Two days after two gunmen raided the offices of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and shot dead a dozen people including journalists and a police officer,

there was worldwide condemnation of what was termed as a terrorist attack on freedom of expression. Police accounts have it that Charlie Hebdo was attacked by two Muslim brothers, Cheriff and Said Kouchi, who were suspected of holding extremists beliefs against the satirical magazine for occasionally publishing offensive cartoons depicting the prophet of Islam Muhammad (SAW) in a satirical manner. In Kenya, a local television station would carry a captivating studio interview over the whole issue of the limits of freedom of expression with local panelists that included Godfrey Mwampembwa, a famous editorial cartoonist for the Daily Nation who goes by the penname ‘Gaddo’.

In his comments on the topic of the day with regard to the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Gaddo said that editorial cartoonists have a licence to offend. He pointed out that as much as he did not agree with the extent to which his professional colleagues at Charlie Hebdo would go in exercising their “right to offend”, he would, nonetheless, put his life on the line to defend their right to express themselves. Said he; “I don’t agree with some of the illustrations that Charlie Hebdo
published in exercising their right to offend especially with regard to various religions including Islam. We must not forget that they have also published extremely offensive cartoons against Christianity. However, I will always put my life on the line to defend their right to express themselves because I know that what we do as cartoonists is just meant for humour and has nothing personal in it against the people or institutions depicted in the cartoons.” In view of Gaddo’s position and in view of the fact that Charlie Hebdo has also published offensive cartoons against figures regarded as holy by other religions like Christianity without facing the kind of reappraisals visited upon them by the Kouchi brothers, the question is; are Muslims simply being intolerant and refusing to recognize the right to freedom of expression? In fact, the better question is; is Islam an intolerant religion?

We pose this question because events that have so far unfolded in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack leave little doubt in the minds of casual observers that Islam is, on face value, a very intolerant religion. Despite numerous voices of reason like the Council of Imams and Preachers (CIPK) convening a press conference in Mombasa to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo and pointing out that Islam does not teach or preach such kind of violence even in the most extreme of provocations, continued emotional and violent reactions in the Muslim world towards Charlie Hebdo leaves many non-Muslims persuaded that Islam is not the religion of peace that it claims to be. So far, there have been violent reactions in countries such as Niger and Pakistan where innocent Christian institutions such as Church sanctuaries have been attacked and set on fire by rioting Muslim youth.

Hence the question; is violence the appropriate response that Muslims can afford to any form of insults against the holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW)? The answer is certainly No!— Why? Because the holy Prophet (SAW) in his last sermon delivered to the people of Mecca and to all his followers before he died clarified that Muslims should fight and overcome evil by doing good and righteous deeds. In fact, the holy Prophet used his last sermon to clarify the poetic language used in the Holy Qur’an about the term ‘Jihad’ Many modern Muslim youth who are vulnerable and easily fall prey to violent extremism have been made to believe that the term ‘Jihad’ means ‘holy war.’ In this regard, violent extremism has taken root among modern Muslim societies because some scholars seem to have misinterpreted the meaning of the term ‘jihad’ to mean ‘holy war’ and that such holy war should be waged against any non-Muslim who acts or says something contrary to Islamic teachings.

But it is important to point out that the term ‘jihad’ does not mean ‘holy war’. Instead, the term in all its Arabic roots and meaning simply refers to ‘struggle.’ In fact, there is nowhere in the Holy Qur’an or teachings of the holy Prophet where the term ‘jihad’ has been translated to mean ‘holy war’. In this regard, the holy Prophet spent a considerable amount of time in his last sermon to clarify the nature of the struggle (jihad) that Muslims should engage in. He pointed out that a Muslim’s life should be spent in the struggle (jihad) against evil, and that the struggle against evil must always be in the form of doing good deeds as a way to overcome evil. This clearly points to the fact that, if Muslims felt that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons depicting the holy Prophet in a satirical manner were offensive and,
therefore, evil, the response to such ‘evil’ should NOT have been the kind of violence carried out by the Kouchi brothers.

Instead, offended Muslims should, as per the holy Prophet’s teaching on his last sermon, responded to such ‘evil’ by doing good and righteous deeds such as engaging the publishers of the cartoons in constructive dialogue and educating them on the need to respect other people’s faiths. Hence, by responding to ‘evil’ with ‘evil’, those of us among the Muslim community who attacked and maimed non-Muslims as a show of outrage against Charlie Hebdo must accept that we went against the teachings of our own holy Prophet, and should therefore seek repentance from the Almighty Allah. Indeed, if Muslims properly read and understood the Arabic language used in the Holy Qur’an, and followed the teachings of the holy Prophet (SAW) carefully and with sincerity, then the term ‘jihad’ should NEVER be misrepresented to mean ‘holy war’ against non-Muslims. We urge Muslims and non-Muslims alike to pay a visit to Jamia Mosque, Nairobi to read and learn for themselves from a well written and displayed plaque on the walls of the Mosque about the proper and correct meaning of the term ‘jihad’ as used in all Islamic teachings. Similarly, if Muslims across the world paid proper attention to the true and correct teachings of the holy Prophet on his last sermon, then they would NEVER visit any form of violence against anyone in the name of protecting Islam and the holy Prophet of Allah.


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