By Imam Murtadha Gusau

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious and Most Merciful

All praise belongs to Allah. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Final Messenger, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), his family and his companions.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is important for us as Muslims to be aware of what is happening to Muslims not only locally but also around the world – both near and far. Muslims are one body, and our strength comes from our unity. Al-Nu’man Ibn Bashir reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

It is important for us as Muslims to understand why things are happening around the world. We should learn to look past the sensationalist speeches so that we can properly understand what is happening and how we need to respond. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“They plotted, and Allah planned, but Allah is the Best of planners.” [Qur’an, 3:54]

What has been happening during the last few days and weeks in France and other places has saddened and shocked Muslims around the world.

Last week, three people were killed in Nice in France. Two weeks ago two sisters in Hijab were knifed beneath the Eiffel Tower. Two days before that a teacher Samuel Paty, was killed in France for showing cartoons of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to his pupils. None of these killings and attacks can be condoned.

Furthermore, it is unbelievable and childish for the French president Macron to take the unfortunate murder of the teacher and use it to re-publish the demeaning and derogatory cartoons of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and to further display the cartoons on the largest buildings in France – and then to criminalise anyone who criticises this action – all in the name of freedom of expression!

Let us call this what it is. It is double standards and has nothing to do with freedom of speech! What happened to freedom of speech when the 80-year-old Maurice Sinet, a cartoonist with Charlie Hebdo for 20 years, was fired in 2009 for his anti-Semitic cartoons mocking the relationship of former French President Sarkozy’s son with a wealthy Jewish woman?

This single act of criminality of the murder of the teacher is now being used to stigmatise ten million Muslims in France and collectively punish them. It is being used as an excuse to stoke racism and claim that Islam is in crisis! This murder was wrong, but its cause does not come from Islam and the books of fiqh. It comes from the anger of how France is treating millions of its citizens! This is not a justification – it is contextualisation!

These acts are hypocritical of France, a country that committed barbaric crimes against the nations it was occupying! In over 130 years of French occupation of Algeria, millions of people were killed – not one teacher, but millions – for daring to exercise their freedom! Algerian men, women, and children were slaughtered at the hands of the French colonialists.

This is part of a bigger plan to control Islam and Muslims, and it is part of Macron’s plan for re-election by appeasing the ever-growing far-right in France.

Sadly, you will be shocked to learn that the truth is: it wasn’t the murder of the teacher that began this crisis. On October 2nd 2020, two weeks before the murder of Paty, Macron announced a new set of laws “against separatisms”, which solely focused on policing and controlling Muslim communities. The plan, announced by Macron, included:

• Labelling of Imams (which would have to be approved by the Government).

• Powers granted to local authorities to dissolve Islamic organisations without any legal proceedings.

• Taxing the Hajj to finance “anti-radicalisation” programs.

• Prohibition of any non-religious activities for religious organisations.

• Coercive controls on all Islamic organisations through the use of security, tax, and legal inspections to close organisations that do not support the government, and,

• Criminalisation of organisations that combat Islamophobia.

Right now in France:

• 51 charities are currently being investigated, with a view to dissolving them.

• 72 schools, madrasas, and Muslim-owned businesses have been shut down already this year.

• The government wants to raid 123 Muslim homes and organisations – 56 raids have already been conducted. These have nothing to do with the killing – they are only there to “send a message”, according to the French Minister of the Interior.

The French government instrumentalised the murder of the teacher Samuel Paty for racist purposes. The government labelled two civil society organisations as “the enemy of the Republic.” The organisations were the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and BarakaCity.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) has a special status with the UN and is a key NGO within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. CCIF is widely respected by all of its partners across Europe and helps thousands of victims a year.

BarakaCity is a humanitarian charity that helps two million people all over the world with poverty alleviation and clean water provision. Sadly last Tuesday, BarakaCity was forcibly closed down by the French government even though they are totally unrelated to any attacks in France!

