Open Letter to the People of Denmark
In spite of the great anger and offense caused for us and for millions of Muslims by the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that were published by one of your country’s newspapers, in spite of our strong condemnation of that paper and its editor-in-chief, and in spite of our understanding the boycott of your country’s products that many Muslims are calling for to be a natural reaction on their part – in spite of all that, we wish to make it clear that what has brought this on is not on account of any prejudice against your country, nor is it a call to fuel the fire of hostility between our respective civilizations. Indeed, we sincerely believe in the peaceful coexistence of all people on the Earth.
We also assume that those who share our belief in this will not act contrary to it. We maintain that this newspaper in your country has acted in such a contrary manner. We hope that this will never happen again in your country or anywhere else in the Western world. We hope for this as people who wish for peace and for peaceful coexistence, and we hope that you will work with us to spread this message of peace.
It is in this spirit that we wish to explain the following:
1. We believe that the conduct of that newspaper is neither representative of the people of Denmark, nor of the people of Europe. We also acknowledge that it is not representative of all Christian people.
However, it grieves us that we have not heard intellectuals and academic bodies raise their voices in condemnation of these cartoons. Likewise, we have not heard from religious organizations and churches. This is in spite of the fact that the conduct of that newspaper runs contrary to the dictates of sound thinking, religious belief, and moral conduct.
We are even more grieved by the conduct of the Danish government whom we had hoped would have exercised greater concern for the dictates of justice.
2. These caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are not merely an insult to the Muslims in your country or to those in any other country in particular. They are extremely hurtful to all Muslims who regard Muhammad as a Prophet of God and who follow his religion. Each and every Muslim feels an insult to the Prophet Muhammad more acutely and painfully than one directed against his own mother or father, or against himself and everything else that he holds dear.
3. These abuses are not in keeping with the teachings of Christ, who came with peace and love for the world and with clemency for the wrongdoer, who said: “Whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” That newspaper, rather, has tried to strike an honored prophet with both hands, a prophet who came with a message of mercy and justice for the world, about whom the Qur’an says: “We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy for the entire world.”
4. By attacking the character of Muhammad, this newspaper has disparaged one who paid homage to Christ, upheld the purity of his mother, and affirmed his miracles. The Qur’an conveys to us the words of Jesus in the cradle: “‘Indeed, I am a servant of God. He gave me the scripture and made me a prophet and made me blessed wherever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and has made me dutiful toward my mother and has not made me arrogant, unblessed. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!’ – Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.”
Muhammad (peace be upon him) commanded his followers to believe in and revere all of the Prophets. The Qur’an declares: “Say (O Muslims): We believe in God and in that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered.”
5. This immoral and ill-mannered conduct is directed against a prophet described by his Lord as being “of excellent moral character”. His companions described him as being the most well-mannered of people. His life and his teachings called towards every good quality. Prophet Muhammad taught clemency, compassion, modesty, integrity, and kindness towards people and towards all living things. He enjoined people to moral conduct. He said: “I have come only to perfect good conduct.” He said: “The believer whose faith is most perfect is the one who exhibits the best moral character.”
6. The caricatures in question depict Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist in spite of the fact that he came with a message of peace for the world. He also set forth noble, humanitarian laws to govern people’s conduct during war. Among these is the law that no person may be killed except an attacker. The Qur’an declares: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God does not love the aggressor.”
Prophet Muhammad taught that even in the midst of war, it is prohibited to kill a child, a woman, or a monk. It is prohibited to defile the corpses of the fallen.
Muhammad taught that prisoners of war should be treated well. The Qur’an declares: “And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the prisoner of war.”
These teachings of the Qur’an set the precedent for all of the constitutions of the various nations of the world, international bodies, and human rights organizations. These teachings did not come about in response the pressure of world opinion, though they set forth a policy of global relevance.
7. The publishing of those caricatures fosters enmity between the peoples of the world. It nurtures bigotry that breeds further bigotry as a reaction.
8. It grieves us that the publication of those caricatures is being justified as an exercise of freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression is only protected by law to the extent that it serves society and does not violate the rights of others. We must acknowledge that the laws of all countries define libel and slander as criminal acts. Such crimes are not considered expressions of free speech but are recognized as acts of aggression against other people. It follows that slandering a prophet recognized and revered as such by one fourth of the world’s population is a more serious crime.
We know that freedom of expression is not an absolute right, but a social phenomenon that, in every human society, is subject to being defined and delimited.
9. We hope that what has taken place will not happen again. This is our sincere hope, because the world is in dire need of peace and understanding. The nations and people of the world need to support each other and move forward together for our mutual benefit.