Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles office (CAIR-LA), said from his Anaheim office that he had mixed feelings about the cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine that hit the streets Wednesday.
As you can see, the satirical newspaper's cover features a caricature of the prophet Muhammad–weeping–as he holds a sign reading "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) and a headline in French that translates to "All is forgiven."
It's a play on Muhammad, "after years of being insulted, defamed, attacked, mistreated, and having his followers tortured and killed by the people of Mecca," returning to that city and telling its people, "You are all forgiven," explained Nihad Awad, CAIR's national executive director.
Awad's words were in an announcement on the availability of CAIR-LA representatives to speak about the Charlie Hebdo cover Wednesday. Speaking with a KABC7 reporter, Ayloush responded the caricature does not accurately resemble Muhammad but that the message does fit him. "Forgiveness is a true representation of what the prophet would have done," Ayloush said. "This is a message we need right now."
Charlie Hebdo put out all 3 million print copies of its latest edition in multiple languages–or more than 50 times its typical circulation–in reaction to the terrorist attack that shook the magazine, France and the world last week. They completely sold out in France.
"With this cover, we wanted to show that at any given moment, we have the right to do anything, to redo anything, and to use our characters the way we want to," explained Luz, the cartoonist who drew the cover image, in an interview translated by Slate. "Muhammad has become a character, in spite of himself, a character in the news, because there are people who speak on his behalf. This is a cover aimed at intelligent people, who are much more numerous than you think, whether they're atheists, Catholics, Muslims …"
"Just as Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish, we have the right to peacefully challenge negative portrayals of our religious figures," notes Awad, who leads America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. "The answer to speech one disagrees with should not be violence, but should instead be more speech promoting tolerance and mutual understanding."
Ayloush also spoke at Friday's "Crisis of ISIS" educational forum in Garden Grove, where he praised American imams and scholars for continuing to refute and challenge Islamic State's "deviant and destructive ideology."
About 150 people attended the event that was co-presented by CAIR-LA, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of Orange County, whose religious director, Muzammil Siddiqi, described ISIS as a cult and evil perversion of the teachings of the Holy Quran.
Denouncing the ongoing brutality and ideology of ISIS, Siddiqi said Muslims here and around the world must ensure that members of the faith and others understand the true teachings of Islam.