Belfast Telegraph

Pastor McConnell's acquittal is welcomed by Muslim academic Muhammad Al-Hussaini

By Adrian Rutherford

A Muslim academic who offered to appear as a defence witness for Pastor James McConnell has welcomed his acquittal.

Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a senior fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, travelled to Belfast for the trial last month.

He has consistently defended Pastor McConnell's right to free speech.

Last night Dr Al-Hussaini told the Belfast Telegraph: "The acquittal in the trial of James McConnell represents a vindication of the defence team's solidarity across creeds and confessions, which brought together Catholic, Protestant and Muslim clergy, unionists and nationalists, secularists and believers, to stand in support of the academic freedom to debate religious ideas.

"The fragile liberty to question and critique theological teachings is, I believe, of desperate importance at this troubled juncture of rising religiously-motivated violence and persecution, and could determine our continued survival or non-survival in this world."

Dr Al-Hussaini was not called to give evidence at last month's trial. But he has taken a keen interest in the case which, he said, formed part of a wider debate.

He said this should take place in civic society, rather than within the courtroom. "While there is a public conversation to be had now about how religious leaders should best give witness to their beliefs with truthfulness and at the same time 'always with gentleness and respect' as Scripture commands, this is a discussion for theologians and ordinary citizens in civil society, and not the judiciary," he said. "In a free society people take exception to all kinds of things in cinema, online or other media but, other than material which incites to physical violence, I hope the Northern Ireland PPS will give careful consideration before again entering into vexed questions about what is 'grossly offensive' enough to prosecute."

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