Let us be clear: I swear to Allah, this is not about freedom of expression – this is about racism and Islamophobia! Allah says in Surah al-Buruj:

“They took vengeance on them only because they believed in Allah the Almighty, the Praised.” [Qur’an, 85:8]

But what is the solution now?

President Macron claims that ‘Islam is in crisis!’

It is in fact France that is in crisis because of French nationalism coupled with secular fundamentalism and extreme arrogance. France is a divided nation that has continued to disenfranchise its poor and minorities. France has let racism dictate how it treats its own citizens. Non-Whites live in ghettos outside of the main cities and are denied equal access to proper work and education, all in the name of secularism. France has created this fear of the ‘other!’

Did you know that since 2017: 212 Muslim-owned cafes, 15 Mosques, 4 schools and 13 cultural associations have all been closed! Frances Muslims have been enduring these hardships for a long time.

Secularism is in crisis. People moving away from religion, and people living far away from Allah – a Godless society based on following desires and not guidance. Islam is the solution to every problem for every society! Allah Almighty says:

“Verily the only acceptable way of life with Allah is Submission (Islam).” [Qur’an, 3:8]

And He the Most High says:

“Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam (Submission), it will not be accepted from him; and in the Hereafter, he will be among the losers.” [Qur’an, 3:85]

I say to haters like Macron and others: ‘People come and go, and you too shall leave this earth. Nations rise and fall, and a time will come when France itself shall not exist. But rest assured, the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the love that all Muslims have for him shall continue to live long after you and your nation are all relegated to the ink of history books.’

Now it is clear from the response (and silence) from world leaders where their loyalties lie. But where do our loyalties lie? Our loyalties must lie with the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)! We should feel angered and hurt by the disgusting photographs, more than if the photos were of our own parents!

But this should not lead us to do anything the Shari’ah does not allow! We cannot become vigilantes and take the law into our own hands. We should defend the honour of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) with our words and actions. We can defend our Prophet by following his Sunnah and his way. Other actions we can do include to:

1. Recognise that this is a test from Allah – how will we respond and behave?

2. Make Du’a to Allah – to make us worthy followers of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) – who can pursue his justice and defend him.

3. Promote the positive image of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) through his teachings.

4. Solidarity and unity – we are one ummah. Right now our Muslim brothers and sisters in France is hurting and in fear. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Send messages of support to CCIF, BarakaCity and other Muslims. Let them know their brothers and sisters everywhere are with them!

5. Take heed and build unity here and now – this type of dehumanisation of Muslims can also happen in Nigeria. We must come together leaving aside all differences and uniting to build our strength as a community!

As I’m talking to you now, the role played by one Bishop, Reverend Father Godfrey Igwebuike Onah, in the massacre of our Muslim brothers and sisters in the South-East and South-South zones of Nigeria is not far from our memory. The hateful and inciteful sermon delivered by the Bishop prompted some Christian bigots to unleash violent and virulent attack on Muslims in Nsukka and burnt their Mosques. As a result of the violent assaults being unleashed on the Muslims in some parts of the zones, some were killed and their property worth billions of Naira were looted, vandalised or set on fire. Mosques including very ancient ones built by Indigenous Igbo Muslims were burnt. On Saturday, 31 October, 2020, as a result of the hateful and inciteful sermon, which is full of lies and fallacies, some Christian bigots unleashed violent and virulent attack on Muslims in Nsukka and burnt their Mosques, it was confirmed and clear that the Bishop instigated the worshippers against Mosques and Muslims. All those who watched the video witnessed the Bishop inciting his congregation against the growth of Islam in Enugu.

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As I’m writing this Friday sermon, a message has reached me that Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research suspended a university teacher, a professor and referred him to a disciplinary committee for insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

Also last week a Belgian teacher suspended for showing Prophet Muhammad cartoons to 10-year-old students.

A school in Brussels dismissed a teacher for showing a class of 10 and 11-year-olds controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, amid global uproar and outrage over the offensive caricatures.

The teacher showed the cartoons to a class of 10 and 11-year-olds during a lesson on freedom of expression, prompting complaints from parents, according to La Libre Belgique.

