The months of May and June have been filled with fear and anxiety for minority Christians in Pakistan and India. Concerns about potential attacks increased after the release of a movie that depicts the life of Fatimah, the daughter Islam’s prophet Muhammed as per the Shi’ah (a sect of Islam) perspective.
Sunni protestors forced the termination of scheduled showings of the movie in Vue and Cineworld cinema’s during extremely vitriolic rallies. Read more (here)
Bolton News filmed one protest – there were many across the UK.
These protests followed a huge Islamic backlash after comments made by an Indian politician about the relationship between Muhammed and his wife Aisha during a live and heated televised debate. The debate was on the discovery of ancient Shivling (Hindu Idols) in a mosque in the Gyanvapi complex [Location of famous mosque and temple in Varanasi Uttar Pradesh]. During the debate a Muslim commentator began insulting Hinduism and in anger BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma retaliated with equally denigrating comments based on Muhammed’s personal life. You can learn more (here)
Five Arab nations, Pakistan and Afghanistan lodged official protests against the comments deemed to be blasphemous. Ambassadors for India in each of these countries and many other Muslim nations who later protested were involved in serious diplomatic discussions that eventually led to the dismissal of the Indian politicians involved. Read more (here).
We asked Imam Dr Taj Hargey what he thought about these two incidents, he said:
“This past week, there have been disturbing news illustrating traditional Islam’s relentless intolerance and sanctimonious bigotry.
“First, several repressive Muslim nations demanded that India apologises for denigrating comments made about the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aishah.
“The second more concerning report confirms that British cinema chains have yielded to mob pressure by cancelling the screening of a sectarian depiction about the early origins of Islam.
“Both incidents highlight the non-Qur’anic hypocrisy of Islam’s ecclesiastical establishment.”
“While there is no denying that Narendra Modi’s Hindu ultra-nationalist party oppresses Indian Muslims, the two BJP officials were merely citing from the ‘revered’ hadith, (the manufactured sayings of Muhammad), that Islam’s founder had indeed consummated marriage with nine-year-old Aishah.
“Why are orthodox Muslims, who blindly follow the reputed hadith, offended when their opponents use ‘genuine’ Islamic literature against them?
Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has asked India to not apologise for stating the truth (click here) – had circumstances been different we would have agreed with him. But these comments have not been used in a religious debate but in anger at the upset caused by Muslims who were equally harsh about MP Sharma’s religion. Many of the people involved in the televised debate over potential Shivling found in the Gyanvapi complex need to apologise to one another for offence caused.
It is felt by many Christian commentators that animosity that has been created by the Indian MP Nupal Sharma’s flippant comment and the release of Lady of heaven will spill out. It is inevitable that Christians the weakest and smallest of the Abrahamic faith minorities in both nations, will find themselves caught up in the anger. In 2012 threats to burn a Quran made by Pastor Terry from the US, resulted in the burning of a Church and Christian school in Mardan, Pakistan. Read more (here).
Christians in both these nations are viewed with suspicion and are often deemed as agents of the west in both highly intolerant countries. They are also easier targets at whom to vent frustration against because their small enclaves are less resilient to violence. Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for BACA who studied her Humanities degree at Lahore University, which included Islamiat, said:
“Modern day Muslims are very defensive about this matter and generally will not discuss it.
“I first hand have seen a Christian Pastor in Ilford almost throttled to death because he mentioned the tender age of Aisha when she was married.
“Early intervention by local police rescued him from a worse fate.
“This event occurred around 20 years ago and I am sure if the same thing happened today, we would be learning about another London stabbing. “
Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has asked India to not apologise for stating the truth and had circumstances been different I would have agreed with him. But these comments have not been used in a religious debate but in anger at the upset caused by Muslims who were equally harsh about MP Sharma’s religion to her. Many of the people involved in the televised debate over potential Shivling found in the Gyanvapi complex [Location of famous mosque and Temple in Varanasi Uttar Pradesh] need to apologise to one another for offence caused.
The release of the movie ‘Lady of Heaven’ has exacerbated Muslim angst though mainly felt by members of the Sunni sect. The film portrays the caliphs who succeeded Muhammed as usurpers responsible for the death of his daughter Fatimah. Though this is a belief held by Shi’ah Muslims those of Sunni a Sunni background hold very different views. Offence was also caused by the depiction of Muhammed and Fatimah’s face in the movie, even though by blurry CGI – to many Muslims any depiction is a violation of Islamic laws.
Non-Muslim people around the world have become used to protests by Muslim antagonists attempting to censor against deemed blasphemous in text or image that offends Islamic belief. But these protests have been unusual as they have been Muslim sect v Muslim sect.
