The Saudi Council of Senior Scholars said in a statement Sunday that insulting religious prophets will only “serve extremists” amid a wave of anger in the Islamic world over statements by French President Emmanuel Macron on Islam and expressing support for the publication of cartoons that were viewed as deeply insulting to many in the Muslim world.
“Insulting prophets and messengers, may God’s prayers and peace be upon them, will not harm God’s prophets and messengers, but rather serve extremists who want to spread a climate of hatred,” the general secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars said in its statement.
“The duty of wise people all around the world… is to condemn such insults which have nothing to do with freedom of thought and expression and are nothing more than pure prejudice and a free service for extremists,” the council added in its statement.
The council highlighted that Islam prohibits any disparagement of any of God’s prophets and urged Muslims to follow the example of Prophet Mohammed, citing “his mercy, justice, tolerance and working for the good of all humanity.”
The statement comes amid controversy over the use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a French school class on freedom of expression. The teacher who used the cartoons in the lesson was murdered by an 18-year-old extremist of Chechen descent.
Controversy grew when the cartoons were republished and posted on the outside walls of official buildings in France in the aftermath of the teacher’s death. One of the cartoons depicted a naked man supposed to represent the Prophet Mohammed.
In a speech earlier last week, Macron criticised Islamists and defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet. Macron also referred to the slain teacher, Samuel Paty, as a hero who was a “victim of an Islamist terrorist attack.”
“We will not give up cartoons,” the French president said in a ceremony to honour the teacher last week. “He was killed because Islamists want our future…they will never have it.”
Macron’s remarks have sparked renewed debate about religious tolerance and spurred many leaders in the Islamic world to stress the importance of respecting their religion, even while condemning Paty’s murder.
In Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, a hashtag calling for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour was trending on Sunday.
The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, condemned the “ongoing practice of running satirical caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad” on Sunday and said they “will continue to decry justification for blasphemy of any religion in the name of freedom of expression.”
The organisation previously condemned the slaying of the French teacher and reiterated its “well-known position of rejecting all forms of extremism, radicalisation and terrorism for any reason or motive.”
The teacher’s murder came after he showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on free speech, infuriating a father who led an online campaign against the teacher and was in contact with the 18-year-old killer in the lead-up to the crime, an investigation revealed.
Soon after the gruesome incident, the suspect in the killing, Abdullakh Anzorov, posted images of the decapitated teacher’s body on Twitter before he was shot to death by police.
The teacher’s slaying, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism, came as the French government works on a planned law to fight community “separatism,” notably by Islamist radicals that Macron claims have created a parallel society counter to French values.