Over the past three weeks, violence and protests have spread from Libya and Egypt to more than two dozen countries, leaving dozens dead, including a U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. diplomats. The film that allegedly spurred these events has been the centerpiece of a raging debate about the use of free speech and the response from people targeted by those exercising their free speech.
Muslims of the world have every right to be offended by the blatant attempts to ridicule the Founder of their religion, who they love dearly. The Founder of any faith should necessarily be loved and admired by his followers. The derogatory film at the center of this debate has now been joined by vile caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Neither of these contains any legitimate argument against Islam. When people face an inability to defeat Islam with sound argument, intellectual debate denigrates to mockery and ridicule.
Whilst the pain felt by Muslims worldwide at such continued mockery is justified, the response we have seen is absolutely not. The dictates of humanity must compel everyone to condemn violence, which can never be justified -- under any circumstances -- as a response to such provocation. Such violence is not simply un-Islamic; in fact, it is anti-Islamic because it contradicts the teachings of Islam and the example of its Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad taught his followers about self-restraint -- a virtue which encompasses forgiveness, patience, abstention from injury, truth, sweetness of speech, benevolence and freedom from malice. Following his teachings, Muslims of the world must peacefully unite in their opposition to the film and cartoon. Irrespective of cultural or sectarian differences, our love for Prophet Muhammad should unite us and inspire us to respond with self-restraint, as he had commanded us.
Rioting and killing innocent people are entirely against the teachings of Islam. Damaging buildings and burning flags and effigies are not only senseless but also provide no benefit to any party; particularly not to Islam. If any cleric says otherwise, Muslims must challenge him because such activity is considered a transgression in Islam.
Some are quick to defend such mockery and ridicule as pure exercises of one's right to free speech. Freedom of expression is indeed vital and necessary for the progress and development of a society, but we must understand the limits of free speech for the good of mankind and for peace -- a much higher goal. All words and actions have consequences. Treating freedom of speech as supreme at the expense of world peace and harmony is an incredibly flawed concept. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the worldwide leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is in more than 200 countries, made this same point in his statement last week when he said, "Let it not be that in the name of freedom of speech the peace of the entire world be destroyed."
Peace -- not only between nations but also between different people of one nation -- is so difficult to establish, yet so easy to destroy. Such is its importance that prizes and awards are given to those who can help this world get closer to establishing peace. Yet, ironically, some take a very stubborn stand to defend uninhibited free speech, even when that speech comes at the cost of peace. Those supporting the right to ridicule and offend deeply personal sentiments at all costs must understand the role they play in causing conflicts to grow around the world.
The Quran strongly discourages indecent behavior and speech, or the hurting of others' sensitivities, regardless of whether it is done with or without a "valid" reason. Prophet Muhammad -- like all prophets -- called his followers to human decency, integrity and sensitivity. This is a lesson for the whole world, and Muslims must use this guidance to collectively exhibit a mature response to such terrible acts. Let us join hands to uphold the peaceful teachings of Islam and the Quran.
This is the approach taken by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, under the guidance of its worldwide Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. We portray the true teachings of Islam through action. Just this month, our annual Muslims for Life campaign once again sought to honor the victims of 9/11 by saving American lives. We hosted blood drives across the nation in order to collect 11,000 bags of blood and save 33,000 American lives. This is faith in action. This is a lesson for those Muslims who take lives; here, we save lives due to our love for the Prophet Muhammad and his teachings. This is also a lesson for those non-Muslims who ridicule the very man who inspires us to give our own blood to save American lives.
It is time for us to come to our senses and do everything in our power to establish and maintain peace. No peace can be established by attacking other people -- either through words or deeds. Peace can only be made possible when we are just in our dealings with one another. Instead of pouring more fuel to an already raging fire, let's reconnect with our human decency and behave in a dignified manner. Let's stop causing hostility around the world. Mankind -- and our future generations -- will thank us for it.
Originally published in Aslan Media on Sept. 30, 2012.