In recent weeks there has been considerable disagreement across the globe as a result of the recent film made in the United States about the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw). This film effected the religious sentiments of over 1.8 billion Muslims around the world as well as countless others of faith and no faith in what is now a “global village”.
The film has been available to be viewed uncensored on You Tube in most of the world and has resulted in lack of public security, disturbance of public mind, agitated public opinion and also resulted in loss of life. In short the current legal framework in relation to human rights as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and for that matter any local country specific law in relation to censorship did not prevent the suffering and other adverse consequences.
The immediate questions that arise therefore are:
- What can be done differently in future to protect the violation of human rights in relation to religious sentiment?
- By maintaining legislation in its current form are we complicit in the resulting disturbances and lack of peace which results?
Experience shows that “Freedom of Speech” in its own right is not upheld in practice and cannot be upheld in its purest form as it does not in itself enable the preservation of fundamental human rights.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
This would appear to allude to also ensuring that religious sentiments are not injured however in practice this in itself has been clearly inadequate in protecting the religious sentiments of hundreds of thousands in any specific country and billions of people around the world.
I would urge the introduction of law to further the fundamental human right that ..
..no person should be free to injure the religious sentiments of others or that holy personages of religions should be disparaged for it ruins individual, national and world peace, causing eruptions of hatred to spill over and widens chasms between people, countries and religions.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The making and continued airing of the film without censorship seems to have been justified in the interests of maintaining an overriding principle of freedom of speech which is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The degree to which the right to freedom of speech is upheld in practice however varies greatly from one nation to another. In many nations including liberal democracies censorship occurs in relation to issues such as hate speech, obscenity, and defamation laws. Where there are relatively authoritarian forms of government, overt government censorship is also enforced.
Legislation in any particular Country
There are relevant Articles in legislation of many countries in the world regarding Freedom of Expression and Information. Usually they cover on the following lines:
- Freedom of expression and of information is guaranteed.
- Everyone has the right freely to form, express, and impart their opinions.
- Everyone has the right freely to receive information to gather it from generally accessible sources and to disseminate it.
For example in a well known neutral country, I mean Switzerland; any person who refuses to recognize genocide like the Armenian Massacre of 1915 has to face trial. The Turkish politician Doğu Perinçek was fined CHF 12,000 for denying the existence of the Genocide in 2007. Holocaust denial is also illegal in Switzerland as is in most of the countries in West and in UK even the Royal Family gets included.
In Islam peace and security are overriding themes. The tendency to broadcast all manner of news, even news that might have the effect of disturbing people’s minds and agitating public opinion, is deprecated.
[4:84] And when there comes to them any tidings whether of peace or of fear, they spread it about; whereas if they had referred it to the Messenger and to those in authority among them, surely those of them, who can elicit the truth from it, would have understood it. And had it not been for the grace of Allah upon you and His mercy, you would have followed Satan, save a few.
The verse does not deprecate merely the publishing of an irresponsible rumour or a piece of false news. Rather, it emphasises that news which effects public security or is likely to disturb the public mind or agitate public opinion should be referred to the proper authorities for them to determine whether immediate publication is or is not desirable in the public interest.
God also states that do not belittle the idols of other people for they would in retaliation do the same to your God and it would destroy peace and enmity would increase. Perhaps the most comprehensive directive within the domain of social values in Islam is:
[5:3] And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and transgression.
When the Prophet said on one occasion, “Go to the help of your brother whether oppressor or oppressed,” he was asked, “We understand what is meant by going to the help of a brother who is oppressed, but how shall we help a brother who is an oppressor?” The Prophet replied, “By restraining him from oppressing others.”
Censorship of YouTube
Contrary to the fundamental human right of freedom of speech, blocking already occurs around the world for a variety of reasons including: violations of national laws, including: copyright and intellectual property protection laws;violations of hate speech, ethics, or morality-based laws; and national security legislation, limiting public exposure to content that may ignite social or political unrest; preventing criticism of a ruler, government, government officials, religion, or religious leaders.
Respect for all Religions and Humanity
Muslims believe that The Holy Qur’an is the word of God and was revealed to Muhammad (saw) who acted in the capacity of messenger only. Orphaned at birth he never learnt to read or write, he was an affectionate adopted child, an honest trader, a loving husband, a kind father, a caring neighbour, a great warrior and a general, a just judge and law-giver, an enlightened statesman, a faithful friend and above all a prophet and preacher of the word of God. His life was indeed remarkable as in its span of 63 years he experienced poverty, riches, failure, success, from being a solitary voice for justice and peace to having unquestioned power, from persecution to kingly authority.
The following pertinent verses were revealed to Muhammad (saw) by God and are contained in the Qur’an.
Respect for all religions: [2:63] Surely, the Believers, and the Jews, and the Christians and the Sabians (i.e. all other religions believing in one God) – whichever party from among these truly believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds — shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.
Humanity: [16:91] Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.
Belief in all prophets: [2:286] “all of them (the believers) believe in Allah, and in His angels, and in His Books, and in His Messengers, saying, ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers;”
Truth: [4:136]“[4:136] O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do.”
A film depicting the Prophet Muhammad (saw) as a fraud, womanizer and child molester is contrary to all that was revealed to him and the way he lived his life. There is sheer need making laws at international level to protect the respect of holy personages of religions to avoid hatred that widens chasms between people, countries and religions. And aim should be to diminish rather terminate the chances of such happening in future.
Surely individuals who disturb the religious sensitivities of others are not loyal citizens and it is incomprehensible that their actions should be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech.