Grand Imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar university Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb called on Wednesday the international community to criminalize “anti-Muslim” actions, following the display of images in France of the Prophet Mohammad that Muslims see as blasphemous.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who sits at the head of the thousand-year-old institution, also said that al-Azhar strongly rejects the use of anti-Muslim sentiment to rally votes in elections.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said freedom of expression should stop if it offends more than 1.5 billion people.
Sisi said he firmly rejects any form of violence or terrorism from anyone in the name of defending religion, religious symbols or icons.
“We also have rights. We have the right for our feelings not to be hurt and for our values not to be hurt,” he said during an address to commemorate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.
“And if some have the freedom to express what is in their thoughts I imagine that this stops when it comes to offending the feelings of more than 1.5 billion people,” he added in televised remarks.
The row has its roots in a knife attack outside a French school on Oct. 16 in which a man of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty, a teacher who had shown pupils cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson.
The French government, backed by many citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on freedom of speech, and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.
President Emmanuel Macron called the teacher a hero, and he pledged to fight "Islamist separatism".
His remarks have prompted a wave of anger throughout the Muslim world and campaigns to boycott French products.