Is it really necessary to include images of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when teaching about blasphemy?

We should all be troubled by the use of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) at Batley Grammar School last week, and should reflect on how we respond to the matter. Are we indifferent to an action that knowingly offends the nearly 2 billion Muslims with which we share the planet? Or are we ignorant of the sensitivities of a quarter of the world’s population? 

Equally troubling is community secretary Robert Jenrick’s comments on BBC News that “it must be right that a teacher can appropriately show images of the Prophet Muhammad in a free society”. As many are aware, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is beloved by Muslims, his life and teachings deeply enrich their lives, and pictorial representations of him are forbidden within the faith. It can never be “appropriate” to show his image.  

Cartoon depictions are considered to be particularly disparaging and demeaning, and inevitably provoke a strong reaction from Muslims. No right-thinking person, Muslim or otherwise, believes that intimidation and violence have any place in this issue, but, as mindful citizens, we should recognise that certain matters require careful handling and special consideration.   

This is not an issue of censorship or free speech, it is one of consideration towards the sensitivities of others. In a globalised world, in which the UK is determined to be a key player, it is incumbent upon us to be respectful to the beliefs of other cultures and religious groups, even if we do not understand or agree with them.   

The bottom line is that it is not necessary to include images of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when teaching the topic of blasphemy – discussion would suffice. It is therefore unsurprising that showing cartoons of the Prophet, in the UK or elsewhere, is perceived by Muslims to be a deliberate provocation. 

By Carolyn Edwards

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