“All but not the Prophet” responded the Muslims

By Vanessa Breidy*

More than three months have passed since the horrible crime of decapitation of Samuel Paty in front of collège de Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines) in the suburb of Paris. In fact, on October 6, 2020 Paty showed vignettes of the prophet Mohammad to his students in the classroom. All what he wanted was to initiate a discussion in the class about moral and civic education. It seems that before showing them he proposed to the students to close their eyes or to go out of the classroom in case they do not desire to see them. This has created a situation of discomfort for some students and developed fast into protests of some families in front of the school in the next days.

The degeneration of the situation has stimulated a discussion through emails between the colleagues of Paty. It seems that many supported their colleague and others criticized him. The journal Le Monde has published on November 18, 2020[1] the content of these emails and revealed that one of the teachers said: “I do not sustain our colleague. I refuse to be an accomplice with the silence in a situation that alters the bond of trust with the families and puts in danger the whole scholastic community.” Another colleague said: “Our colleague has given arguments for the islamists and has worked against the laïcité giving it the aspect of intolerance.”

After the cruel assassination of Paty, one can imagine the embarrassment of these colleagues. In fact, they were only expressing their opinion and trying to act responsibly as part of the scholastic community but on Friday October 16, 2020, Abdullakh Anzorov an eighteen year old young man decapitated Samuel Paty in front of the school. Maybe there is nothing more horrible that could have happened in this case.

In response to this tragedy, the French Republic has been clear in willing more than ever to protect the freedom of speech that Samuel Paty and others were massacred while practicing.

However, the speech of the French President Emmanuel Macron in the funeral of Samuel Paty has been perceived by some as offensive against Islam and Muslims since he opposed laïcité and free citizenship to Islamism and committed not to disavow the cartoons even if others recoil. In fact, this was interpreted very negatively especially that on October 2, 2020 the president Macron has accused Islam of being a religion experiencing a crisis all over the world and said: “[…] we will try to build an organization that will allow us – I hope, I believe – to build a form of Islam in our country that is compatible with Enlightenment values. An Islam that can peacefully coexist with the Republic, respecting all the rules of separation and calming all voices. It is not the State’s job to structure Islam. But we must support this effort, […].”[2]

Today, to honor Samuel Paty, maybe there is nothing more meaningful that can be done than continuing the debate he wanted to initiate and there is nothing more absurd that can be done than shutting up the debate by intimidating one or the other party.

For that, I wanted to transmit some of the opinions and realities that Muslims have expressed and which maybe not too many non-Muslims have heard about. Moreover, I thought about giving a brief idea about who is the prophet Mohammad for Muslims in the popular Muslim belief and feeling, maybe this helps to understand more who is this person for which each Muslim feels offended when offending him.

Some reactions of Muslims to the official French position

In what follows, I will briefly transmit some of the reactions that circulated on Social Media after the assassination of Samuel Paty and after the official response of the French president.

Ahmad al-Kindary (Kuwaiti activist and writer) said: “Every human has his own convictions. For us Muslims, loving the Prophet is part of our doctrine. He is more precious to us than our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and nations. Is it acceptable that someone hurts one of your family members? Doing so with the Prophet is even worse. A lot of terrorist attacks have happened in the world by people from different religions. When a Christian is the actor, it is not permissible to say that the Christian religion is terrorism or that Jesus has said bad things. It should be the same for us. We do not accept that anyone makes such claims about the Christians or others and definitely, we do not accept these assumptions about our Prophet.”[3]

Rashid al-Alaly (Moroccan Media person) said: “The best response we can provide in confrontation to the attack against us is to live according to our morals, to our religion. Responding with insults and violence does not help our cause. They understood freedom erroneously, not respecting the other cannot be called freedom […] They are free to laugh on anything they want but not on the Prophet of God.”[4]

The Turkish president Erdogan, other than insulting the French president, called for fighting islamophobia as has been done for anti-Semitism after the tragedy of the holocaust.[5]

The former General Secretary of the Arab league Amr Moussa tweeted: “I don’t understand when I see that anti-Semitism is a crime whereas anti-Islamism is a point of view.”[6]

Ali Bakir (international relations specialist in al-Jazeera): “The main problem with how the West and specifically France deals with Islam is the double standards. What we see against Islam, we don’t see anything similar happening with other religions or Israel for instance.”[7]

Nazir al-Kandouri (Iraqi political writer): “Insulting the Muslims will influence negatively the relationships between the Islamic countries and the West and will increase sectarianism and racism”[8].