6. Boycott all French products. This is the very least we can do. Some people argue that it will not do any good. Macron has already asked Gulf states not to boycott French goods – because he knows it will hurt French businesses. When it begins to hurt. As a prominent Muslim scholar has already said: – after insults against the Noble Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) by France and its president, will we still continue buying and selling and importing French products? For example, if a shop owner insulted our mother or our father, we wouldn’t buy from them ever again. This is the very least we can all do to protect the honour and right of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

7. Call people to Islam. People are in need of this religion, the true religion of Allah. Mankind is in search for the true religion. Depression and suicide are on the rise, but Islam will establish happiness for all. The family system is broken, but Islam holds family values to be essential to a good life.

8. Raise your voice in support of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and against all those that insult him.

Respected servants of Allah, insulting Allah and His Prophets is not an invention of the contemporary world. For eons, forgotten losers of old have levelled abuse at the Divine and His notable representatives on Earth, not least of all at the Prophets of Allah.

It is undoubtedly clear that the champions of paltry ideologies that reduce man to a measly composition and movement of chemical compounds cannot salvage their philosophical wreckage except by scorning those who know life’s greater purpose. Despite its laïcité, France stands as the “most depressed nation on earth” and has the highest suicide rate in western Europe. Scorning definitely distracts from confessing that others may be right.

In history, many Prophets of Allah were killed, crucified, or insulted, yet they are in bliss and their legacies remain. Their killers or scorners are, at best, dust, awaiting a much longer chastisement and humiliation in the Hereafter. The history of the final Prophet, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), is replete with how his scorners faced abysmal and humiliating ends whilst his immaculate status was forever preserved. Allah has promised:

“Surely We will be sufficient for you against the mockers…” [Qur’an, 15:95]

During the international phase of the Da’awah, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) wrote to invite both Khosrow (of Persia) and Caesar (of Rome) to Islam. Both abstained from accepting the message. Caesar, however, honoured the letter and emissary of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Allah strengthened and stabilised the Kingdom of Caesar. Khosrow, on the other hand, tore apart the letter and mocked the Messenger (Peace be upon him) and his emissary. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) later said:

“Khosrow has just torn apart his own dominion.” [See Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah of Imam Ibn Kathir]

A short time later, Khosrow’s son, Kavad II, killed his father to take over the throne. Through successive ignominious defeats at the hands of the Byzantines and the Muslims in the Caliphate of Umar (RA), Khosrow’s empire was indeed irreversibly torn into pieces.

Imam Al-Suhaili reports that:

“Heraclius (610-641 AD) kept the Prophet’s letter sheltered in a gold reed-like object in its honour and kept passing it down from one emperor to the other. It finally ended up with the ‘King of the Franks’ over Toledo, before being inherited down. Some of our companions told me that Abdul-Malik Bin Sa’id, one of the Muslim commanders, met that king. In their encounter, he showed him the Prophetic letter. On seeing it, he was overtaken by emotion and knelt across (to kiss it), but was not given permission.” [Islamweb’s article]

Imam Ibn Hajar reports, on the authority of Said al-Din Falih al-Mansuri, that the King of the Franks showed him a box lined with gold containing a gold pen case. He opened the case and pulled out a letter, the ink of which had faded, attached to a silk rag. The king then said: “This is your Prophet’s letter to my grandfather the Caesar that continues to be inherited down until now. Our father advised us that so long as we preserve this letter, our kingdom will be preserved. We thus protect it with utmost effort and honour it, concealing it from the Christians so that our dominion may persist.” [Islamweb]

