, respond. And the Prophet (pbuh) told Hassan (r): “Respond. God and the Angels are with you.”

Why not follow in the Prophet’s footsteps in this way? Why not write a letter to the newspaper? Meet with the editorial board? Respond with a cartoon decrying the denigration of – not only the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – but any Prophet or sacred symbol. Anything but violence and terror! Anything!

Yes, many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were overtly vulgar, racist, and xenophobic. Yes, they seemed to purposefully attack the Prophet (pbuh). In fact, Charlie Hebdo seemed to have a double standard when it comes to Islam and Muslims: in 2009, the magazine fired cartoonist Maurice Sinet for making anti-Semitic remarks.

Still, we have to be better than they. That is the example of our Prophet which is the most important to follow: he was better than his enemies. His character was beyond reproach. He was better than those who constantly attacked and denigrated him. That is why – among many other things – God revealed chaper 12 (Joseph): to show the Prophet that he – just like Joseph forgave his brothers, despite all they did to him – should also forgive his enemies, despite all they did to him.

That is the challenge of Islam to those who embrace its teachings: to respond to ugliness with beauty. It may not be easy. In fact, it may be a struggle or, in other words, a jihad. But that is the jihad to which Islam – true Islam – refers, not the barbaric, twisted version that these gunmen – and all their ilk all across the world – believe is the truth.

I say today and every day: Non. Pas en mon nom. Ni maintenant, Ni jamais. This is to say: “No. Not in my name. Not now, not ever.” The barbaric attack against Charlie Hebdo, and all others like it, is not the right way to respond to attacks on our faith. Not now, not ever.


To those non-Muslims who also read this piece: Did you think that, when I said “For Muslim Eyes Only,” it would be a screed praising what happened in Paris? Did you think that this could have been “proof” of how Muslims practice “taqiyya”? If the answer is “yes,” then – as can be seen above – you are wholly mistaken.


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