What place for freedom of expression in Islam?

What place for freedom of expression in Islam?

La Croix L’Hebdo : What pushed you to write this book on freedom of expression in Islam?

Hamadi Redissi: It was the news that sparked it. From the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in Denmark in 2005 to the attacks in Charlie Hebdo in France in 2015, the controversy over freedom of expression took a global turn. However, I noticed that the way in which this question was approached was superficial. People were wondering: “Is Islam for or against caricatures? » The terms of the debate were not well established from the point of view of Islam.

To talk about freedom of expression in Islamic societies, we must be careful not to attribute everything to a deadly Islamism, but also to unduly accuse Islam of being “naturally violent”, as we often hear today. “Mainstream” Islam can be open not only to a liberal and secular reading of the founding texts, but also to daringly irreligious thinking.

How was this free thought expressed in countries where Islam is in the majority?

HR: It is difficult in the Islamic world, both in the classical age and in modern times, to express a dissenting point of view in an open and radical manner. In the classical age, the big idea was to say: it is enough to display a facade of Islam to be considered Muslim. Free-thinkers therefore develop strategies of dissimulation, which allow free, heterodox, heretical, non-religious and libertine thought to express itself.

This free thought hidden under a facade of Islam is a core of the Islamic doctrine of freedom of expression. She states: “It is only up to God to decide whether you are a believer or an unbeliever. » From the moment religion is in the majority, the question is not whether we must respect this religion, but whether we must respect free thought.

What is the basis for the ban on figurative representation in Islam, which has restricted the freedom to caricature, for example?

HR: In the classical age, the prohibition of representation was based on the idea that it was an imitation of the divine work. Even animals, which have a soul, cannot be represented. As for the prophet Mohammed, his representation is prohibited because his image cannot be altered: it is impossible to paint the portrait of the perfect man. However, figurative representations of the Prophet circulated from the 13the in the 19th centurye century.

Many think that there is only one iconophobic doctrine in Islam, but I point out another tradition, iconophile, which flourished in the 17th century.e century but which has, unfortunately, disappeared: it is the theory of the two calames. Caricatures appear in the 19th centurye century, with the opening to modernity. This eclipse then closes.

After this opening, why is freedom of expression hardening in the 20th century?e century ?

HR: With the birth of postcolonial states, freedom of expression became restricted. These authoritarian states make Islam a state religion, softening the rigor of classical Islamic law. But they prohibit, for example, blasphemy, punishing it with a prison sentence.

In competition, the Sunni or Shiite clergy, in mimetic rivalry with the Islamists, demands the death penalty for blasphemers. This is why asserting that “Islamism has nothing to do with Islam”, it is to refuse to examine one’s conscience. Not that I want to compromise Islam in Islamism, but the difference between an Islamist who kills a blasphemer and a Muslim state which punishes blasphemy with a prison sentence is not disproportionate.

You believe that there are two ways to give freedom of expression a chance in Islam: liberal Islam on the one hand and free thought on the other…

HR: In Europe, we are betting on liberal Islam, which wants to reform Islam through exegesis by affirming that the spirit of this religion is modern, but that it has been betrayed by history. But I believe that liberal Islam only interests those who want reform, and cannot be imposed on those who consider that Islam is primarily an orthopraxy, based on respect for norms. I believe that Islam should be left as it is, in the diversity of its expressions: Shiite, Sunni, liberal, Orthodox, conservative, and even fundamentalist, provided that it does not resort to violence.

On the other hand, we must neutralize the political space, that is to say, consider that the State has no business interfering with religion. Democratic secularism can allow the coexistence of these different currents and free thought. We can neutralize fundamentalists through polemic, conversation, the best of arguments: through coexistence through dissensus. I therefore plead for the establishment of democratic secularism within Islamic countries.


The author

Born in 1952 in Tunisia, professor of political science at the University of Tunis and Islamologist, Hamadi Redissi is the author of several works on the relations between Islam and politics in the Arab-Muslim world. He also published in Seuil Islamic Exception (2004) or even The Tragedy of Modern Islam (2011).

The challenge

What does Islam say about blasphemy? Caricature? Of the representation of the prophet Mohammed? Regularly, events, sometimes dramatic, question us. In his new work Express yourself freely in Islam (Seuil, 224 p., €21.50), Hamadi Redissi answers it through a fascinating history of free thought in Islamic countries. It shows that two traditions have coexisted since the medieval age: one iconophobic, sometimes reinforced by the modern State, and the other, less known and iconophilic.

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