No President Macron, Islam isn’t in crisis but some Muslims certainly are

When President Macron of France spoke earlier this month about Islam being in crisis and freeing France from foreign influences, he was met with a barrage of complaints and detractors. He was speaking just shortly after two people had been stabbed outside the old offices of Charlie Hebdo, in a week that saw the ongoing trial of the terrorists who, in 2015, attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

To be fair, Macron did in his speech, obliquely recognise Frances’ genocidal colonial past and acknowledged France itself was responsible for the ‘ghettoisation’ of some neighbourhoods, creating an environment that had allowed radical voices to target marginalised communities. Unfortunately, this was pounced on by the Islamophobes with the narrative that Islam is incompatible with the west and Muslims are all outsiders.

Just a few days ago another innocent man, Samuel Paty, who was a teacher and an educator, became the victim of a terrorist attack. He devoted his life to educating young people, and in teaching them about freedom of speech, freedom of expression he lost his own fundamental freedom to live. But what did he do that led to his brutal death? He showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to a class, ensuring Muslim pupils who may be offended were given the option to look away. It is necessary to acknowledge that some Muslims do find images depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) distasteful and offensive. But it is ultimately in our power to choose how we behave. If I am offended by an image I avoid it, I look away, I do not engage because quite frankly I believe we should be more offended by the rising levels of poverty and homelessness for example. The Prophet is special only to Muslims. To anyone else, he was a man, the founder of the second largest religion in the world. There are those who do take great pleasure in pushing boundaries and seeing how far they can go to cause offence. Poking fun at any religious figure, whatever the faith, is not something I would ever do. But we live in a world where we do have freedoms to speak out and express ourselves however offensive we may choose to be, and I would much rather occupy a world where I can be who I want to be, rather than one where I have to conform into a particular image of what someone else thinks I should be.

The reaction of Muslim communities to the killing of Samuel Paty was, as expected, conciliatory, offering condolences to the victims family, pointing out that Islam is a religion of peace. However, undoubtedly there will also be fear of the potential backlash that will follow.

There are countless theories around how and why individuals have adopted this violent and destructive perception of the message of Islam and gone down such an extreme route. This is despite the Prophet warning his followers to never be extreme regarding religion. Yet we see many young men ignoring this key message and instead misquoting and misrepresenting verses from the Quran and Hadith, based on teachings from those with an agenda of superiority, division and hatred. It is the mind-set of these groups and individuals that lead people like the man who killed Samuel Paty, believing this was his duty and he was acting in the name of Islam. It is these people who need to be challenged and who are a key ingredient that leads to widespread Islamophobia . They give the radical right the ammunition they need to promote hatred against all peaceful Muslim communities across the globe. What continues to concern me is the misguided notions that extremist Muslims express on social media. Some examples from this weekend that I have seen that are seriously worrying have included:

“I would have done the same if I was shown the picture” (In other words, butchered an innocent person in the street because of his own misguided beliefs)

“We have to protect the honour of the Prophet” (Personally I would suggest the Prophet does not need us to protect him, but if we feel the urge to do something, perhaps we should follow his example of forgiving his persecutors instead.)

“I salute this hero” (Seriously – no words for the idiocy)

{The attacker} “is a martyr and will be in heaven” (No, the attacker is murderer and it is innocent man who is the martyr)

There is a need for our learned men, our teachers, scholars, imams our guardians and transmitters of Islamic knowledge to speak out against the actions of these terrorists but also against the views they seem happy to express so publicly. There is a much greater need in our world of technological advances, to target websites and social media accounts and challenge the voices of the enablers and justifiers who post comments on ‘legitimate’ social media posts. We need to be more effective at calling out the cheerleaders who are adept at bypassing legal loopholes that allow them to lead vulnerable young people with little if any knowledge about Islam, to the more sinister and extremist beliefs.

As a Muslim, I worry that an image is being portrayed that we are losing our religion to extreme elements who believe Islam is about waging war on innocent people, defending the faith by all means and using violence and murder if necessary. This small minority have twisted and warped my religion and do not in any way represent the vast majority of law abiding peaceful Muslims who are your friends, neighbours and work colleagues. So whilst I do not agree with President Macron that Islam is in crisis, I firmly believe that some Muslims, some misguided adherents of Islam, most certainly are.

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