The prophet Mohammad in Muslim eyes.

وما أرسلناك إلّا رحمةً للعالمين (سورة الأنبياء 107).

We have sent you ‘O Prophet’ only as a mercy for the whole world. (Qur’an, surat al-anbiya’ 107).

In what follows, I will transmit some traditional stories and popular sayings about the prophet without entering in the theological debate on these issues.

One of the most beautiful sayings about the prophet could be found in Aflaki, Manaqeb al-‘arifin 2:665 in which is transmitted what Rumi expressed about the closeness of the prophet to God. He says:

“The Earth is the body of the Prophet.

The Heavens are his thoughts, conceptions, and luminous imagination.

God’s Throne?

That… is Muhammad’s heart.

That is what is expressed in the verse:

“The al-Rahman (the Merciful) established Himself on the Throne, meaning “I came to rest in your heart [O Muhammad]”

Annemarie Schimmel has published an article about the prophet in popular Muslim piety[9] in the Encyclopaedia of Islam in which she explains that “the numerous songs and stories told and retold among the Muslims serve to establish a personal relationship with the Prophet, and this very warm feeling is something few outsiders realize. The Prophet appears like the venerable elder member of the family who should be obeyed and imitated”.

Connected with this relationship comes the custom of naming boys after the Prophet, for according to tradition, everyone by the name of Muhammad or one of the prophet’s ninety-nine honourable names will be called to enter Paradise. Among these names Mustafa, Ahmad, Taha, Yasin as well as Munir, Siraj, etc. As a matter of fact, one knows what is beautifully expressed by Yunus Emre: Your name is beautiful, you yourself are beautiful, Muhammad.

In addition, Shimmel affirms that there is a firm belief that the prophet has been given the privilege to intercede for his community. In fact, it is told that on Doomsday while each human is seeking to save himself, the prophet will appear with his green flag and call out “ummati ummati” which means ‘My community!’

Another belief is about the presence of the prophet in the meetings devoted to the recitation of blessings for him. Some pious people even claim to have been visited by the prophet Muhammad who wanted to kiss the mouth that blesses him.

Furthermore, some mystical poets have expressed their wish to be a dog at his threshold or their feeling that they are not worthy of singing his praise even though they have cleaned their mouth with rose water a thousand times. In fact, Schimmel clarifies that despite the reminders by some theologians that the Prophet is not the centre of Islam, the devotion to him still is, the strongest binding power among Muslims, in whichever way they may interpret his role.

My objective in transmitting these opinions and popular beliefs is to bring the reader closer to the sentiment of a non-Muslim what a Muslim feels when insulting the prophet or when some accuse all Muslims of being terrorists and spread islamophobia. Although it is true that the freedom of speech should be always respected but we should keep in mind that this freedom is not absolute; doesn’t the law generally prohibit slander?

On the other hand, maybe now more than ever it is important that Muslims remember and repeat their famous expression ‘God is greater’, ‘Allah Akbar’. Nayla Tabbara[10] gives a very beautiful explanation of the meaning of this expression. She says that by repeating this expression, Muslims are called to recognize daily during different occasions that God is greater than any conception or image projected on him. She explains that imams fall in error every time they call the malediction of God on certain people or groups of persons, every time they explain the natural catastrophe as a divine chastisement, every time persons are considered infidels or excluded from Paradise because they do not correspond to what a believer should be, think or wear. She says that this is not only anthropomorphism but reduction of the divine to the smallness of the human. She says that instead of projecting on God our desire of taking revenge, excluding, hating, and to shape Him according to our image, God asks us to elevate ourselves to become on the image of his attributes.

*Lawyer and researcher in interreligious realities and politics.

[1] https://www.lemonde.fr/education/article/2020/11/18/je-ne-ferai-plus-de-sequence-sur-ce-theme-dans-ses-derniers-messages-a-sa-hierarchie-et-ses-collegues-le-desarroi-de-samuel-paty_6060135_1473685.html

[2] https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/secularism-and-religious-freedom-in-france-63815/article/fight-against-separatism-the-republic-in-action-speech-by-emmanuel-macron

[3] https://youtu.be/17E5x4XEIik

[4] https://youtu.be/EZtKC7NPbQU


[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Buhl, F., Welch, A.T., Schimmel, Annemarie, Noth, A. and Ehlert, Trude, “Muḥammad”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 26 December 2020 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0780>

[10] Tabbara N., L’islam pensé par une femme, Bayard Editions, Montrouge, 2018, 13-14.