Part II: Religious Leaders on Anti-Islam Film
By Garrett Nada
On Sept. 9, the Salafi preacher and television host Sheikh Khalid Abdullah aired a YouTube clip of the "Innocence of Muslims" film on satellite channel al Nas. Religious leaders across the region condemned the film's offensive content. High-ranking clerics in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere called for restraint after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya on Sept. 11. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood called for peaceful nationwide protests on Sept. 14.
Ultraconservative Salafis were divided in their response to the film. Lebanese Sheikh Ahmad al Assir, cautioned against violent acts that would "harm the image of Islam." But Tunisian Sheikh Sayf Allah ben Hussayn allegedly incited the demonstration that led to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and burning of an American school. He is believed to be the head of Ansar al Sharia - a group that encourages jihad abroad and uses intimidation tactics in Tunisia.
A small number of jihadi groups, including Hezbollah and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, called on Muslims to take revenge on the United States for allowing the film to be posted online.
The following are reactions by leading clerics to the controversial film.
Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa
Highest Sunni authority on Islamic law in Egypt
“I was one of the first to warn about the dangers of this film. In a statement to the Muslim world, I asked people to deal with the situation the way the Prophet Mohamed dealt with issues, through patience and wisdom…I call for implementation of laws and resisting the spread of hatred, to cooperate among each other against violence, against terrorism, against killing and against confrontations...
This is not freedom of speech, this is an attack on humanity, (an) attack on religions, and (an) attack on human rights...To then insist on igniting these simmering tensions by publishing hurtful and insulting material in a foolhardy attempt at bravado - asserting the superiority of Western freedoms over alleged Muslim closed-mindedness - verges on incitement.”—in an interview with CNN aired on Sept. 23
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al Sheikh
Highest Sunni religious official in Saudi Arabia
“If Muslims surrender to anger, they will achieve the objectives of those who are behind the production of this offensive movie… Muslims should not let their anger lead them to kill innocent people and attack public facilities…Such acts go against the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon Him) and are deplorable.” – Sept. 15
Sheikh Ahmad al Assir
Salafi leader in Sidon, Lebanon
“Whoever is behind this offensive act against Muslims does not represent Christians. This film was made by Zionists with the aim of sowing strife between Muslims and Christians…We do not want our emotions to take us to the wrong place, thus committing acts that harm the image of Islam and serve the agenda of our enemies.” – Sept. 14
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
Secretary General of the Shiite organization Hezbollah in Lebanon
“I think what is happening is more serious than burning Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, and keeping silent over the level of insulting against the Messenger of Allah is a very dangerous matter…Those who made the movie knew that the Muslims would be enraged by it, and attributed it to Christians to cause strife between Muslims and Christians. Israel wants to watch Muslims killing Christians and burning their Churches...
The United States must realize that broadcasting the entire film will have very dangerous repercussions in the world...Those who insult the Prophet Mohammed will suffer a holy punishment.” – Sept. 17
Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi
Egyptian Sunni scholar and Chairman of the International Union of Ulema in Qatar
“Our manner of protesting should reflect sense and reason. We cannot throw the blame on the United States as a whole. Nor should we physically attack the US embassies in our region… Loyalty to Islam and our prophet, may peace be upon him, is better done through explaining to humanity how tolerant Islam is, and not through surrounding embassies." – Sept. 14
Sheikh Rachid al Ghannouchi
Sunni leader of the Ennahda political party in Tunisia
“Each time that parties or groups overstep our freedoms in a flagrant manner, we have to be tough, clamp down and insist on public order…These people pose a threat not only to Ennahda but to the country's freedoms and security…By writing novels, by making films, songs, works of art (they can) present Islamic civilization in a favorable light, instead of these negative acts, of screaming and violence, which do not serve Islam but rather its enemies.” –in an interview with AFP published on Sept. 20
Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb
Sunni Grand Imam of al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt
The sheikh called on “Egyptians in these trying times [to show] wisdom and restraint.” He proposed the drafting of a U.N. resolution to “criminalize attacks on Islamic symbols and on those of other religions, after the violence against those who provoked challenges to world peace and international security.” –Sept. 15.
Popular Sunni televangelist in Egypt
“We will…put pressure on Western governments, and the United States, to stop this ongoing criminal activity. We at the same time, do not agree with killing oneself…we also do not agree with the storming of the embassies of countries.” –Sept. 13
“I reject all forms of expression which kill or burn or storm or break into embassies…We want co-existence…but the question is how to be tolerant people [while] we do not take steps to defend our Prophet, peace be upon Him, within the framework of coexistence.” –in an interview with MBC on Sept. 15