There are religions that promote turning the other cheek even when mocked, but it appears Islam is not one of them. According to one of the most prominent imams in North America, Islam never condones violence, but it also, under no uncertain terms, "ever accepts" speaking ill of the Prophet Muhammad.
In fact, so grave is mockery of the prophet considered, that the cleric -- Mohammad Qatanani, who leads one of the largest mosques in New Jersey -- even believes free speech that criticizes Islam poses a national security threat to the U.S. and that those responsible should be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.
"We, as Americans, have to put limits and borders [on] freedom of speech," Qatanani, leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC), told TheBlaze. He explained that while Americans may "have the freedom" to speak their mind, ultimately, they "have no right to [talk about Muslim] holy issues" as it will incite "hatred or war among people."
Qatanani said he thinks agitators who slander Islam, or, more specifically, the Prophet Muhammad, incite violence and hence, pose a national security risk that threatens the safety of Americans at home and abroad. Thus, America should disregard its First Amendment as it is typically applied and instead act in accordance with sharia law for the ultimate "good" of society.
In an exclusive interview with TheBlaze, the cleric, who was nearly deported in 2008 for failing to disclose his former ties to the terrorist organization Hamas on a 1996 Green Card application, explained that Muslims are required by Islam to respect the law of the land in their host-countries. He followed up that statement, however, with a treatise on how those who slander the prophet be pursued legally.
While some leaders within the Muslim community have spoken out against the anti-America driven violence in the Middle East, many have qualified their condemnation with moral equivalence, treating a film dubbed "Innocence of Muslims" (which some claim served as the catalyst for the attacks), with even harsher disdain than they do murder. Qatanani said the Obama White House should take legal action against the filmmakers.
"My position is that White House has to say strong in its condemnation [of the filmmakers] and take this person to court. If he is innocent, we will accept that... The government has strong case against this person."
When asked what can be done to prevent future attacks, Qatanani invoked Homeland Security again, suggesting that the department actually step-in to prevent artists, composers, movie-makers, or satirists (among others), from producing works critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. He believes it is in America's best interest to quell this kind of free speech as it "ruins" America's image abroad and will ultimately hurt people.
Qatanani's statements make it appear that, in so many words, the cleric is advocating for the U.S. to operate by sharia law -- the religious law of Islam -- when it comes to freedom of speech as it relates to Islam. If so, it would seem to echo comments in a previous report on TheBlaze outlining Islamists' "10-year plan" to make slandering Islam unlawful on an international level.
American freedom versus Islamic freedom
One of the most revealing insights made by the controversial faith leader came when he juxtaposed American freedom with the type of freedom permitted under sharia law.
The imam acknowledged that observant Muslims view freedom only through the lens of that which is permitted by the Quran and Sunnah, the two sacred texts of Islam, and is therefore much different from the way Americans view freedom.
"They [Muslims] think our [American] freedoms are too much," Qatanani said. "The freedom of the American people is so different from their [Muslims'] freedoms. We believe freedoms have limits and rules, otherwise we will get people into trouble...Freedom according to Islam must be according to the Quran and Sunnah. You can do [anything] you like within the teachings of these two resources. This is the difference and main reason [for the conflict]."
A different standard of freedom?
"People there [in the Middle East] don’t understand the American Constitution and freedom of speech," Qatanani said. We have to understand each other because misunderstanding is a killing issue... The issue of Prophet Muhammad is very delicate – they [Muslims] will not accept in any way, anybody who talks badly about Muhammad."
He went on to explain that not even Jesus or Moses, who Muslims also revere as heroes and prophets, would be permitted to speak ill of their ultimate Prophet Muhammad and stated emphatically, and repeatedly, during the interview that Muslims will never "accept" or tolerate such slander even in the U.S. under the auspices of freedom of speech.
