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Muhammed cartoons: Muslims should not ‘concern themselves’ about them – scholar

By Frida Dahmani
Posted on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 10:56

Protest against Prophet Mohammad cartoon and French President Macron's comments, in Dakar
Senegalese protest against the publication of a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad in France and French President Emmanuel Macron's comments, in Dakar, Senegal November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

According to Youssef Seddik, Tunisian Islamologist and philosopher, Muslims must reconsider the way they interpret their religious history and rationally examine their sacred texts. 

Emmanuel Macron’s speech on separatism left Tunisians perplexed, since the French president cited them to illustrate the rise of political Islam and the retreat of secularism.

These remarks were all the more badly perceived since the West has supported the Islamists during the Arab Spring, especially in Syria and Libya.

In the meantime, the assassination of Samuel Paty, then the murderous attack in Nice, perpetrated by a young Tunisian illegal migrant, provoked such astonishment that Islamist separatism took a back seat.

However, the republication of the cartoons of the Prophet still arouses as much emotion as incomprehension in Muslim countries. A wound that feeds a strong anti-French feeling. The Tunisian Islamologist and philosopher Youssef Seddik talks to The Africa Report about the flaws of some and of others.

Youssef Seddik, Tunisian Islamologist and philosopher

TAR: Many Arab countries have condemned the republication in France of the cartoons of the Prophet, considering that it is an attack on the sacred.

Youssef Seddik: It’s not really a question of undermining the sacred; it all started with the speech of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on separatism. Obviously, one must distinguish between religion and terrorism, especially when the latter gives rise to multi-symbolic abominations, as was the case with the assassination of Samuel Paty.

These acts must be rejected outright and denounced loud and clear. But in terms of the position of Muslim countries regarding the cartoons, I believe that we must completely reconsider our perception of our religious history. Not of our religion, because faith is personal, but it is more about questioning the times.

What does that mean?

It is not normal that everywhere in the Muslim world, the Quran is taught to children without them understanding what it is all about. I have often raised this problem without receiving an answer. Before learning, one must be able to understand. This applies to all disciplines. It is absurd that it should be otherwise.

For the Quran, it is even more serious; by learning terms that seem solemn, it suggests that the text is independent, that it escapes reflection and rational examination, that it should not be questioned. It is time to make a distinction between the mythical and the discursive, as the West has done. When children are told that Moses’ staff has been transformed into a snake, they consider it to be true. If we tell them that it is a metaphor, we are called a miscreant.

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We must take advantage of the fact that there is no clergy in Islam so each person can choose the path that suits him or her. We must do a complete overhaul of the teaching of our history and distinguish what is of the order of incantation and ritual repetition from what is historical, rational and debatable.

Nothing prevents us from explaining, from the very beginning of the teaching of the Quran, that there are different approaches to faith, revealed or not, in the world.

It is also necessary to specify what Revelation is. Is it an inspiration or a moral attitude revealed because it was the object of a discourse? We have an enormous task at this level and we must work on it. That each person conceives of the Creator as he or she sees fit is an enormous asset.

Is this a sufficient response to the current violence and attacks?

Unfortunately, we have to be prepared that this kind of event might be repeated. But it is worth asking why the murderer or murderers are usually killed. They are a huge human repository that can provide key information. This is something we have to challenge. What do we want to hide by eliminating these men?

Islam is in an unfortunate position. Are we heading towards the decline of political Islam?

It is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Islam and politics have nothing to do with each other. There is Islam and there is politics. Politics is an urbanity that has nothing to do with religion. As a reminder, Christian social democracy was completely secular and totally outside of religion.

In Tunisia, we have been at the forefront on this question of the relationship between religion and politics, but we pay dearly for it, since we are constantly considered, in the Arab media, as bad Muslims, even atheists.

In some Muslim countries, they invent obligations that have nothing to do with religion and introduce them into political debates. We have been won over by this trend; today, the wearing of the veil has been imposed, even though it is not an obligation, and Tunisia has retreated from its more tolerant positions of the 1970s.

In light of recent events, what do you think of Macron’s remarks on separatism?

He made a mistake in making Islam an exclusivity of separatism. He should have said, as we discussed during his visit to Tunisia, that no separatism was acceptable and reminded us that there has historically been a Christian separatism that split Europe between Catholics and Protestants.

Recognising that separatism has concerned all religions, even if for some it is outdated, is also a way of not betraying the memory of the people. It is also important to stop confusing Islam and Islamists; this is a useless provocation.

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The original sin is precisely all the combinations that are made. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, did not make a speech on Islam by portraying her people as witnesses. Macron did. But Muslims need not feel touched by the cartoons of the Prophet. Blasphemy is ultimately binding only on the person who utters it.

Let Muslims therefore stop their cries of outrage over things that do not concern them. If you are called a fool in the street, does that mean that you are a fool? We must ask ourselves why Muslims feel so affected. Is this overkill proof of their lack of faith?

If they consider the freedom of certain civilisations to be unbearable, they should stop sending their children to Western universities and stop trying their luck North of the Mediterranean. Enough hypocrisy! All the more so since their narrow-mindedness has disastrous consequences for those of their faith who live or aspire to live in Europe.

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