Abu Lahab and his son Utbah were once preparing to head for al-Sham (the Levant). Before they left, Utbah promised: “I will (first) go to Muhammad and mock his Lord.” Utbah approached the Prophet and daringly said (invoking a Qur’anic passage from Surah al-Najm out of mockery): “I have disavowed the one who got close and drew near, and was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer.’” Hearing his mockery of Allah’s words, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) invoked: “Allah, send upon him a dog of your dogs,” and turned away. Utbah returned to his father who asked: “Son, what did you say to him?” Utbah related the account, then Abu Lahab asked: “And what did he say back?” He replied: “Allah, send upon him a dog of your dogs.” Abu Lahab then said: “Son, by Allah, I do not feel safe from (the manifestation of) that supplication.” They both took off until they reached a land near al-Sham full of lions. Addressing his travelling group, Abu Lahab said: “By the right of my age and position, that man (Muhammad) supplicated against my son that I do not feel protected from, so gather your belongings and go to that monastery and put my son in the middle of your belongings and surround him.” They did as he ordered. Moments later, a lion approached and roamed around the camping group, sniffing and searching until he hopped on top of their caravan and jumped directly onto Utbah, vigorously attacking him until he ripped his head off. Abu Lahab said: “I knew that he would not escape the supplication of that man (Muhammad).” [See Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

In his book Zail Mawlid al-Ulama, Imam Al-Kittani mentions that during the era of the Caliph al-Hakim, there emerged a man who called himself Hadi al-Mustajibin (the Guide of the Accepters) who would call to the worship of the leader. It was said that he insulted the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and spat at the Noble Qur’an. When he entered Makkah, its residents complained to its Amir, but the latter defended the man and sought to excuse him by claiming he was repentant. The people insisted that such a sin cannot be made up by mere repentance. They gathered in the Haram, collectively beseeching Allah.

Thick dark smog filled the atmosphere then cleared, leaving over the sacred house a bright ray, visible day and night. This persisted until it was brought to the attention of the Amir of Makkah, who summoned the man, Hadi al-Mustajibin and executed him.

In his book Al-Shifah, Qadi Iyad writes that the jurists (Fuqaha) of Kairawan in present-day Tunisia – and companions of the jurist Sahnun Bin Sa’id – had issued an edict to execute Ibrahim al-Fazari, a skilled poet and master of multiple sciences who would frequently mock Allah and his Prophets, including the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). The jurist (Faqih) Yahya Bin Umar ordered for al-Fazari to be killed and crucified. As he hung facing the Qiblah, historians mention that the firmly grounded wooden pole was later found in its place, but facing another direction!

The 20th century scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Shakir mentions that he attended a sermon in which an articulate orator wanted to praise the leadership for showing courtesy to the writer Taha Hussein, who was blind.

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In his speech, he said: “(The leader) did not frown or turn his attention away when the blind man came him,” invoking but deforming the verses of Surah Abasa. Sheikh Ahmad Shakir said: “This criminal’s retribution came in this world before the next. By Allah, I saw him after a few years with my very two eyes, after his haughtiness and position… as a docile and humiliated servant looking after people’s slippers at the door of the Mosque.”

In other instances, Allah protected His Messenger (Peace be upon him) through imperceptible barriers, through angels, and through fear thrown into the hearts of those who intended to cause him harm. It was reported that Ghawrath Bin al-Harith, who was a polytheist, vowed to kill the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) whilst the Prophet was sleeping under a palm tree with his sword hung up on it.

Ghawrath held a sword over the head of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and threatened: “Who will protect you?” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) answered: “Allah!” Jabir, the narrator, says: “The sword fell out of his hand and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) picked it up and said: ‘And who will protect you’? The man replied: ‘The best of the two who grabbed (the sword).’ The Prophet asked: ‘Do you bear witness that none is worthy of worship besides Allah and that I am His Messenger?’ The man said: ‘I promise to not fight you, nor to assist anyone who fights you.’ The Prophet let him go.”

In other narrations, the Prophet had given him the sword on the man’s request and, on grabbing it, his hands shuddered and he dropped it. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “Allah stood between you and what you sought to do.” [See Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

Abu Hurairah reports that Abu Jahl asked his friends whether the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) ‘places his face on the ground’ (in sujud) in their presence. They answered in the affirmative. He said: “By Lat and Uzzah! If I see him doing that, I will trample his neck or smear his face with dust.”

