The National Press Club (NPC) on Sunday called for a meeting between Jonathan Shapiro, the Mail and Guardian and Muslim leaders to discuss a controversial cartoon that has angered the Muslim community.
“The media needs to be sensitive to religious beliefs and must not marginalise any community. We need to act responsibly,” said NPC chairperson Yusuf Abramjee.
The Zapiro cartoon, which was published in the M&G on Friday, depicts Muhammad lying on a couch and complaining to a psychologist that “other prophets have followers with a sense of humour”.
“As a Muslim myself, I find it offensive and provocative,” said Abramjee.
“We promote freedom of speech and expression. But, let’s not forget that it is not absolute. In this case, it must be weighed against religious tolerance.”
Muslims across the country took offence to the characterisation of the Prophet Muhammad and expressed their anger at the cartoon on Facebook and Twitter.
One comment posted on Facebook by Zainub Milan-Ming said: ” Zapiro stick to politics and leave religion alone. Do you even have one?”
Abramjee called on the Muslim community to be calm and not to respond with “anger, abuse or threat”.
Meanwhile, the Witness said Jonathan Shapiro defended his work as freedom of expression.
Abramjee said he would meet with Muslim leaders in Johannesburg to encourage a meeting between the community, editor of the M&G, Nic Dawes, and Shapiro.
“I will call on them to engage Dawes and Shapiro and find a solution,” said Abramjee.
Everybody Draw Muhammad Day
The cartoon followed the furore surrounding the Facebook page, “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”, which was sparked by threats by a radical Muslim group against the creators of US TV series South Park for depicting the prophet in a bear suit.
When Dawes first saw the cartoon he said he thought it “a gentle and irreverent poke” at the hysteria that had greeted the Facebook page. This week Pakistan ordered all internet service providers to block Facebook, as well as YouTube for carrying “un-Islamic content”.
“If we had to pull every Zapiro cartoon that offended someone we wouldn’t have any Zapiro cartoons in the newspaper,” said Dawes on Friday.