By Josh Visser
The conflict over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed has put much attention on the divisive nature of religion and culture.
But the Ryerson Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Hillel, the Jewish campus group, co-hosted an event on Friday to display similarities between the faiths. Speakers from each faith condemned the cartoons as disrespectful towards Muslims and as violating the principles of freedom of speech.
“This is an insult to all Muslim people, equating all Muslims as terrorists,” said Sheikh Baker of the cartoon that depicted the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb for a turban.
“What Muslims are condemning right now is not freedom of speech or opinion. What we don’t agree with is the freedom to insult, the freedom of lying, the freedom of racism,” he said. “Freedom of speech must be practiced with responsibility and respect.”
Israeli Rabbi Shmuel Bowman agreed. “We know how powerful a cartoon or words can be. A cartoon… is powerful enough to shape public opinion,” Bowman said.
“Freedom of speech must be practiced responsibly because once it’s out there, you can never take it back.”
The event was held after the Muslim Friday prayers. Hillel president Jonathan Vandersluis said that the timing made it difficult for many Jewish students to attend, but it was important for Hillel to show its support.
But the focus of the event was not about the cartoons, he said. “We discussed about focusing on the cartoons, but we thought if we focused too much on the cartoon, it would be too political and too negative,” he said.
“We came to a decision we would focus more on anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia and the connections between our cultures.”
Rabbi Bowman described how similar the Jewish and Muslim faiths are. “There is so much similarity between us that I feel at home with your group,” he told the crowd of about 75 people.
Baker took the time to say that he strongly condemned the violence that has occurred because of the offensive cartoons. Islam shares much of its beliefs with both Judaism and Christianity, he said.