Abu Jahl approached the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) as he was in sujud and pressed ahead to step on his blessed neck. On nearing, Abu Jahl stumbled back with glaringly wide eyes, petrified and looking as if he were repelling something with his hands. It was said to him: “What is the matter with you?” He said: “I saw a ditch of fire, terror and wings had emerged between me and him.” Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) would later say: “If he were to come near me, the angels would have torn him to pieces!” [Sahih Ibn Hibban, on the authority of Abu Hurairah (RA)]

Abdullah Bin Abbas (RA) reported that a group of the leadership of Quraish gathered in the Hijr (the Sacred House) and vowed by their idols (Lat, Uzzah, Manat, and Isaf) that if they were to see Muhammad (Peace be upon him), they will collectively kill him. Fatimah (RA) was made aware of their plan and rushed to her father, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), weeping. He said: “O daughter, bring me water for ablution.” He then washed and entered the Mosque. When the leadership of Quraish saw him, they lowered their heads and avoided making eye contact; not a man approached him. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) advanced, knelt, and filled his palm with dirt and threw it at them, exclaiming: “May these faces be deformed.” The narrator of this event said that everyone in the vicinity of that pelted dirt was killed years later on the Day of Badr. [See Musnad of Imam Ahmad, classed Sahih by Imam Al-Albani]

Allah protected His Messenger from scorners by diverting insults to other than his noble self. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) used to say:

“Does it not astonish you how Allah protects me from the abuse and curses of Quraish? They abuse Mudhammam and curse Mudhammam, while I am Muhammad (and not Mudhammam).” [Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Harairah (RA)]

Imam Ibn Hajar explains:

“The disbelievers of Quraish would, out of sheer hate, insult the Prophet Muhammad using Mudhammam (the lowly one) other than his name, Muhammad (the praised one)…but Mudhammam is neither his name, nor is he known by it, and thus their insults were naturally diverted away from him!”

On other occasions, Allah would alter the laws of nature in defence of his Prophet (Peace be upon him). Zainab Bint Harith presented meat that she had packed with poison to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). On placing the meat in his mouth, and without swallowing it, he said: “The bone is telling me that it is poisoned!” On inquisition, Zainab admitted to poisoning the meat. The laws of nature were altered in two ways: by the poison having no effect on the Messenger of Allah, and by the bone informing the Messenger of Allah of the poison!

Allah would transform the hearts of the Prophet’s enemies to friends on their first direct interaction with him. The starkest example of this is in the story of Abu Sufyan Bin Harith, the Prophet’s milk-brother who loved the Prophet during his childhood but became a stern enemy following the Prophethood. Abu Sufyan would frequently insult the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, but rather than humiliate him, Allah softened his heart to Islam.

Abu Sufyan said: “Allah put Islam in my heart, so I travelled with my wife and child until we reached al-Abwah. I covered my face and approached until I was face to face with the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). When he saw me, he turned away, so I repositioned myself so that I was facing him again.” The narrator said: “Abu Sufyan kept following him (the Prophet) everywhere he would go… until Abu Sufyan said: ‘By Allah, the Messenger shall give me permission (to speak to him) or I will take my son’s hand and die of hunger or thirst.’ When the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) heard of this, his heart softened towards him and he allowed him to enter.” [See the Sirah of Ibn Hisham]

Subhanallah, Our Creator, Allah, the One who humiliates the scorners of the Prophet in this life before the next, averts their insults to useless caricatures or objects, and transforms the heart of the Prophet’s haters to become humbled at his door begging for his pardon! His mockers fail to reduce from his veneration. They are like sloths who spit at the sun: dirtied by their own splutter. They are tarnished in this life before more humiliation in the next.

“Surely those who offend Allah and His Messenger are condemned by Allah in this world and the Hereafter. He has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.” [Qur’an, 33:57]

Dear brothers and sisters, on January 12, 2015, an estimated 3.7 million people rallied in shows of unity and solidarity across France with more than 40 world leaders marching with them shoulder to shoulder following the killings in Paris.

From January 7-9, 17 people were killed by three terrorists in attacks on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters, a kosher grocery store and the general area of the Paris suburb of Montrouge.

