Qari Asim: Free Speech and Challenging Hatred

In response to an article in the Sunday Times [9 February 2020] querying Imam Qari Asim’s position on free speech, Qari Asim has made the following comments:

‘My views on freedom of speech are misrepresented and taken out of context in the article in The Sunday Times, dated 9 February 2020.

I greatly value free speech and am fully committed to protecting it.

The answer to Trevor Phillips’ question is very simple: I do not support restrictions on free speech. The purpose of the definition of anti-muslim prejudice will be to defend free speech, while challenging hate speech. The critique of political and theological ideas must be defended while drawing a clear line when it comes to hatred against Muslims for being Muslim.

The work done to tackle anti-Semitic hatred, while protecting free speech, use a useful guide to the principles we should apply to anti-muslim hatred. We need to build the strongest possible consensus – and I look forward to meeting Trevor Phillips personally to hear his views on how we can achieve this goal, just as I have engaged with many others.

In the academic seminar at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies at which I was quoted speaking, I was setting out the history of Muslim jurisprudence, critiquing the arguments of those who claim that “Man-made Laws” should not be followed, and setting out the resources in Islamic thought which have been deployed to underpin the obligation on Muslims to uphold the rule of law in the country in which they are living.

In the brief comments on freedom of speech, I say that it is cherished value – while pointing out that some Muslims are torn on issues such as blasphemy. I was reporting that this view is held by some people, but I was not advocating it; offence is part of living in a free society. Britain no longer has blasphemy laws – and of course they would be entirely unworkable in a multi-faith and secular society – and an unacceptable restriction on free speech.

My own view is that we need to challenge hatred – but that it is inevitable that sometimes people will be offended by the free speech of others.

I pointed out during the seminar that for Muslims, as for those of other faiths, many of the social changes in a liberal and secular society have been challenging. I spoke about how views on these questions differ markedly across generations. While views within faith communities have evolved at a difference pace, I argued that minority communities will have to adapt to the social reality.’

Imam Qari Asim, MBE.

Senior Editor, Imams Online.

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