NICE, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' Muslim dialogue partner Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb has demanded an international law banning criticizing or insulting Islam — a day before three Catholics were slaughtered in Nice's Notre-Dame Basilica.
Al-Tayyeb, who signed the Abu Dhabi Human Fraternity pact with Pope Francis, said the republication of Muhammad cartoons by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in early September were "an explicit act of hostility" against Islam and its prophet.
"Cartoons insulting our great prophet, which are promoted by some newspapers, magazines and even some policies, are absurd. They are a break from all moral restrictions, international customs and general law," the grand imam of al-Azhar announced at a ceremony in Egypt to celebrate Muhammad's birthday.
Islam prescribes the death penalty for those who insult or mock the religion's founder following Ibn Taymiyya's landmark legal treatise Kitāb al-ṣārim al-maslūl ʿalā shātim al-Rasūl, stipulating that anyone "who curses (sabba) the Prophet Muhammad must be killed without further recourse."
However, in a Friday interview with Italian bishops' leftwing newspaper Avvenire, the grand imam's representative and secretary general of Pope Francis' Higher Committee of the Human Fraternity, Mohamed Abdesalam Abdellatif, insisted that the jihadi was persuaded to kill Catholics by those "promoting an erroneous interpretation of the sacred texts."
"It is not freedom of expression to hurt the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims. But I strongly urge French Muslims not to fall into the trap of violence," he added.
Calling the cartoons "a form of extremism," Abdellatif stressed that the attack would not "jeopardize the dialogue" between Pope Francis and Ahmad al-Tayyeb as "the leaders of the two faiths and believers are very clear that it is not religions that cause violence but their manipulation."
Distinguished Islamic scholar Robert Spencer spoke to Church Militant, explaining why the claims made by Ahmad al-Tayyeb and the grand imam are yet another attempt to deceive gullible Westerners.
Islam mandates death for non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state who mention "something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), or Islam" ('Umdat al-Salik, o11.10), and such laws are based upon passages in the Hadith and Sira in which Muhammad orders the murders of people who have insulted him.
Unfortunately, the murders in the church are justified by numerous Islamic texts, including three Qur'an passages that instruct believers to "kill them wherever you find them" (2:191, 4:89; cf. 9:5) and tenets of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madhahib) regarding the obligation to wage war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law."
The author of 21 books on Islam elaborated:
The death penalty for blasphemy is also enshrined in Islamic law, which is why al-Tayyeb is calling for an international law against criticizing Islam: He is attempting to compel the world at large to adopt Islamic blasphemy laws.
His call is evidence in itself that what Abdellatif is saying is false: If there were no death penalty in Islam for blasphemy, and Islam were as tolerant as Pope Francis insists, there would not only be no killings such as those in the church, but there would be no need for an international law forbidding criticism of Islam. The jihad killings are an attempt to intimidate the West into thinking that adopting such laws would be prudent.
Shortly after the slaughter in the basilica, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad issued a string of tweets, stating: "Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past."
Not a single bishop has thus far named Islamic teaching on blasphemy as the primary motivation behind Thursday's jihadi attack on worshippers in Notre-Dame.
Instead, a press statement issued by the Bishops' Conference of France described the jihadi attack as "terrorism."
"It is urgent that this gangrene be stopped, as it is urgent that we find the indispensable fraternity which will hold us all upright in the face of these threats," the French bishops said.
The Italian bishops' newspaper Avvenire defended the pope's policy of open borders and labeled "right-wing" Italian politicians "vultures" for preying on the tragedy after disclosures that the 21-year-old assailant, Brahim Aoussaoui, was a Tunisian illegal immigrant who was expelled by Italy and illegally escaped to France.
"Welcoming [migrants] has nothing to do with it," the Italian bishops asserted.
Andrea Riccardi, Italian historian and founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio — Italy's prime body behind Pope Francis' promoter of Catholic-Muslim dialogue — doubled down, insisting that the jihadi attack only served to demonstrate to "the pope and the Church how it cannot be closed to refugees."
"Instead, too often, the door has been closed and illegality has been allowed to flourish," Riccardi lamented, appearing to chorus with the Italian bishops how such incidents may have been prevented if Muslim migrants were made to feel more welcome in Italy.
Downplaying the killer as a "lone wolf" attacking with "a criminal and insane action," the Italian bishops expressed "solidarity in prayer to the French Catholic community." They said the faithful are reassured "by a large majority of people of different religions who, on a daily basis, bear witness in peace to the joyful experience of fraternity in multiculturalism."
France is mourning the three victims, including father-of-two sacristan Vincent Loquès (54) and Brazilian-born mother-of-three Simone Barreto Silva (44), who had studied cooking in Nice and helped poor communities in the parish.
Police found a Qur'an, two unused knives, two mobile phones and a bag with personal effects on Aoussaoui's person.
France's anti-terrorism prosecutor said Aoussaoui reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, a key landing point for migrants crossing by sea from North Africa, on Sept. 20 and traveled to Bari, a port city in southern Italy, on Oct. 9, from which he traveled to Nice.
In September, Tunisian migrant Mahmoudi Ridha stabbed to death 51-year-old Fr. Roberto Malgesini in Piazza San Rocco in the center of Como in northern Italy.
Tunisians are now the most common nationality of illegal immigrants arriving in Italy and constitute over one-third of the 5,966 who made it to Italian shores in 2020.
In August, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese asked Tunisia to stop the "uncontrolled flow" of migrants, stressing that it was creating serious issues for Italy's health system.
In 2105, two armed jihadis killed 12 people, including Charlie Hebdo's staff, after the magazine published caricatures of Muhammad.
On Sept. 1, ahead of a trial for the 2015 mass shooting perpetrators, Charlie Hebdo announced it would republish Muhammad cartoons. The magazine has also lampooned other religions and political figures, including Christianity and recent popes.