Muslim leaders seek apology over cartoon

Muslim leaders said on Sunday they had formed a committee to meet with the Mail & Guardian and would be seeking an apology after this newspaper published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Zapiro cartoon, which was published in the M&G on Friday, depicts the prophet lying on a couch and complaining to a psychologist that “other prophets have followers with a sense of humour”.

In a press release, the Muslim leaders said that in the event that an apology and undertaking were not received, they had been mandated to pursue “the available options in the best interest of the Muslim community”.

M&G editor Nic Dawes said on Monday that since Thursday night’s court hearing — at which the Council of Muslim Theologians unsuccessfully tried to stop the publication of the cartoon — he had been discussing arrangements to meet with Muslim leaders to discuss the matter.

“We have agreed to meet this week, and expect details to be finalised shortly.”

“I will listen carefully, and try to explain my own position. I am optimistic that the meeting will follow the pattern of robust and thoughtful debate that has characterised my conversations with Muslim jurists, community leaders, and ordinary readers in recent days,” said Dawes.

The committee — the United Muslim Forum of South Africa — met in Johannesburg on Sunday and unanimously condemned the cartoon as “blasphemous, insulting, insensitive, and hurtful to the Muslim community and that the publication offends the religious convictions of the community”.

Delegates at the meeting, which included Jamiat ul Ulema of South Africa, among others, resolved to embark on an education programme for the media fraternity “focusing on the magnanimity of the personality of the Holy Prophet of Islam, all other prophets and Islam in general”.

“We call upon all Muslims to exercise restraint in these trying circumstances. We take this opportunity of thanking all those individuals, organisations, and religious groups for their support and solidarity,” said the statement.

The meeting also noted there were various options available to them, including legal action and public participation in protest action.

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 United States 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.

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