Islam vs Islamism: Why France Targeting Muslims Won’t Stop Extremism

Prophet Muhammad carried a message of love and compassion and extremists do not represent his teachings.

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Today marks the commemoration of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s birth, an observance which coincides this year with the counterproductive display in France of caricatures depicting the prophet. Muslims around the world have expressed their anger towards France’s move, which came under President Emmanuel Macron’s patronage and indicates a misunderstanding of Islam vs Islamism.

France has taken a sensational, provocative stand against extremism. It could better combat Islamism by working to dispel false stereotypes about Muslims and raising awareness about the true nature of Islam, based on the benevolent values its prophet taught.

Prophet Muhammad, a man of love and peace

History reports the Prophet Muhammad as an altruistic, peaceful man who did not harm others. His message was of love, harmony, and tolerance.

During his youth, the prophet traveled the desert in commerce missions and met people from different nations and religions. He urged inter-religious peace, and his followers should comply with his teachings. The Prophet Muhammad never incited war or killing. 

Prophet Muhammad interacted with peaceful respect with people of other doctrines. One story from Muhammad’s life involves his Jewish neighbor who regularly put garbage in front of Muhammad’s door. The prophet knew his neighbor was responsible for the recurring act but chose to tolerate him and did not aggressively react.

Muslims’ prophet was many times subject to wrongful deeds from people of other faiths but he was keen to keep a smile on his face, expressing patience and perseverance.

Rice University’s Amy McCaig wrote that “Prophet Muhammad’s covenants with Christians can be viewed as a kind of medicine to cure the diseases of Islamic extremism and Islamophobia… His message radiates compassion and peace. This is what American society—and indeed the world—needs now more than ever.”

The prophet always worked to establish a harmonious atmosphere for people from different doctrines.

The Prophet Muhammad always opted for negotiations to reach a settlement with other nations, especially those waging a war against Muslims. He only called on his followers to love people with other religious beliefs. 

The prophet sent letters to kings and leaders of other nations inviting them to convert to Islam rather than take up arms in the name of religion. He always showed respect for Judaism and Christianity, emphasizing his brotherly relationship with other Abrahamic prophets.

The history of Islam, during the prophet’s life, reveals his constant desire to eradicate any kind of religious inequality, which contradicts the ideology of Islamism. The Charter of Medina, which provided the basis for an Islamic state in Medina that welcomed religious pluralism, was a historical cornerstone to install and grant full rights for different religious minorities. 

Another step that testifies to the prophet’s keen desire to establish harmony amongst different religious doctrines is that he granted the Charter of Fathers to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai in 628, the sixth year of Hijra. The charter protected the rights of Christians and other non-Mislims living under Islamic rule.

Muslims did not have the right to violate the charter under any circumstances.

Efforts of the Prophet Muhammad always aimed to establish a secure and safe environment for the coexistence of people from different religious backgrounds, allowing them to live in harmony and tolerance, with full respect for each other. The prophet set multiple treaties and conventions to this end. 

One example is the famous Najran treaty, which the prophet delivered to the Christians of Najran and its surrounding areas. One section of the Treaty of Najran reads: “To the Christians of Najran and its surrounding territories… there shall be no interference within the practice of their faith or their observance nor any change in their rights and privileges.” 

Islam is not Islamism

Many in the international community commonly confuse Islam with Islamism, as Muslims who commit terrorist acts claim to defend Islam. In contrast to Islam, Islamism is a result of the seeds of hatred than a religion. Islamists excuse evil actions by incorrectly citing the Quran. A common mistake is the use of the term “jihad” (holy war), which Islamists take lightly, jumping into criminal acts against people of other faiths.

Today many people around the world think that Islam is a religion that calls for killing and hatred. This misunderstanding is a result of extremists’ abhorrent application and misrepresentation of Islam. It comes from a misinterpretation of Islamic teachings that Islamists use to incite sedition and hatred.

Karen Armstrong, an award-winning British author, said in an interview with El Mundo that Islam is not terrorism since it is not about jihad, but about social justice. She said that Muslim leaders did not care about verses in the Quran that refer to jihad until 400 years after the death of the prophet. Resorting to jihad was a reaction to the wars that “the Mongols and the Crusaders” waged against Muslim countries, said the writer.

France provoking Muslims by mocking the Prophet Muhammad will not combat terrorism

Macron’s reaction to the beheading of Paty was deeply problematic. Displaying caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad will change nothing for the better, as hatred and sedition is part of Islamism as an ideology and not of Islam as a faith. 

Terrorism is a universal issue that requires serious, concerted efforts from the international community. The world increasingly relates acts of terrorism to Muslims. The global population should instead direct the battle against terrorism, not a specific religion or its non-violent followers. There are approximately 2 billion Muslims around the world. These 2 billion people are not terrorists, but there are some extremists that devastatingly misrepresent Islam.

The recurrent use of the cartoons of the prophet is an insult to Muslims around the world. Countries must take serious measures to eradicate extremist ideology from religion. Instead of displaying cartoons that deeply offend 2 billion believers, Macron should collaborate with Muslim minorities in France to legitimately, not falsely and sensationally, counter-extremism. 

A head of state should not solve his political impasse through hate speech that provokes ill will and mocks the prophet whom the world’s significant Muslim population loves and respects. It will gain him nothing but the spread of hatred among French citizens. Macron must direct efforts to raising awareness against extremism, not condemning the non-violent Islamic faith.