Malta imam says religious vilification should be illegal, in France murder reaction

Imam Mohammed El Sadi claimed the publication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad played into the hands of Muslim extremists and extreme right groups

Imam Mohammed El Sadi
Imam Mohammed El Sadi

The Imam of the Paola mosque, Mohammed El Sadi, has once again called for the criminalisation of blasphemy and the mocking of faiths, in a reaction to the fanatical murder of a French teacher who displayed the notorious Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in his class.

“We always condemn killing people because of their convictions irrespective of the identity of the perpetrators or their own justifications for their wrong doing… There is no legal justification for such criminal act,” El Sadi said, saying all Muslims in Europe had to be law-abiding citizens.

The murder of Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher, took place on 16 October 2020 in a Paris suburb, where he was killed by Abdoullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old Muslim refugee of Chechen descent, and then beheaded. Anzorov was shot and killed by police minutes later. His motive for the murder was that Paty had, in a class on freedom of expression, shown his students Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, including one cartoon which depicted Muhammad naked.

But El Sadi disagreed that the human right of freedom of expression was “a goal in itself”, and said absolute freedom of expression could be destructive by causing avoidable hatred. “It can trigger violence, endanger the lives of people and threatens the harmonious peaceful coexistence of any modern multicultural society. Eventually, it serves no good cause.”

El Sadi also said that the mocking of faiths should be criminalised. In 2016, Malta abolished the vilification of the Roman Catholic religion, a law in place since 1933. The incitement of hatred based on religion, gender, race, sexuality, gender identity or political belief is already illegal in Malta.

“For us Muslims it is too difficult to comprehend how anybody dares to mock any prophet because we consider them all the most righteous, the infallible and models, especially Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad,” El Said.

In a back-handed reference to anti-vilification laws, El Sadi suggested that those who “promote” such mockery and “reward it” were making Muslims feel they are “detrimentally targeted”.

“Those who keep insisting on publishing, distributing and displaying the infamous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad on the public buildings in a provocative open way against the Muslim sentiments are playing into the hands of the Muslim extremists and the extreme right groups. They are directly responsible for any unfortunate consequences.”

The Imam also insisted that mocking “any Prophet” was blasphemous, and that mocking the Prophet Muhammad was “definitely a direct insult to 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world who consider him

dearer than their parents and children. It deeply provokes and hurts their spiritual sentiments and leaves severe bitterness in their hearts.”

El Sadi quoted Pope Francis who said believers should not be provoked or their faith be made fun of. “Unfortunately, secularism in certain countries has become extreme anti-religion and freedom of expression has become a weapon for defamation of the sacred symbols of faiths.”

El Sadi also called on political leaders to stop stigmatising and criminalising Muslim communities.

“Muslims are the main victims of terrorism more than any other nation… We Muslims do not associate with Christianity, the terroristic attacks against Muslims in New Zealand because we know how should distinguish between the religion and the religious.

“Such individual, isolated acts should not be used as a justification for collective punishment of Muslims, violating their basic human rights and enforcing them to lose their own Islamic cultural identity.”

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