The office of one of the most influential Islamic clerics in the Middle East warned the remaining staff of the French satiric weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo to pull its intended cover cartoon for the January 14 edition.
The caricature, released earlier this week in previews to media, shows a depiction of the prophet Muhammed, founder of Islam, with a tear trickling down his face, holding a sign that reads, “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie) under the words, “Tout est pardonne” (All is forgiven.)
The work stands as a clear and obvious reference to last week’s murderous rampage by radical Islamist terrorists who targeted the magazine and its editorial staff, and the outcry by protesters that followed. The terrorists slaughtered only those on a list believed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be responsible for past depictions of the prophet, ignoring ancillary staff at the site. A maintenance worker and another person who became caught in the crossfire also were killed, as were two police officers, one of whom was assigned to protect the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Stephan Charbonnier. He was the first of the staff to be murdered.
“Je Suis Charlie” was the rallying cry taken up by some four million demonstrators in Paris and even more in a show of solidarity around the world who stood in silence with candles, pens, pencils and protest signs to signal their determination that freedom of expression continue despite the threat of Islamic extremism.
During the three-day killing spree by two terror cells from Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that began with the Charlie Hebdo attack, 17 people lost their lives, including four Jews at a kosher grocery story on Friday just a few hours before the Sabbath. In addition, one of the magazine’s targeted top cartoonists was Jewish.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam warned in a statement that this week’s upcoming cover would be an “unwarranted provocation against the feelings of … Muslims around the world.”
The danger could in fact be magnified exponentially: the magazine’s usual run of 60,000 is allegedly to be expanded this week to as many as 3 million copies. Hoping to head off a worldwide radical Islamist wildfire, Allam called on the French government to reject the “racist act” by Charlie Hebdo, which he said was trying to provoke “religious strife” and “deepen hatred.”
Allam had previously called the attack on the magazine a “terrorist” act. Likewise, officials at the 1,000-year-old Egyptian Al Azhar Islamic Center, known to be the oldest center of Islamic studies in the world, referred to the attack as a criminal act.
Moreover, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on Muslim clerics in an address at Al Azhar to “revolutionize” the Islamic faith and strive to combat extremist ideology – just two weeks before the radical Islamists carried out their reign of terror.
In Egypt, at least, moderate Muslims are beginning to step up and speak out, but that does not necessarily make them pro-Israel, as Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) pointed out. Jassser, a Syrian-American internist and nuclear cardiologist, has emerged as a major voice in countering Islamist extremism. He noted that in Egypt, there has been a change in attitude towards Islamist extremism — but not necessarily towards democracy or Israel.
One example, said Jasser, is that of Grand Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb, the leader of Al Azhar University and its mosque, appointed by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. El-Tayeb supported el-Sisi’s ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. He has also condemned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former Islamic cleric who now heads ISIS – but he has condemned Israel as a force for evil.