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British Muslims Call for Laws to Protect Muhammad, and Protest

9 February 2006

(Danish Cartoons)

Three hundred Islamic religious scholars in the UK are calling for changes in the law to stop publication of any images of Muhammad the prophet of Islam. They want amendments to the Race Relations Act to give Muslims the same protection as Sikhs and Jews. They also want the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to tighten their self-regulatory code of practice to prevent the publication of pictures of Muhammad.

The scholars gathered yesterday for an emergency meeting under the auspices of the Muslim Action Committee (MAC) at an Islamic Centre in Small Heath, Birmingham. Chairman, Shaikh Faiz Saddiqi, commented that it was the largest meeting of its kind which he remembered in 25 years living in the UK.

These calls come in the wake of international Muslim outrage about the publication of caricatures of Muhammad in Danish and other European newspapers.

Two More Rallies Planned to Protest Danish Cartoons

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the MAC are organising a protest rally in London on Saturday 18th February, and expect 20,000 to 50,000 people to attend. A week earlier, on Saturday 11th February, another protest rally, also responding to the Danish cartoons, is being called by Britain’s two largest Muslim groupings, the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the more radical Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). According to the MAB, “non-Muslim groups and figure-heads” will be joining the rally to be held this Saturday under the title “United Against Incitement and Islamophobia”.

Two Alarming Aspects

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments: “There are two very alarming aspects of the MAC’s demands. Firstly, we all have to accept the possibility of being offended, as part of the package of free speech. Why should there be different rules for Muslims compared with followers of other faiths? If we pass laws or even simply create a new PCC code of practice specifically to protect Muhammad, I fear it could prove to be the thin end of the wedge. From self-imposed censorship we could soon move to more serious situations. In Pakistan there has been a mandatory death sentence since 1991 for “defiling the name” of Muhammad. The irony is that in earlier centuries there were many Muslim pictures of Muhammad, some of which can be seen in museums both in the West and in the Muslim world.

“Secondly, I believe that the cartoons furore is being used as a pretext for another legal battle. It was only nine days ago that the House of Commons unexpectedly voted to pass the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in a form which does not provide the protection for Muslims which the government had intended. If the MAC are now calling for changes in the Race Relations Act, this seems to me an attempt to get themselves the privileged legal position the government had promised them by another method. It is nothing to do with the cartoons.

“I am totally opposed to attacks on Muslims or anyone else. We must protect people, but not ideas. I am therefore strongly opposed to any changes to exsiting legislation which already protects the whole population. I urge all readers to work to stop these changes from being implemented and to ensure that the level playing field is not tilted.”

Letter-Writing Campaign and More Information

Guidelines on how to write a letter on these issues will be on the Barnabas Fund website in a few hours time. [1]

Barnabas Fund will be providing further information as it becomes available.

[1] Guidelines on how to write a letter on these issues