Muslim leaders says violence no answer to anti-Islam attacks

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
Published: April 01, 2008, 00:42

Cairo: Muslim clerics believe that neither violence nor a boycott of Western goods is the right answer to a perceived surge in an anti-Islam campaign.

“The West knows very little about Islam and its principles. So the best way to reverse the so-called Islamophobia is to enter into a dynamic dialogue with the West,” said Abdul Sabour Chahin, a noted Muslim scholar.

“We have to let the non-Muslims get exposed to the genuine tenets of Islam so as to learn about its tolerance and moderation,” he told Gulf News.

Chahin, a professor of Islamic studies at Cairo University, was speaking a few days after Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders angered Muslims around the world by releasing his anti-Islam film Fitna.

The 15-minute documentary, posted on the Internet last Thursday, accuses Quran of inciting violence.

“Officially, Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country of 76 million, greeted the Dutch film with condemnation. “Fitna hurts the feelings of more than one billion Muslims around the world,” the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Geit said. “The film reflects deep ignorance of Islam’s principles,” he added.

In 2006, Muslim Egyptians reacted angrily to the publication in Danish newspapers of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

A campaign calling for a boycott of Danish goods was also mounted. No such reaction is reported this time.

“Violent demonstrations will lead to nothing, but to clashes between the protesters and the local police,” warned Chahin. “This would just reinforce the negative stereotyping of the Muslims in the West.”

Agreeing, Suad Saleh, a prominent Muslim TV preacher, called for ignoring the Dutch film altogether.

“The Muslims should react in a way becoming of their religion as a faith of peace,” Saleh told the independent newspaper Al Masri Al Youm. “Violence will give foes of Islam the chance to assault it time and again.”

Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, however, roundly criticised Wilders’ film and demanded that the Dutch government ban it. “We cannot remain silent,” Mohammad Saeed Tantawi, the Shaikh of Al Azhar, was quoted as saying in the local press. “Stop it or the results would be disastrous.”

A delegation from a Dutch non-government association visiting Egypt last week said Dutch law guaranteed freedom of speech.

“Legally, it is difficult to prevent the release of a film in the Netherlands,” Bas Plaisier, head of the delegation, told reporters in Cairo.

“What we can do is to ask Wilders to use freedom of speech in a way that does not hurt or insult people,” added Plaisier, who is the Secretary-General of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

The Dutch foreign minister met ambassadors from Muslim countries in Amsterdam yesterday to try to cool tempers over a film by a Dutch lawmaker critical of the Quran and ask for protection for Dutch citizens and property.

Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched his short video on the Internet on Thursday, mixing images of Islamist bombings with quotations from the Muslim holy book, prompting a stream of condemnation from the Islamic world.

But reaction to the film was more restrained compared with the violence in 2006 that followed the publication in Europe of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), when more than 50 people were killed in riots in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

“I am pleased with the muted reactions that we have received so far from the Muslim world,” Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a statement. “But the rhetoric in some countries shows that we need to remain alert.”

Verhagen said he had told the ambassadors from 26 countries, including Iran and Indonesia, that the film in no way reflected the views of the Dutch government and called on the diplomats to make sure that Dutch interests abroad were protected.

“We are aware of the concerns and feelings in the international Muslim community about this film. But injured feelings should never be an excuse for aggression and threats,” he said. “Let us keep a cool head and warm relations.”

– Reuters –

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