The Prophet Muhammad Should Not Be Off Limits for Satire


Salman Rushdie is right.

Those who perpetrated today’s brutal attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo may perhaps have thought that they were acting to defend Islam from gratuitous insult. However, in practice, they were defending a narrow-minded interpretation of religion that is well-nigh suffocating much of the Muslim world.

Everyone must have the right to satirise religions and religious figures – without exception. And that includes Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The freedom that makes it a pre-requisite to be allowed to satirise others is the very same freedom that protects fearless scientific inquiry and progress. It is the very same freedom that acts as a painful thorn in the backside of dictators and autocrats and two-faced politicians everywhere.

Now it could well be that today’s attackers – who are still on the loose and have not been captured at the time of writing – wanted to further inflame tensions in France and elsewhere with a view to increasing the polarisation and suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Last year, the British killers of the soldier Lee Rigby openly proclaimed how they wanted “to start a war in London tonight.” Fortunately, they failed in their ignominious aim and are currently cooling their heels in prison.

Just this week we have seen 18,000 people turn out for an anti-Muslim rally in Dresden, Germany. Today’s attack is a gift for such xenophobes.

Ultimately, freedom is very much in the interests of Islam and those Muslims who crave genuine progress.

The price of that freedom is that some people may sometimes say things you do not like and will find offensive. It is in reality a very small price to pay.

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29 Responses to The Prophet Muhammad Should Not Be Off Limits for Satire

  1. salman says:

    I really don’t mean to be rude but you have simultaneously shown a worrying ignorance of both the fundemetal notion of free speech itself and the attack that took place today. That’s a dangerous combination and I humbly suggest not to build arguments and conclusions until you address those.

  2. Do you want to elaborate on how exactly I have misunderstood the notion of free speech and the attack that took place yesterday?

  3. Pingback: The CST » Blog Archive » Charlie Hebdo: Security, Liberty, Democracy

  4. Khalid says:


    There has been much emotional outpouring over the abomination that took place in Paris – and understandably so. But should our emotions drive us to rash conclusions and decisions?

    There are calls to flood the papers with cartoons that mock and satirise the Prophet.

    It’s an odd courage that chooses to mock the weakest in society – in the school-yard it would be called bullying. What purpose would such cartoons serve? They will be offensive and hurtful to Muslims everywhere – the overwhelming majority of whom will not take violent action, but suffer silently the hate directed at them. While Europeans may fail to understand this point, Rushdie understood exactly what his book was going to do, and that is why I find your opening paragraph so deplorable. The fatwa against Rushdie was wrong, but that does not make what Rushdie did right. We should not be taking lessons in freedom from such a man.

    Charlie Hebdot has become a champion of freedom; apparently we are all Charlie Hebdot. This is the same fearless magazine that fired one of its staff for suggesting that Sarkozy’s son planned to convert to Judaism for financial reasons. That’s not to suggest that antisemitism should be allowed in the name of freedom of thought, but clearly there are two standards when it comes to these freedoms.

    I hope editors will have the sense not to publish offensive cartoons of the Prophet. As Glen Greenwald pointed out “When did it become true that to defend someone’s free speech rights, one has to publish and even embrace their ideas?”

    As Muslims we should understand that mockery is not a “right” to be used; and as Muslims we must learn from the Prophet that such trials are opportunities in developing sabr.

    What happened in Paris was diabolical. But let’s not lose sight of the higher moral standards that Islam expects of us. Perhaps you have put your defense of freedom a little crudely. I suspect that we agree more than we disagree, but I can’t agree with the crude generalisation hinted at in the comment above: the freedom to offend is a sacred right that must be defended. We must be free to tell the truth – but should we be free to insult gratuitously?

    • Khalid: You may well love the Prophet dearly, however, you have no right whatsoever to compel others do so too.

      Gratuitous insult is never pleasant, but it is preferable to religious censorship.

      What if some Jews were to say that they find some passages in the Qur’an to be offensive? Presumably, you would not agree that the Qur’an should be censored in order to respect their feelings, right?

      And what about comedy movies such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian which many Christians found to be offensive? Should that have been banned too?

      And Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species?

      Give me freedom over religious censorship any day.

      • Khalid says:

        Nothing offensive in Darwin’s book – great Muslims before him had said much the same. You are now confusing offense taken and offense gratuitously and maliciously given. It is that nuance which I think is lacking in the main comment above.

        The Prophet once advised his companions: “Don’t curse your parents”. His companions were astonished. “How could we possibly curse our own parents?”. “By cursing the parents of others you will cause them to curse your parents”. As moral beings we think about the consequences of our actions and words, recognising the power of emotions to move people – often irrationally.

        There is a difference between questioning the authenticity of the Prophet’s claims and calling him a murderous pedophile. As a Muslim I will defend the right of anyone to do the former, but I hope even an atheist can see the latent toxic bigotry of the latter. I question if that is a freedom worth defending, although resorting to violence because of that would be wrong.

        I think you are proposing a false dichotomy: freedom over religious censorship. It is more about freedom and responsibility.

