Combating Hate Speech: A Religious Perspective
Combating Hate Speech: A Religious Perspective
In light of the increasing concern with rights-based concepts, “hate speech” arose as a phenomenon that must be encountered and eliminated, because it undermines humans’ right to respect and honor. Though there is no agreed upon definition for hate speech, UN explains it as a term that refers to offensive discourse targeting a group or an individual based on inherent characteristics (such as race, religion or gender) and that may threaten social peace. Though, the concept is social one, it has a close connection with religion, as radical groups’ discourse promotes hatred and enmity. However, religion can be well employed to face hate speech, provided that the genuine understanding of religion is adopted.
“O mankind! We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you may [get to] know one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” With these words, the Glorious Qur’an draws the frame of the human relations that must be based on respect and fraternity. This verse is an early call for negating the roots of hatred. It sets the foundations of relations of humans in this world: their relation with their lord and their relation with one another. The basis of the former type of relations is to be mindful of Allah, and the basis of the second type is the concept of “Ta’aruf.” Putting in mind that the Glorious Qur’an was revealed more than 1400 years ago, it teaches us how Islam was keen to present a new social concept that should govern human relations in our universe.
This Qur’anic concept finds its root in the fact that all humans are brothers as they all are the descendants of the same father and mother, as stated in the above mentioned verse, and therefore, there should be no hatred among them. It is through this concept of Ta’aruf, Islam implants a harmonious relation between religion and social life, a sign that proves that Islam views religion as a tool to achieve stability and create coherent communities. It is within such frame that the Qur’an prohibits Muslim to insult the gods of other worshippers, though the basic tenet of the Islamic faith is that there is no god but Allah. Qur’an (6: 108) stats, “Do not insult what they invoke apart from Allah, or they will insult Allah.”
Moreover, Islam does not only consider hate speech as a social defect that should be treated, Rather, it is a sin that a human has to avoid and ask forgiveness of Allah if it happened that he committed it. Hate speech is driven mainly by the feeling of arrogance and the belief that “I’m better than others.” Upon realizing that, we recall the story of Iblees (Devil) and Adam, when the Devil rejected the command of Allah to prostrate before Adam saying, “I am better than him: You created me from fire and him from clay.” This was the cause of wrath of Allah upon Iblees.
Though some may wrongly think that religion encourages hate speech, the truth is, rather, that it is ignorance of religion that incites such heinous attitudes. Islam in fact combats extremism in any form and calls for moderation which is marked in Islam by adopting the concept of wasatiyyah (the middle position).
It was driven by such understanding that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and its Grand Imam, Prof. Ahmed al-Tayeb, attempt always to promote such understanding in order to combat hatred and hate speech. In fact, over the past couple of years, many efforts have been made to counter hate speech and promote the language of fraternity, either inside Egypt or worldwide.
Within Egypt, Al-Azhar al-Shairf considered that the basis to combat hatred in the Egyptian society is to enhance citizenship. In 2017, Al-Azhar organized an international conference under the title, “Freedom and Citizenship…Diversity and Integration” which aimed at promoting the concept of citizenship from the religious point of view, to prove that citizenship is not only a political concept, but also a religious value in Islam. However, Al-Azhar did not confine itself into theoretical actions. Rather, it has translated these ideas into practical steps. Perhaps the most prominent step in this regard was the institution of the Egyptian Family House (Ar. Beit al-‘Eila), which was established in 2011 to strengthen the relationship between Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and the Egyptian Coptic Church. It aims to foster the ties between the Muslims and Christians of Egypt, and thus strengthens the Egyptian religious harmony. Over the past years, Egypt’s religious communities represented by Al-Azhar and the Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Anglican denominations—have been working to fulfill the Family House’s mission.
On the international level, Al-Azhar al-Sharif was interested to promote the concept that all mankind are brothers in humanity. To achieve this, a very significant and historical document was signed by both Prof. Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, on February 4, 2019. The Document aims to enhance dialogue on co-existence of humans globally, strengthen human relations and establish bases for such relations based on mutual respect.
To conclude, hate speech is a defect that threatens security as it implants division and discord among members of the same community. The bases of hate speech are radicalism and extremism, and therefore we find hate speech common among extremist Islamists and the followers of radical political attitudes, such as the right-wind followers. The best to counter hate speech is to spread love and fraternity among humans and teach them that they all are brother. Again, we need to contemplate, ponder and spread the words of God in the Qur’an “O mankind! We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you may [get to] know one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”