A meeting between Muslim leaders and the Mail & Guardian after the publication of a controversial cartoon has left M&G CEO Hoosain Karjieker proud of the community and the process followed to reach a resolution.
The newspaper has undertaken to refrain from publishing any images of the Prophet Muhammad while reviewing its editorial policy in terms of religious matters, after a meeting with Muslim leaders from a cross-section of organisations, and interest groups.
The meeting at Channel Islam in Johannesburg on Wednesday followed a failed court attempt by the Muslim Council of Theologians to stop the newspaper from publishing a Zapiro cartoon on May 21.
The cartoon depicted the Prophet Muhammad reclining on a psychiatrist’s chair bemoaning his followers’ lack of humour. It referenced the uproar in some Muslim communities over the Everyone Draw Muhammad Day campaign.
While interest in the incident has been high, with traffic volumes doubling on the M&G website, there was no violent backlash. Karjieker was particularly impressed with the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), which called on the community not to boycott the newspaper.
“It’s been very good,” said editor Nic Dawes. “I think a discussion that has been simmering quietly has been brought out into the open. Ultimately we’ve reached a very South African solution.
“I’m delighted actually.”
Represented at the meeting were leaders from the MJC, the Muslim Council of Theologians — or Jamiatul Ulama — and the Somali Association of SA, among others.
“It was a tough meeting but the level of engagement was very mature,” said Karjieker. “It was on a level we haven’t had before as a community or a paper.”
Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, or Zapiro, flew from Cape Town to attend the meeting. He refrained from commenting, saying that his follow-up cartoon in the M&G‘s next edition on May 28 would explain his thoughts. Dawes said the cartoonist, who has won awards for his cutting depictions, said his cartoons have angered many — including his own community.
“I think Zapiro made a clear statement of his principles as a cartoonist and satirist,” said Dawes, pointing out that Zapiro’s secular values meant equal treatment of everyone.
But both Zapiro and Dawes were adamant about distancing themselves and condemning the Islamophobia that has characterised some of the Facebook campaign.
Karjieker pointed out that the discussion, while tough, would open the space for further issues that people can talk about “using the paper as a forum”.
A statement was issued however, saying the M&G regretted “the harm caused by the publication of the cartoon and apologises for the effects thereof”.
Dawes said the meeting ended on “genuinely very friendly terms”.
He said the new policy would be “informed in consultation with religious leaders from all major faith communities,” and ultimately by the constitutional values of freedom of expression and our own values as a newspaper, of social justice.
Present at the meeting were about 21 people, including MJC representative Achmat Sedick, who had previously denounced death threats against Zapiro.
While rejecting the cartoon, the MJC called death threats against the cartoonist “un-Islamic”, saying such threats had no place in the religion or society, the Cape Argus reported.
“It only implies that Muslims lack the intellect to resolve disagreements through proper dialogue and communication, which is far from the truth.”
The statement was in keeping with Dawes’ own view that “no cartoon is as insulting as the assumption Muslims will react with violence”.
The newspaper invited community leaders and ordinary readers to continue communicating their devotion both online and to the newspaper.
“We have learnt an enormous amount since the publication of the cartoon about the depth of reverence in which Muslims hold the Prophet.”
Muslim leaders were compiling a combined statement at the time of publication and were unable to comment immediately.