I am a Canadian Muslim who has been living and teaching in Los Angeles for the past decade. My recent book, Oil and Water: Two Faiths, One God is an introduction to Islam for a North American audience. As a Muslim, I am deeply concerned about violence committed by Muslims, especially when it is done in the name of Islam. Muslims around the world have condemned the recent cases in Sudan and Saudi Arabia. For example, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) wrote this in response to the jailing of the teacher in Sudan: “‘Jailing Ms. Gibbons is the real insult to Islam in this case,’ said MPAC Communications Director Edina Lekovic. ‘Invoking Islamic law to jail and deport her for this insignificant class project is absurd and appalling.'” Their full response can be found on their web page and is reproduced here:

MPAC Appalled by Sudanese Jailing of Teacher for Naming Teddy Bear
November 30, 2007

The Muslim Public Affairs Council today expressed its disgust with the Sudanese court decision to jail and beat a British teacher who allowed her students to name a class teddy bear “Muhammad.”

SEE: “Calls in Sudan for Execution of British Teacher” (New York Times, 11/30/07)

The hundreds of protesters, some waving ceremonial swords, outside the presidential palace denouncing the teacher and calling for her execution are falling into a pathetic trap by making a story out of nothing. The leaflets condemned Gibbons as an “infidel” and accused her of “the pollution of children’s mentality” by her actions.

“Jailing Ms. Gibbons is the real insult to Islam in this case,” said MPAC Communications Director Edina Lekovic. “Invoking Islamic law to jail and deport her for this insignificant class project is absurd and appalling.”

Gillian Gibbons was given 15 days in jail yesterday after she was convicted of insulting Islam after asking her seven-year-old students to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats. She was cleared of charges of inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs. British leaders expect that a deal will be reached, and Gibbons will be released and deported.

Resorting to violence in order to “defend” Islam and the Prophet is a violation of both the Quran and Prophet’s own example. The sanctity of human life and human accountability are core Islamic tenets. In response to those who subjected him to repeated ridicule and contempt, Prophet Muhammad offered kindness and forgiveness rather than anger, hate or violence. Muslims should not pervert the legacy of the Prophet by making Islam appear intolerant and violent.

Founded in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of Muslim Americans.

MPAC also had the following response to the rape case in Saudi Arabia: “Punishing the victim of a brutal crime is antithetical to the teachings of the faith. Doubling the woman’s punishment for exercising her God-given right to freedom of speech violates core Islamic principles which uphold truth and justice. Their full response is found on this web page and reproduced here:

MPAC Condemns Saudi Ruling to Punish Rape Victim
November 21, 2007

The Muslim Public Affairs Council today condemned a ruling issued by a court in Saudi Arabia which punished the victim of a gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail. MPAC finds the court’s ruling, and the Saudi law used to justify the ruling, an egregious miscarriage of the spirit and letter of Islam.

SEE: “U.S. Astonished by Saudi Rape Sentence” (New York Times, 11/21/07)

The woman has said the 2006 attack occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male friend. While in the car with the friend, two men climbed into the vehicle and drove to a secluded area. She said she was raped by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend. The stated basis for such punishment was because riding in a car only with an unrelated man is a crime in Saudi Arabia.

The woman initially had been sentenced to 90 lashes then increased her punishment from 200 lashes after her lawyer tried to appeal her case and called attention to it in the media. The male victim also was given 90 lashes as punishment. The rapists received 80 to 1,000 lashes each. Last week, the court increased the rapists’ sentences to two to nine years imprisonment.

Punishing the victim of a brutal crime is antithetical to the teachings of the faith. Doubling the woman’s punishment for exercising her God-given right to freedom of speech violates core Islamic principles which uphold truth and justice.

As the Quran states, “O you who have attained to faith; be ever steadfast in upholding justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it is against your own selves…” (4:135). There is no basis in the Quran or in the example of the life of the Prophet Muhammad to warrant such abhorrent punishment.

Since Saudi Arabia is a major U.S. ally and recipient of U.S. aid, our Administration should insist on this sentence being overturned. MPAC calls upon all people of conscience to speak out, and to work to overturn this sentencing.

It is vitally important to speak out on these issues, as Muslims have done across North America and around the world.

Amir Hussain, PhD
Associate Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles