The Muslim community has the right to respond to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but must do so “through the pen and through the voice”, and never through violence, a leading Galway Imam stated this week.
Ibrahim Noonan, Imam of the Galway Ahmadiyya Muslim community, is calling on Muslims to “show tolerance and patience” as cartoons depicting Muhammad are expected to appear in Irish newspapers and magazines and across the internet following the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staff in France.
Imam Noonan said the Galway Muslim community is “in agreement that the killing of journalists and cartoonists is absolutely unacceptable” and that there are “no words to covey the disbelief we feel at what has happened”.
An international issue of Charlie Hebdo went on sale this week with much speculation that there would be copies available in Ireland through Easons, including through it's Galway branch on Sop Street. Imam Noonan said he does not want to see any Galway Muslims “going into the store and kicking up a fuss about it”, should copies of Charlie Hebdo be on display.However in a statement issued by Easons, the company said "Eason has never stocked the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and has no plans to in the future."
“We need to be tolerant and have patience,” Imam Noonan told the Galway Advertiser. “The cartoons will hurt Muslims but my advice is don’t look at them. These cartoons are going to happen, there will be more of them, and we’re going to have to accept that. There are many verses in The Qur’an that urge steadfastness in the face of abuse.”
Cartoons ridiculing Muhammad are deeply offensive to Muslims and Imam Noonan is equally adamant that Muslims have a right to reply to what the community sees as “a form of bullying” and “one that has been continuous over the last number of years, with no sigh of stopping”.
“We do not have the right to react physically or violently to the publication of such cartoons,” Imam Noonan said. “We do have the right to react through the pen and with the voice. Such cartoons will become more frequent, we will have to learn to live with that, but we must also put forward our reasons as to why they are offensive.”
Imam Noonan describes the Prophet as “sacred to Muslims”. “If someone was to go into Galway Cathedral and smash the Tabernacle and destroy the Eucharist, that would be seen by many as disrespectful and wrong. That is the equivalent for us of cartoons of the Prophet.”
The Imam has also questioned the need of some cartoonists to depict Muhammad and what the intentions are behind such cartoons.
“Cartoonists do have a responsibility as well,” he said. “If the intention is to instil anger in Muslims then that is irresponsible. If it is a cartoon calling for Islam to be more tolerant of the gay community, that is different, and the Muslim community will have to deal with that, but why show Muhammad kissing a man? Why not draw a general picture depicting a Muslim? Also, why are there not drawings satirising Islamic State and the terrible things they are doing?”
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons have created “discussion and reflection” within the Galway Muslim community, about how to respond to cartoons of Muhammad, and for Imams the challenge is to give voice to anger, but also ensure that reaction is measured and responsible.
“For the younger generation, some as young as eight, they are asking about Charlie Hebdo,” says Imam Noonan. “I have to explain it to them, but infuse tolerance within them so that they will not be intolerant in later life. For those in their teens and twenties, some are not bothered by the cartoons, others are very offended. The older generation are angered by the cartoons. It’s about asking all to be tolerant and ensuring that we also have a right of reply.”