It is unfortunate that two people were charged in court on Wednesday for insulting Prophet Muhammad. If, indeed, their speech or action was offensive and considered a hate speech or hate crime, then the police action is understandable.
Hate crimes, whether it is hate speech or any form of hate action, or whether it is aimed at religion, or race or social or educational background or any aspect of human identity, should not be tolerated. No one should feel it is a right to spew hate in any form and get away with it. Those committing hate crimes should be charged under the law.
However, if people are just questioning some aspect of a religion, it must not be mistaken as a hate crime against that religion. Many people who respect a religion may still query some aspects of it that they don’t understand or struggle to come to terms with. When they express their doubts or criticisms of a religion, it is their right to express.
Legitimate queries about a religion should be separated from hate speech and hate crimes. Punitive action should be taken on the latter but the former should be encouraged.
When some members of the faithful question the actions or thinking of their religious leaders or raise some issue about a holy book, leaders should be quick to respond in a way to generate discussion over the point or points made.
People who raise these issues may see from a different perspective and it may not be wrong, just different. Leaders who insist it is wrong and demand conformity to their point of view would only be forcing their thinking on the followers.
This is one of the main reasons for the crisis of faith many people experience. They may believe in God and believe in their own religion but may not agree with some of the teachings and practices. Religious leaders, on the other hand, tend to stop the criticisms and raising of issues by stifling differences and insisting on conformity. Some may even go to the extent of excluding members from their communities because they don’t fit into the existing scheme of things.
When people can’t handle such stifling conformity, they rebel and many would reject some of the traditional practices. Unfortunately for them, they have few alternative choices.
This is one huge area which is not addressed by religious leaders. If discussions are not permitted, many of these doubters will simply abandon their faith. This has already happened in the developed nations with a Christian past and why the Christian populations there are dwindling.
To address this problem, there should be discussion of the holy books, especially with regard to current issues that the faithful can think about and apply to their own personal context.
Such discussion should begin with the scholars of the holy books. They should publish their studies on contemporary issues in light of the holy books so that the followers have access to this well-thought-of discussion of the issues confronting the 21st Century citizen. Such discussion should also include dissenting views so that readers can make informed choices.
It would help the faithful a great deal to know that they can hold different views and yet be accepted and included within the faith.