Thinkers, academicians, authors and researchers worldwide have commended Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter and described it an effort to defuse Islamophobia and deconstruct the clichéd mentality of the Western societies about Islam.
Prof. Sayed Khatab says Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter was an invitation for the Western youngsters to find the truths of Islam.
“[T]he Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei is obviously concerned that such terrorist attacks, including the recent one against the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris might be used, by some here or there in the West, to tarnish the image of Islam and present a falsified depiction of Muslims to the Westerners,” said Prof. Khatab in an interview with a News Agency.
“He also is concerned of the Islamophobia in Europe and North America. Therefore, he sent a message to the youngsters in the West inviting them to think and meditate over the truths of Islam and its origins and not to follow those arrogant people,” he added.
Sayed Khatab is a researcher at the School of Political and Social Inquiry at the Monash University, Australia. He is a recipient of the Australian Academy of Humanities Fellowship and Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants. His research areas include political thought, human rights, Islamic philosophy and international relation of modernity.
Prof. Khatab responded to our questions about the rise of Islamophobia in the West, with a special focus on the January 7 terrorist attacks in Paris, and the Supreme Leader’s letter to the Western youths that followed it.
Q: Disrespecting Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the Holy Quran have become a convention in the West, and it seems that the mass media, filmmakers and artists who think they can become renowned by ridiculing the beliefs of the Muslims are either unaware of the consequences of their actions, or intentionally denigrate the Muslims without taking into consideration that such attacks on the holy figures and things of millions of people will breed hatred and religious intolerance. Why do you think they insist on disparaging the Islamic sanctities and fail to notice that their actions don’t contribute to increased cooperation and understanding between the people of faith?
A: The recent attacks on the personality of Prophet Muhammad by the French Charlie Hebdo magazine, is not a new or separate case but is a cycle that is going on throughout the history of Western literature and takes varying forms and shapes in the mass media, films and artistic works. Focusing on the recent times, we find after the September 11, 2001 that the attacks and prejudices against Prophet Muhammad started to take new colors which the Muslims had never seen.
Insulting the sacred symbol of more than 1.5 billion Muslims is a clear confirmation of not less than ignorance and stupidity. One should also be aware of the difficulty to consider those who ridicule Islam and Prophet Muhammad as unwary individuals who ignore the consequences of their actions. It becomes even more difficult when they consider their insults against Prophet Muhammad as freedom of speech. Do they understand that freedom is not and will never be absolute? Freedom is not absolute because absolutism is not in the nature of things. Their stupidity is also confirmed in their claim of freedom while denying other’s freedom. They do insult, on the one hand, and claim civility and democracy for themselves, on the other hand. It is difficult for these categories and conceptions to go hand in hand. Insulting Prophet Muhammad cannot go, hand in hand with civility. Insulting Prophet Muhammad cannot go hand in hand with freedom of speech. Their claim of freedom of speech cannot go hand in hand with the denial of others’ freedom of speech. These categories and conceptions, as presented by Western thought, are contradicting each other.
These conceptions cannot go hand in hand with each other except in the Western dictionary of ignorance. Also, they insult Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), while Muslims do not insult Jesus the Christ. Muslims are dealing in accordance with the morals and ethics of Islam, the greatest and most perfect religion on earth up to date.
Q: The recent letter by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei to the youths of the West regarding the rise of Islamophobia in Europe and North America, and his appeal to the young people to contemplate over the truths of Islam and its origins, has caught many people by surprise, as they say free thinking and religious ideology are not compatible. Is it really so? Why have the people in the West been indoctrinated to believe that Islam rules out “logic” and cannot come with reasoning and free thought?
A: Those who insult Islam and its symbols are ignorant and intolerant people and they must understand that their ill behavior might lead to a clash between the two camps. This is what concerns Muslim leaders today from Egypt to Iran. For example, the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei is obviously concerned that such terrorist attacks, including the recent one against the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris might be used, by some here or there in the West, to tarnish the image of Islam and present a falsified depiction of Muslims to the Westerners. He also is concerned of the Islamophobia in Europe and North America. Therefore, he sent a message to the youngsters in the West inviting them to think and meditate over the truths of Islam and its origins and not to follow those arrogant people. His message is also confirming the compatibility between Islam and freedom of all types and forms. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s message is teaching the West that freedom has limitations like human life which is limited in the place and space. Thus, the freedom of person “A” must end to begin the freedom of person “B”. In other words, the freedom of the West is limited and they should respect the freedom of others.
