Belfast Telegraph

Charlie Hebdo: Islamic Centre leads way in condemnation

By Liam Clarke

It is hard to grasp the concept of a God who will punish us for not believing in him or honouring him regularly.

All this came into my mind when reading the words of a radical Muslim cleric writing in the wake of the French atrocities. Islam is based on free speech which is a human fancy, he argued, it is based on obedience to the will of Allah.

It seemed to sum up the gulf of incomprehension between religious fundamentalists and others. As Karl Barth, the Swiss Reformed theologian, wrote, "belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it".

Why would a supreme being react with anything but compassion to any mistaken views we formed? Why would he, or she, not make their existence clear to every generation if belief was vital?

The Koran specifies that "there must be no compulsion in religion" while urging belief in God (Surah 2).

These words seemed to be written by the sort of Muhammad, the sort of divine messenger, who is portrayed on the cover of Charlie Hebdo this week. He is a plainly dressed Middle Eastern man weeping and holding up a sign saying "Je Suis Charlie" below the words "all is forgiven". This is also the sort of prophet who may have inspired a strong statement from the Belfast Islamic Centre. It stated: "The Holy Quran clearly points out that taking the life of anyone is tantamount, in the sight of Allah, to the killing of the whole humanity."

The magazine cover is a powerful message from a group of people whose friends were murdered, an almost breathtaking assertion of our common humanity in the face of intimidation and death. It is not enough for Muslims to respond by saying "it doesn't matter, it's a picture of the prophet". They may be offended but they cannot expect to force respect for their views onto others. Respect comes from example, we all admire someone who tries to live up to religious or moral principles but we tend to shun those who try to force them onto others.

What Muslims can expect is the right to practise their religion, funding for the mosque's cross-community outreach activities, tolerance for missionary activity and protection from discrimination or harassment. Freedom to propagate your views without criticism or even ridicule for those views is not, and should not be, on the agenda.

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