Although the march was organised in a short amount of time, millions walked the streets of Paris chanting, “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”).

According to France’s Interior Ministry, the demonstration was larger than the rallies staged when Paris was liberated from the Nazis in World War II. The gathered crowd was described as the largest in France’s modern history. Around the world, from Hong Kong to Tunisia, crowds gathered in major cities illuminating their famous monuments in the Tricolor.

• Hebdo and free speech

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical newspaper that has a reputation for standing up to authority, confronting what is held sacred or questioning any group claiming supremacy.

After publishing cartoons that mocked Islam on a number of occasions, in 2015 the magazine printed numerous images that insulted the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in a move that provoked Muslims for who drawing the Prophet is considered blasphemous and prohibited in Islam. In simple terms, the editors of the “irresponsible magazine” hurt the feelings of believers of Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was different than other massacres because it was seen as an attack on freedom of speech. In the wake of the attack, the world seemed to me, to think that there was nothing more important than the freedom of expression. I personally believed the holy principle of freedom of speech was superior to everything.

If that were the case, people would have the right to freely express all of their opinions regardless of whether they criticise or mock what is sacred to others. I was aware that the French law didn’t protect unrestricted free speech.

For example, condoning terrorism is a crime and denying the Holocaust is banned in France. But after the millions-strong march, I thought things had changed as the streets of Paris felt like an outdoor temple revering in divine free speech that day. But I was wrong. A few days after the historic rally, French authorities began to arrest people on charges of glorifying or defending terrorism online.

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It was time for nations to better understand why disaffected citizens were joining radical causes. There should be efforts to get to the root of the problem especially in Western countries, such as France where the Muslim population is around ten million.

Unfortunately, the French government chose to follow an extreme version of secularism or laicity. Depicting the Charlie Hebdo attack as France’s 9/11, the country started to change radically, maybe more so than that the U.S. was changed after the fall of the Twin Towers.

The popularity of the former French President François Hollande, a socialist, hit rock bottom and support for the far-right leader Marine Le Pen increased.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron went head-to-head against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections after a first-round vote brought centrist, left-wing and moderate voters together against a possible far-right presidency.

Coming to power as a centrist and having no established party, ideology or tradition, Macron was free to govern France for a full five years avoiding populist extremism, which was rapidly spreading across Europe and beyond.

He was viewed as the one liberal, democratic politician who could stem the tide of populism sweeping the globe. However, he has become the most populist leader in Europe.

His supporters rationalise his policies saying if Macron didn’t do something about the populist threat he would be replaced by a far-right leader. As the protests of yellow vests began in November 2018, his approval ratings sank to 29%.

While his globalist supporters went quiet, Macron may have thought he would not be able to secure his seat by continuing to take on the populists who were gaining ground every day, opting to embrace populism instead.

• The rhetoric of hatred

The French president did not stop there and gradually adopted a strong anti-Islamist rhetoric intended to draw in the Islamophobes. Today, so-called “secular” hatred towards Muslims has become a part of everyday speech for the French government as well as its media. French Muslims keep asking Macron to stop stigmatising them, but his normalisation of hate speech against Islam has almost legitimised the institutionalised discrimination towards the France’s Muslim community.

Taking further steps, the French President recently said “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country.” Adding that he is seeking to “liberate” Islam in France from foreign influences by improving the oversight of Mosque financing. He announced a law against religious “separatism” and outlined new measures to “defend the republic and its values and ensure it respects its promises of equality and emancipation.”

His supporters argue that the upcoming draft bill against “separatist” threats will also include other groups like White supremacists when it is clearly targeting Islamist movements. French Muslims now fear that the extremists will not be the only target of the state and public hatred towards Islam as a religion will increase.

Stating, “secularism is the cement of a united France,” Macron also defended “the right” to commit blasphemy, in a nod to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons insulting Islam. He expects all French citizens to respect the values of the Republic while he does not respect the values of Muslims.

