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

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Dr Al-Hussaini

Dr Al-Hussaini

Pastor James McConnell at home with his wife Margaret last night

Pastor James McConnell at home with his wife Margaret last night

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Pastor James McConnell at home with his wife Margaret last night

Pastor James McConnell at home with his wife Margaret last night

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates Court after he was cleared by a judge over remarks that he made from the pulpit in which he said that Islam was "Satanic and Heathen"

Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates Court after he was cleared by a judge over remarks that he made from the pulpit in which he said that Islam was "Satanic and Heathen"

Photopress Belfast

Pastor James McConnell outside court with his wife Margaret during his trial in December

Pastor James McConnell outside court with his wife Margaret during his trial in December

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 5th January 2016 

Pastor James McConnell arrives at Langanside courts in Belfast to hear the judgement on the case which was taken against him regarding comments he made in one of his sermons.

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 5th January 2016 Pastor James McConnell arrives at Langanside courts in Belfast to hear the judgement on the case which was taken against him regarding comments he made in one of his sermons. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Pastor James McConnell

Pastor James McConnell

Pastor James McConnell arrives at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday with his wife Margaret and daughter Linda

Pastor James McConnell arrives at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday with his wife Margaret and daughter Linda

Pastor James McConnell outside the courthouse

Pastor James McConnell outside the courthouse

Pacemaker Press Belfast 05-01-2016: Evangelical Christian preacher Pastor James McConnell has been found not guilty of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam.
The 78-year-old, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, denied two charges relating to a sermon he gave in a Belfast church in 2014.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.

Pacemaker Press Belfast 05-01-2016: Evangelical Christian preacher Pastor James McConnell has been found not guilty of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam. The 78-year-old, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, denied two charges relating to a sermon he gave in a Belfast church in 2014. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.

Pastor James McConnell arrives at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday with his wife Margaret and daughter Linda

Pastor James McConnell arrives at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday with his wife Margaret and daughter Linda

Some of Pastor McConnell’s supporters display a banner

Some of Pastor McConnell’s supporters display a banner

Pastor James McConnell with Sammy Wilson

Pastor James McConnell with Sammy Wilson

Pastor James McConnell speaks to reporters after his acquittal

Pastor James McConnell speaks to reporters after his acquittal

The pastor’s supporters celebrate outside court

The pastor’s supporters celebrate outside court

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Dr Al-Hussaini

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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