One of the most important Sunni Muslim institutions in the world, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, has condemned the showing of the blasphemous cartoon of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by a teacher at Batley Grammar School.
The statement by Al-Azhar, issued by its affiliate the Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism, represents the first major international intervention by a Muslim institution or state in the controversy.
It calls the act an “abomination” which will “sow hatred” and demands that perpetrators of such acts be “criminalised.”
Al Azhar “strongly deprecates showing satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by a teacher at Batley Grammar school in Britain, asserting that such heinous acts of hatred provoke the feelings of more than 2 billion Muslims around the world,” the statement reads.
“The Observatory stresses the abomination of this act which has been committed at a time when the whole world is afflicted by COVID-19 and all people are affected by its consequences. In this context, the observatory warns against those who always bide their time before they find a chance to sow malevolence and hatred and diminish principles of tolerance and acceptance of others among people.
“Moreover, the Observatory reiterates that such disgraceful acts helps in provoking the feelings of others under the pretense of freedom of speech. With that said, the Observatory expresses its deep sadness and rejection for the repetition of such heinous acts which necessitate the concerned entities to take action. It also calls for enacting new legislations to criminalise the perpetrators of those crimes and those who fan the flames of hatred and racism under the disguise of freedom of speech.”
Meanwhile, two petitions calling for the reinstatement and sacking of the teacher have been signed by thousands of people.
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The petition in support of the teacher, which was allegedly started by a Batley Grammar School pupil, has been signed by over 60,000 people.
It says: “The RS Teacher was trying to educate students about racism and blasphemy. He warned the students before showing the images and he had the intent to educate them. He does not deserve such large repercussions. He is not racist and did not support the Islamiphobic cartoons in any manner. This has got out of hand and due to this, students have missed out on lessons because of ‘peaceful’ protestors.”
On the other hand, the petition calling for the teacher to be sacked has reached 25,000 signatories.
It says: “As a teacher of RE he would have known that any attempted depiction of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him is unacceptable to Muslims and that love and honour of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him is a fundamental part of Islamic belief. No doubt as a teacher of RE he would have been familiar with the immense harm caused to Muslims worldwide by the Charlie Hebdo publication. This action of his has caused immense pain to Muslims not only in Batley or the UK alone but across the globe.
“We understand an official apology has been made by Batley Grammar school but believe that actions not only breach professional standards but show a blatant disregard for the sentiments of Muslims… In light of this we believe the governing body should remove him from his position as a teacher in the school. This will be something towards repairing the terrible damage that he has done to community cohesion.”