By Amer Aziz
In a Jan. 25 Another Voice, I condemned the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I cited verses from the Quran and incidences from Prophet Muhammad’s life establishing that violence is not a response to blasphemy.
Yet, on May 4 we witnessed a repeat of such discourse, this time on American soil as two extremists attacked a contest in Garland, Texas, for cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. Fortunately, no lives were lost this time save the two assailants who came there to answer words with bullets.
The contest was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative headed by anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller, known for her inflammatory views. When such an extreme form of expression, seen as a test of freedom of speech, is propagated through an organized and sustained effort, we must ask whether it subverts the very process of constructive criticism that freedom of speech is meant to uphold.
Whether such activism protects freedom of speech is debatable, but there is little argument that it attacks Muslims in general while kindling anti-Muslim sentiment, unrest and social tensions.
Nevertheless, Geller and her group have a right to express their hatred, and Muslims must respond with dignity. Violence is not an option. As a member of Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, I follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who emphasized the true and unadulterated teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Ahmad condemned those Muslim clerics who incite hatred, wrongly invoking scripture to cater to the ambitions of politicians seeking to garner resistance to western colonial rule and neocolonial influences.
Ahmad exhorted that verses 22:41-42 of the Quran permitting armed conflict carry the explicit condition that arms can only be taken up by those who are subject to severe injustices for practicing their religion.
Ahmad had warned that departure from the sanctity of holy writ will result in corruption in religion and morality. This is exactly what we have seen happen with these extremists who, while numbering only a few, wield a daunting net that riles sensitivities and maligns perceptions.
For over 125 years the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been peacefully propagating Ahmad’s reformist teaching with constructive dialogue through print media, television and thousands of conventions held around the world. We invite Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative to move past their test of the freedom of expression and engage us in constructive mutual dialogue aiming for a true and proper defense and renewal of freedom of expression
Amer Aziz, of Amherst, is an officer of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam and a writer belonging to the Muslim Writers Guild of America.