Macron has no tolerance for Islam but at the same time asks Muslims to be tolerant of insults toward their religion. If it continues like this, the problem won’t be the prohibition of respecting Islamic values but the active obligation to attack them.

Then, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that Muslim kids are forced to eat pork at school or draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) under the guise of “being a true French citizen.”

Unfortunately, there have been more tragic incidents in France as a result of Islamophobia and extremism. A school teacher was beheaded by an extremist for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class, while two Muslim women were stabbed under the Eiffel Tower as the attackers shouted “Dirty Arabs.” We will continue to see cases like these if the French government continues to encourage Islamophobia.

Noticing the double standards between freedom of speech and freedom of religion after the Charlie Hebdo attack, many Muslims around the world came to see the event as a milestone. From that day onwards they knew Islam would be attacked again under the pretext of being a non-peaceful religion and these attacks would not be limited to harsh words or insults.

Charlie Hebdo actually paved the way for extremists, who were looking for a pretext to attack, one of whom pledged allegiance to ISIS and the other two declared their loyalty to Al-Qaidah in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A Yemeni branch of Al-Qaidah took responsibility for the deadly attack against Charlie Hebdo, claiming the Al-Qaidah leadership chose the target and the massacre was in retaliation to the depictions mocking the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

All Muslim countries, including the French Muslim community, immediately condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack. As radicalisation began to spread, particularly since the evolution of the ISIS terrorist group, Muslim countries played a major role in fighting the notorious terror organisation. However, their efforts were not enough to stifle the rise of Islamophobia around the world as Islamophobic incidents including far-right terrorism, motivated by a variety of ideologies, started to increase.

In France, more than 1,000 Islamophobic incidents occurred in 2019 including 70 physical attacks. While intelligence agencies in the West warn that white supremacists are becoming a more dangerous threat every day, countries like France do not listen. Fortunately, not all of the Western countries follow the same path.

• The Christchurch attack

Last year, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslim worshippers in a terrorist attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand – a usually peaceful country.

This time there were no global marches for the victims, no promises of solidarity and unity from other countries, no condemnation or warning of rising extremism from world leaders.

Other than Muslim countries, only German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Mosque attacks as “terrorism” when expressing her sorrow over the “citizens who were attacked and murdered out of racist hatred.”

Regardless of the lack of support she received from the rest of the Western world, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked her hardest to ease the pain of the families of the victims.

She took a decisive stand against terrorism in a world where even liberal leaders cater to white-supremacists in a bid to keep votes. In her own words, her role was to “voice the grief of a nation.”

She was the face of New Zealand and denounced terrorist attacks to the world. Following the attack she visited the families of the victims, wearing a headscarf to show respect, and promised to ensure their safety in Mosques across the country.

Ardern opened the next session of New Zealand Parliament with an evocative “Assalamu alaikum” message of peace to Muslims and vowed never to utter the name of the terrorist. “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she said.

There was a recitation from the Qur’an, a tribute to the souls of the Muslims killed in the attacks. Led by Ardern, all the MPs, wearing black had a moment of silence and listened to the recitation. Across New Zealand the public mourned the victims, visited Mosques and placed flowers on memorials. In the following days she declared a ban on all military-style-rifles, including assault and military-like semi-automatic rifles. The enthusiastic public showings of support for Ardern has now come to be known as “Jacindamania.”

Recently, Ardern won a landslide victory in the country’s general elections. She has led the center-left Labour Party to its best result in 50 years, winning 49.1% of the vote.

Western leaders such as Emmanuel Macron may think that tolerance towards Islam and Muslims would destroy their political career but in fact it has been the making of others just like Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern has been depicted as “anti-populist” in the media for a long time and we can credit her victory to her sympathy and compassion. Uniting the country she has been an example to other world leaders who adopt populist rhetoric out of fear of being replaced by right-wing politicians and whose policies cause divisions. I know I am trying to keep the faith, but what will be left to us if we also lose hope.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone. And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.

Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: gusauimam@gmail.com or +2348038289761.

This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Rabi’ul Awwal 20, 1442 AH (November 06, 2020).

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