The General Assembly of the United Nations has for the fourth straight year adopted a resolution prepared by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) calling upon all U.N. member nations to adopt legislation banning "defamation" of religion.
This decision will put the U.N. in a very difficult situation as some may ask for Islamic books — including the Quran itself — to be banned for “insulting” Jews by calling them “pigs” and “monkeys.”
The problem can become more complicated by historical information written about the Prophet Mohammed, such as that written in Sahih al-Buchary, the most authentic Sunni book for the Hadith (traditions of the prophet Mohammed). According to this work, the Prophet Mohammed commenced marriage with his wife Aisha when she was 9 years old and he used to have sex with all his nine wives in one night.
Publicizing this information can be viewed in different ways within the Muslim world itself. Some traditional Muslims may see this as defamation or an insult to Islam. Dedicated Salafi or Wahabbi Muslims can see such stories as evidence for how the prophet of Islam was greater and distinct from the believers in every aspect of his life, including his sexual abilities (some Salafi books actually brag that Prophet Mohammed had the lovemaking ability of 30 men, which is written in al-Buchary).
Followers of the Quranic Islamic sect may support publicizing this information as it proves their view that the Quran (not al-Buchary) must be the only source of religious information for Muslims as it does not portray Prophet Mohammed in such manner. Furthermore, some Shia Muslims may feel happy with publicizing this as it supports their view that al-Buchary is inaccurate and that the Shia Hadith books are more authentic than the Sunni ones.
Things can get much more complicated if some Muslims asked for banning al-Buchary itself for insulting Islam and its prophet by mentioning such “fake” stories. So, what is the U.N. going to do in this situation?
Banning books that insult Islam can be a double-edged sword. For example, the issue of criticizing religions can be viewed by some as the most powerful motivating factor for reforming or modernizing the religion itself. The recent history of the West is the best evidence for this. Without criticizing some religious practices of Medieval Europe, the West would not probably have enjoyed such level of liberty and freedom in our modern times. Similarly, without criticizing negative elements in Islamic practices and interpretations, the Muslim world will never reform.
In fact, the criticism of some elements in the Islamic teaching in the past few years has resulted in unprecedented positive changes in the Muslim world. For example, leaders of jihadi groups in Egypt such as Dr. Fadl have revised their concept of violent jihad, many Islamic reformers started to speak out, Saudi Arabia started for the first time an initiative for Interfaith dialogue, Turkish religious authority has started reviewing and editing the old Islamic Hadith books, and Qatar allowed building churches on its land.
Such positive changes only happened after many in the West — and in the Muslim world itself — criticized certain teachings within traditional or mainstream Islam.
It is very hard to stop criticism of Islam as long as its religious leaders still promote concepts such as killing apostates, beating women, and amputating the hands of thieves. Muslim scholars must first provide modern interpretations for the Islamic text that clearly prevent insulting people of other believe systems and that clearly prohibit calling Jews “pigs” and “monkeys” before asking others to stop criticizing Islam.
The U.N. and the OIC need to realize that criticism of Islam will stop naturally when the Muslim scholars themselves unambiguously stand against the violent or unacceptable teachings in their text or — at least — provide an alternative interpretation for such text.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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