Similarly, in Egypt, the response of al-Azhar Academy was also swift and direct. They called a conference to be convened under the title “From Blasphemy and Atheism to Violence and Terrorism”. The conference was held in the al-Azhar University hall of al-Azhar Imam Mohammad Abdu. In this conference, Professor Mohammad Mehanna, the adviser of the present Sheikh al-Azhar, Professor Ahmad al-Taiyyb, pointed out that the Europeans thought the foundations of Western civilization is based on atheism and has come through atheist revolutions against religion, and then legalized terrorism in the general European laws.
In the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, the Muslims outside France reacted quickly and condemned terrorism. While Muslims condemned the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and rejected its motivation, there are those who insist on insulting Prophet Muhammad and Islam and calling their actions freedom of speech. This, however, is not freedom of speech, but freedom of insulting and therefore they are responsible for their decision.
Muslims are also calling on the world community for the adoption of an international punishment against anyone who insults sanctities. This idea began to be spread after the Danish cartoons in 2005, and the Egyptian Professor Fathi Sorour, an expert of criminal and comparative law and former Speaker of the People’s Assembly in Egypt, pointed out that he submitted to the United Nations a draft law to punish contempt of religions. This initiative did not receive any attention for a number of reasons. First, the blasphemy as well as insulting sanctities were popular practices in the Middle Ages and ended with the beginning of the modern era.
Second, the propaganda machine of insulting sanctities is continually beating the Islamophobia drums, as the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized in his letter to the western youths, to tarnish the image of Islam and present a falsified depiction of Muslims. They are trying to portray Muslims as inferior and want to return the people to the darkness of the Middle Ages.
Third, those who reject this proposed law of punishment claim that contempt of religions is a vague charge and is difficult to verify.
Fourth, they also argue that if the law can prevent the harm of others in their body and property, it will be difficult to prevent injury of the feelings because this depends on morality which is a personal matter, and again is difficult to verify.
This is a clear indication that there are some organizations which see their interest is in insulting Prophet Muhammad and the symbols of Islam. Therefore, Western thought about Islam, in general, and the Prophet Muhammad, in particular, is problematic and includes a great deal of misunderstandings. This is a recurring problem and comes to the fore from time to time. The violent attack on the personality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is an example which denotes a twisted mentality and twisted thinking. Some consider the attack as an individual case, and some others cast the blame on what they see as a conspiracy theory, while the third group blames Muslims and even call upon them to behave themselves.
This view, however, does not consider the static attitude of the Western observation toward the Muslim symbols, in general, and toward Prophet Muhammad, in particular. Unfortunately, this Western view remained unchanged for centuries. It has always been dominated by the dye hostility, though one might see and read a variety of disinclined expressions among the various categories of Western society.
Q: What do you think is the root of attacks being constantly unleashed on the Muslims, their holy prophet, their religious beliefs and their social freedoms? Why has the mentality of the Western societies become replete with Islamophobic sentiments in such large extents?
A: There are those who argue that the attack on Islam or Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, usually comes from those who desire fame, or hold grudges against Islam. They also might list some of these medieval or contemporary Western thinkers who praise the prophet. They consider the presence of those Westerners who praise the prophet as a point of reference against the Muslim claim of Western intellectual hostility towards Islam and the Prophet. It is true that there is compelling evidence that some Western thinkers admired Prophet Muhammad in their writings. Here we should be aware that, their admiration is also not because they liked Muhammad, as such, but because they were honest with themselves and dealt with the truth of Muhammad honestly. While appreciating their honesty, one should be aware that Western thought about Islam and Prophet Muhammad is moving in line with a set of some basic roles which stand against Muslim beliefs and conceptions. Thus, the origin of the intellectual relationship between the West and Islam was not of what can be called compatibility, but rather of superiority and inferiority which has led to disagreements and confrontations. We have witnessed this in the West’s negotiations with Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Here, Iran benefited from its history and rejected the Western approach and emphasized that the negotiations must begin on the basis of mutual respect and without pre-conditions.
Having outlined the opinions, one should focus on the principles in order to succeed in understanding the Western intellectual relations with Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The opinions are but expressions of the ideas that exist in the personality of Western thought, which was formed through the long centuries of intellectual impact that resulted in western convictions of the relations between the Creator, the creation of the universe, life and humanity. These convictions strongly collide with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, so they developed hostility, which is not expected to end in the foreseeable future.