Media publications around the globe covered the protests and the cancellation of showings. Their main concern was expressly around the limiting of freedom of speech and we agree with them on this point. However, there is a large community of Shia Muslims globally who have been hurt by these protests a point that seems to have been overlooked.
There are millions of Shia Muslims in this world – many here in the UK. If we are a nation that believes in freedom of religion and freedom of speech then of course this ground-breaking movie should be in cinemas. We asked Imam Dr Taj Hargey a Shi’ah leader how he felt about the cancellation of the shows, he said:
“This is hugely problematic for compelling secular and religious reasons.
“Is it ever right that intimidation and prospects of violence can subvert the hallowed principle of free expression?
“If the majority Sunni Muslims disagree with minority Shi’ah interpretations of the faith, they should just boycott the film.
Moreover, to claim that the Lady of Heaven is ‘blasphemous’ is simply preposterous as this is a clergy-invented doctrine that violates the Qur’an’s promotion of free speech and personal liberty.”
We find ourselves agreeing with Imam Dr Taj Hargey. By denying this movie airtime we as a collective body of UK citizens are causing an affront to their rights of freedom of belief. Cineworld and Vue have a duty to balance freedom of speech versus freedom of belief. Sadly they will have demoralised the UK Shia Muslim community and have clearly capitulated to an army of haters.
However, we feel we must add that with the limited police support that was given to Cinemas that were screening the film, we understand their reasons for caving in to these demands. The sheer level of threats of violence and destruction that were received by Cineworld and Vue was frightening. Moreover, examples of terrorism that took place in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo depictions remind us of how dangerous it is to cross those who adhere to more radical forms of Islam. Large corporate organisations simply want to earn a profit, it makes no sense pursuing further viewings which could have resulted in great tragedy.
It is concerning that despite years of prevent strategy and other counter-radicalisation programmes, we seem no closer to a peaceful Britain then when we first began. When a movie is produced that attacks the Christian faith it is painful, but Christians do not protest with such venom and certainly very few protesters, if any, threaten death or violent attacks. More has to be done to eradicate the fundamentalism that still seems to manifest amongst some Islamic believers.
If we believe in a divine being that can create the entire earth and all its people, who is responsible for the magnitude of space – then let him judge. An omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God does not need men to defend Him, He is more than capable of defending Himself.
Imam Dr Taj Hargey, said:
“Until and unless Muslims jettison the toxic trio of fabricated sources like the hadith (reputed statements of Muhammad), shari’ah (medieval opinions) and fatwahs (clerical views), they will be subject to expedient hypocrisy and double standards for not heeding the Qur’an alone and following fallible man-made texts blindly.”
We have been asked if the subject of Aisha’s relationship with Muhammed is useful in Evangelism – our thoughts on the matter are mixed.
Without a doubt the subject is one that causes great anger and can erupt in violence. So clearly, this would not be a wise point of discussion during street evangelism. However, if you have been witnessing to a Muslim for some time then sharing the truth about religious characters they have misunderstood becomes more relevant.
Early witness should test their understanding of Jesus who is mentioned in the Quran 25 times compared to Muhammed’s 4 mentions. In the Quran it’s Jesus who returns to the earth one day before judgement. The Quran even say’s on that day no-one will deny he is the prophet of Allah. Using the clear example of the importance of Jesus in the Muslim faith, should help those witnessing speak of the real revelation of Christ; his love, his sacrifice and how he is the true and only key to salvation.
We have also been asked; When Sunnis and Shiites argue with each other, is it an opportunity for witness? For peace-making?
We don’t believe there is a day that we should close the door to witnessing. Those who are interested in witnessing opportunities, need to be aware that to bring peace to the situation will be hard while emotions ride so high. Certainly we should be praying for all Muslims especially in regards to discernment and a return of peaceful relations during these difficult times.
When witnessing to anyone you must show love, care and attention. Share the Gospel, talk about the wonderful things God does in your lives. If the opportunity arises gift a Bible it is amazing how powerful a tool the Bible is – it continues to transform lives today.
In many cases, simply reading the scripture has been the pathway for a Muslim to find faith in Jesus Christ.
Most of all pray for those who you are witnessing to and remember that your work is not complete once that person finds faith. Muslims and Hindu’s will often be shunned by their families and communities after quitting their faith, be ready to fill the void.
British Asian Christian Association, continues to work with communities to promote interfaith harmony and to speak out against dangerous radicalisation. You can donate towards our work (here).