        • Who is to define what is or is not bigotry?

          You have not responded to how you would respond if some Jews said they found passages in the Qur’an to be full of bigotry towards them. Or Xtians who say they find the Life of Brian to be offensive. Our Xtians who are trying to get rid of the teaching of evolution from the science curriculum.

          You cannot compel others to be respectful of your beliefs or cherished religious figures.

          That freedom is definitely worth protecting. The alternative is far scarier.

          • Khalid says:

            I’m not proposing censorship and I think you’ve missed my point. As Muslims we are obliged to address others in the best possible manner – anything that is clearly offensive should be avoided. There is a difference between the freedom that Rushdie demands and one that, as a Muslim, I would expect. Rushdie would like the freedom to cause gratuitous offense (as he said, if he had known the reaction to his book he would have written something far worse).

            I found the Life of Brian offensive also but would not censor it. I would gladly debate with a Jew about why they think the Quran is offensive. That is very different from celebrating the freedom to be offensive. I would not “force” anyone from telling lies – it does not follow that I believe they have a “right” to be a liar.

            On the one hand causing offense to Muslims is a sacred right that must be defended and yet France has laws about what can be said about the Holocaust. I happen to think that those who deny the Holocaust highlight their own ignorance and bigotry, but clearly the champions of freedom have their own sacred icons that are inviolate. There is a particularly nasty thread that is running through this whole “freedom” debate – it is one that gives the powerful the freedom to humiliate the “other”. And that is what I find alarming.

            • I am afraid i find your last response a bit muddled. If you are not advocating censorship then why do you object when Rushdie writes a book that offends you? Any offence you take is neither here nor there.

              If you agree that Monty Python had the right to make The Life Of Brian (one of the funniest satires about organised religion ever made) – even though you say you found it offensive – then why do you not agree that those cartoonists had the same right to satirise the Prophet?

              I do however agree with you about one point. The right to offend should apply to all…including Jews.

              • Khalid says:

                I’m sorry you found it muddled – I’m clearly not articulate enough in getting my point across. But Joe Sacco has done it brilliantly in the Guardian:

                • LibertyPhile says:

                  That Sacco cartoon is very silly. His drawings of a black man monkey like falling out of a tree and a Jew counting his money are not illegal in this country. No doubt in certain contexts they would cause offense to some but nobody is saying he should be killed or locked up.

                  The world is the way it is because of Guantanamo. Muslim families are being driven from their homes into the sea. I think Sacco is as muddled as you!

                  It doesn’t take “gratuitous” drawings from western cartoonists of a true believer cutting a prisoner’s throat to inform us of such brutality. The said true believers are at great pains to publicise their deeds with photos and videos.

                  • Khalid says:

                    I’m very happy to be as muddled as Sacco – I’m in good company. The old adage “sticks and stones” may be true, but it doesn’t follow that the name-calling is a “right” to be cherished. I prefer the Islamic ethos to this business of insults: Muslims are they “who walk on earth with humility, and when the ignorant address them with insults, they say, “Peace!” Q25:63

                    There really is no contradiction in suggesting that gratuitous insults are not a right, but that those who are crude enough to resort to such things should be left alone with the parting of “Peace”.

        • LibertyPhile says:

          “There is a difference between questioning the authenticity of the Prophet’s claims and calling him a murderous pedophile.”

          No, there is not. He ordered people killed for what non-Muslims would call no good reason. He married a child and that poses questions. It is certainly a practice that today the civilised world abhors.

          • wildmystic says:

            “He ordered people killed for what non-Muslims would call no good reason.”

            Such as?

            – –

            “He married a child and that poses questions.”

            Really? So who was this child? Name her. How many wives did he have? How many were children? Do tell how you know this too.

  5. Brendan says:

    Thanks Inayat I completely agree with your post/statement its got to be the way forward in a pluralistic 21C. I’m a Christian and I read your comments as, clear, coherent, and best of all consistent unlike Khalid’s contribution. Just yesterday Raif Badawi a Saudi national received 50 of the first 1,000 lashes for the crime of ‘insulting Islam’ via his on-line blog. I’d like to encourage Euro based Muslims do some work on the theology of ‘blasphemy’.

  6. Pingback: Liberty depends on defending the freedoms of those who offend us | Left Foot Forward

  7. Zareen Taj says:

    ‘For them the Jews, for us the Muslims’

    Neo-Nazi Graffiti scrawled on the walls of Mauthausen Concentration camp a few years ago. [1]

    Looking at the anti-Jewish cartoons that were published in Der Sturmer in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 40s, the similarity with the anti-Muslim cartoons by Charlie Hebdo is striking.
    Here’s a description of the cartoons in Der Sturmer as drawn by cartoonist Fips:

    ‘… the essential characteristics of a Fips Jew remained constant. He was short, fat, ugly, unshaven, drooling. sexually perverted, bent-nosed, with piglike eyes, a visual embodiment of the message of the Stürmer’s articles.’ [2]

    It’s the same as today’s demonisation of Muslims.