At one point Qatanani said that it is essentially fine to mock Jesus or Moses (as Americans often satire various religious figures) but that is absolutely verboten to mock Muhammad. Later, he added that Muslims would be equally upset if anyone were to slander Christian or Jewish figureheads.
On the embassy attacks
At the end of the day Qatanani was consistent in his call for peace, however, he was particularly fixated on the "Innocence of Muslims" as egregious enough to justify violence.
"I believe the producer of the film's [goal] was to have people hate each other. We are against the bad reaction, but the producer wants people to react that way [rioting]. He has a hidden agenda."
In fairness, TheBlaze has reported that the filmmakers appear to be dubious characters with checkered pasts, and perhaps even ill-intentions. That said, they were certainly within their "right" under American law to produce the movie, whether tasteful or not. Qatanani pressed that irrespective of context, such movies and rhetoric will be exploited by extremists and thus, America has a responsibility to prevent inflammatory material that could agitate jihadists from reaching the mainstream.
An interesting point to note was that throughout the discussion, Qatanani repeatedly called for peaceful action and condemned violence as being anathema to true Islam. Conversely, he referred to the attacks on U.S. embassies abroad that left a U.S. ambassador, two Navy SEALs and one additional civil servant dead, as merely "a bad reaction."
He then repeated calls for peace and maintained that such "bad reactions" go directly against Islam's peaceful nature.
"We condemn any bad reaction that is not peaceful. That is not Islamically acceptable, even by the teachings of the prophet. It is unacceptable."
So who is Qatanani?
Qatanani's notoriety soared in 2008 when U.S. immigration authorities attempted to deport him.
Born in the Palestinian city of Nablus, Qatanani was arrested, pleaded guilty and was convicted in an Israeli military court in 1993 for aiding Hamas during an uprising that same year. When he immigrated to the United States in 1996, the cleric failed to include information about his ties to the terrorist group on his U.S. Green Card application. The omission, along with the cleric's checkered past, prompted immigration officials to file a motion to deport Qatanani and his family.
Qatanani and his attorneys have since minimized the cleric's history, maintaining that he was merely among hundreds of other Palestinians detained during the uprising and that he had been convicted in absentia and later subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, even "torture."
Ultimately, Qatanini and his family were granted permanent residency in 2008, but the case is currently being appealed through the New Jersey Immigration Court of Appeals. He is also suing the FBI and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency for the release of any records that bear relevance on his ability to remain in the U.S. The imam filed his suit under the Freedom of Information Act in a U.S. District Court in Newark at the end of June, 2012. His suit claims the of Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have ignored his requests for records for more than five months.
It should also be noted that Qatanani has been much admired, not only in the Muslim community but interfaith communities as well. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has even embraced the cleric, calling him a "friend."
So what does one of America's most high-profile and perhaps controversial Islamic scholars think is really behind the animus Islamists harbor for the West? "Miseducation."
According to Qatanani, "miseducation on both sides" is fanning the flames of discontent in the "Muslim or Arab world...and the solution is education for everyone." For the cleric, misunderstanding can, and clearly has, led to "killing."
"The people here don’t understand the Arab world, how they think and deal with holy issues -- issues related to the Quran and Prophet Muhammad," the imam told TheBlaze.
The imam clarified his position by saying that there is an onus on each and every person -- Muslim or not -- to weigh the potential harm that could come from his or her words. The message Qatanani was attempting to convey is that "we have to stop" putting people's lives in danger and sabotaging Muslim-American relations with anti-Islamic language and imagery. He did not address the lives that are put in danger from actual acts of agression waged by Muslims who are not respecting another culture's "law of the land."
Qatanani said that in these sensitive times following the Arab Spring, Muslims abroad "want to be close to America" but that saboteurs are getting in the way. "I believe that understanding each other and education is the key," Qatanani said, adding that cross-pollination is possible if Muslim and American scholars travel to one another's regions to educate the public.
"So we need to build that bridge. The Muslims living here in U.S. can do that."