Writing as a guest columnist for The Washington Post, Harris Zafar, national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, tells us the difference between Western and Islamic approaches to free speech. He notes that Islam seeks to avoid “separation and conflict — fitna — while the West tends to champion individual liberties. Even with this difference, however, Islam has excellent models of simply ignoring insulting speech, starting with the Prophet Mohammed himself.
While many celebrated the winter holidays, news broke of the arrest in Saudi Arabia of liberal writer Turki Al Hamad for allegedly insulting Islam on Twitter. We also heard of another Saudi activist, Raif Badawi, who was arrested in June and will now continue with his trial, accused of apostasy for ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s religious police and making other comments that officials found insulting. These incidents have re-ignited the age old debate about the use of freedom of speech, especially with regards to Islam.
The difference between Islam’s view on free speech and the view promoted by free speech advocates these days is the intention and ultimate goal each seeks to promote. Whereas many secularists champion individual privileges, Islam promotes the principle of uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people. Both endorse freedom for people to express themselves, but Islam promotes unity, whereas modern-day free speech advocates promote individualism.
Let me explain.