Melanie McDonagh

Liberals must rally round Maajid Nawaz

Liberals must rally round Maajid Nawaz
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Interesting, isn't it, this rather worrying statement from the Muslim body, MQI UK on the Mohammed cartoon affair. That, you recall, began when a member of a BBC TV audience showed  a cartoon image from a series called Jesus and Mo on his T-shirt depicting, er, Mohammed and Jesus. Nothing remotely offensive but a full-face depiction of Mohammed nonetheless. The image was duly tweeted by a participant on the programme,  Maajid Nawaz, former Islamist, one of the founders of the Quilliam Foundation and now a LibDem candidate for Kilburn, just to show why it was he wasn't offended by it and to stimulate debate about what is and isn't acceptable to Muslims.

The statement from MQI UK goes as follows:

'Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI)  has noted the controversy surrounding the tweeting of a cartoon portraying Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation, and the condemnations from various quarters. MQI wishes to make it clear that pictorial representations of any prophets of God (including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad) are prohibited by Islam, according to the majority scholarly opinion, as they detract from the sacred standing and highest esteem the Prophets hold within the religion, and they consequently cause deep offence to Muslims.

The founder of MQI, His Eminence Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, has always emphasised maintaining an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and the freedom to take religious offence.

A Minhaj-ul-Quran UK spokesman said "We call on Maajid Nawaz to apologise for his mistake of tweeting the cartoon. We urge people of whatever opinion, creed or religion they hold, to respect the boundaries of civil and respectful dialogue, and we condemn the death threats against Mr Nawaz. The strength of feeling demonstrated so far is in danger of polarising the community, which can only be detrimental to societal cohesion."'

Now MQI UK is a professedly moderate body - you'll note that it draws the line at death threats - but it takes issue with the pictorial representation of the prophet of Islam on principle and is calling on Mr Nawaz to apologise for the tweet. If moderate Muslim groups are condemning his dissemination of the image, even in order to demonstrate its innocuousness, then you have to reconsider just how liberal is liberal Islam.

The tweet made the point that the image is not calculatedly offensive, unless you consider any pictorial representation of Mohammed to be offensive. (And one thing the Danish cartoon controversy made clear is that there's more than one view about this in the Muslim tradition.) So, however you feel about this particular Lib Dem, I'd say that it's incumbent on the rest of us to rally round Mr Nawaz, beset as he is by genuine extremists, plus George Galloway, and unsupported by the kind of professedly moderate Muslim organisations which should have rallied round him. One hopes his party - though members' minds are possibly elsewhere right now - will have the gumption to do the same.