MINAB condemns the heinous killing of innocent people at the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice. Places of worship are holy sites where worshippers should feel safe and secure.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed reciprocal violence between communities in France. The murder of a teacher Samuel Paty, the stabbing of two Muslim women by the Eiffel Tower, and the atrocious attacks in Nice and Avignon have caused considerable anguish and unrest in communities across the world. We stand united against any form of violence towards innocent people.

While we uphold and vehemently defend the right to freedom of speech as a core tenet of democratic values, the disrespectful and derogatory caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) serve not to promote this right, but simply to promote hatred and sustain schisms throughout society. It is instead an extension of the Islamophobia that French Muslims, unfortunately, witness on a daily basis.

As members of our respective societies, we all have a responsibility to not harm others, not only physical pain but emotional too. The pain that has been caused to billions of Muslims throughout the world due to the irresponsible decisions made by a few publishers and political leadership can only be understood from a faith perspective. In fact, it is universal within Islam to love and honour our Prophet (PBUH) more than we love ourselves and our own families.

Whilst this does not justify any form of violence, we would implore political leadership and people from all communities to use freedom of speech as a tool to promote peace, cohesion and understanding in society. It should be used to build bridges and strengthen inter-communal ties rather than “punching down”, which does nothing but to alienate those already marginalised. Extremists look to divide us but we must not play into their hateful rhetoric.

Amidst escalating tensions in France, we urge the French Government to treat all its citizens equally and fairly, irrespective of their religious affiliation. Positive steps must be taken to bring communities together, and not allow the forces of populism to undermine the rights of a minority group in France.

The caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have indeed caused us Muslims deep pain and hurt as we celebrate the blessed Mawlid an-Nabawi, the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad (PBUH). But we must remember that the Prophet was a paragon of tolerance, compassion and forgiveness. In turn, when we defend the Prophet’s honour we should do so by emulating him with our tolerance, compassion and forgiveness.