    Europe still has a massive problem with racism and whipping up hatreds against minorities.

    Julius Streicher editor and owner of, Der Sturmer, was hanged at Nuremburg by France, Britain and the US after World War 2, though he neither killed nor ordered the killing of a single person – so much for Freedom of speech!

    In fact, many early readers were actually Jewish and it also had Jewish writers. It also occasionally criticised Christians as well. But that does not make it all right.

    1] Robert Hahn: ‘What Occurred at Linz: A Memoir of Forgetting’ The American Scholar, Spring 2012

    [2] Randall Bytwerk ‘Julius Streicher: Nazi editor of the Notorius Anti-semitic Newspaper Der Surmer.’

    • KMH says:

      Dear Zareen Taj

      “Europe still has a massive problem with racism and whipping up hatreds against minorities.”

      Europe – you mean that single bodied, single brained creature ( a spider monkey maybe?).
      Massive – what, like proper massive?
      Whipping up hatreds – damn that whipperty upperty spider monkey with its whipping ways, oh how it whips. In fact Zareen how does it whip?

      Zareen you must be a professional cleaner because as statements go that is some pretty impressive sweeping. Perhaps you’d like to qualify it? Go on, I dare you.

      Look forward to hearing from ya’ll.

    • LibertyPhile says:

      The long dark shadow of the Nazis!!!

      Do you really think that a class of people who are at least 1 billion strong can be compared with the Jews! A class of people who rule 20-30 countries. Whose fanatics regularly perform the most violent outrages against European civilians.

  8. LibertyPhile says:


    “I prefer the Islamic ethos to this business of insults: Muslims are they “who walk on earth with humility, and when the ignorant address them with insults, they say, “Peace!” Q25:63”

    Sounds a bit Christian; turning the other cheek etc.

    But there are a large number of Muslims who take the opposite view. And some of them would kill those who do something as harmless as drawing a picture of your prophet (admittedly a rather uncomplimentary one).

    How can I distinguish between these different Muslims? It is an important and genuine question.

    • KMH says:

      Hey LibertyPhile, as-salamu alaykum,

      But but but “but” wot is a “large number”? three is larger than two and elventy zillion is larger than that. You sound like golden girl. Remember 2003, I wonder what harmlessness caused such offence then and how can Khalid distinguish?

      But don’t worry,

  9. kaleem says:

    Radicalism does not have an apology, it has a reason. The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s were killing its children enmasse – this was the ” mother of all radicalisation.”

  10. Ash says:

    Why do ex-muslims carry on masquerading as Muslims? Maybe they all after the money that the likes of Quilliam Foundation gets. Majid Nawaz, Usamah Hassan, and Now Inayat Bunglawal..!
    These followers are political Islam seem to lose their Imaan very quickly when the dollars are waived infront of them.

    • What “dollars” have been waived in front of me? I work as a network engineer and don’t have to go begging to the government.

      Could it be that my views are really my views and not the result of wanting any money off anyone? Yes, I think it could!

  11. Ash says:

    Nevertheless strange trend of how former followers and champions of political Islam are falling like flies, and then to stay relevant they pretend they are still Muslim. Strange also how they are all parroting the views of the deviant Scholar and British agent of the Colonial era Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, his “enlightened deviant” views in undermining Islam were so appreciated by the Raaj that he even managed to get a Knighthood.
    So all these ex-muslims should have the courage of their convictions and openly state they are no longer muslim, instead of ridiculously carrying on a charade. These deviants think insulting the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) is good, they believe that the forefathers of Adam were apes, and in the theory of revolution, They believe Homosexuality is acceptable, They believe eating pork and consuming intoxicants, fornicatication, pornography, usury are all allowed, in Islam they state that any prohibition of these thingsin religious scriptures is mereley a metaphor, any reference in the Quran to heaven and hell and miracles such as the virgin birth of Jesus Christ are also Metaphors. These self-made political actvitists did not have the humility to sit at the feet of Scholars to learn the deen so they are losing it in their droves. I am sure their Sir Ahmed Khan would be very proud.

    • Naz says:

      I wonder how many of these views Inayat holds? i’m guessing quite a few.. but then again he’s become an enlightened western muslim, what do a billion plus backward Muslims know about Islam..

      We should always prey to Allah to keep us on the deen and protect us from the whispers of shaytaan….more so when you see the likes of Inayat, Majid Nawaz, Usamah etc etc type lose the plot over the years

  12. Brendan says:

    Ash, as you mention intoxicants and ‘the theory of revolution’ in the same breath I wonder what your taking at the moment ?

  13. Ash says:

    I meant Theory of Evolution, but mind you all these exponents of Political Islam were putting forth various theories of Political revolution back in the 1990’s these theories where supposed to help muslims return to the “Golden Age of Islam”. Now they have completely flipped and are promoting theories of a Modernist revolution…!

    • Kevin Harding says:

      Dear Ash

      Perhaps such a revolution (evolution is probably a better word) is inevitable.

      Kind regards – KMH

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