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Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s annual peace symposium

Free Speech or hate speech: Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s annual peace symposium generates stimulating debate

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of New Zealand hosted its annual Peace Symposium in Auckland on the 21st of September. An annual event providing a forum for discussing topical issues, this year’s symposium attempted to clarify the tricky demarcation between free speech and hate speech.

Hon Michael Wood, MP for Mt Roskill, started the formal discussion by highlighting how a total lack of constraint doesn’t exist anywhere in the modern world. Free speech though desirable and encouraged, is still bound by laws and exceptions that are put in place to protect the vulnerable and maintain peace in society. He however stressed that the bar for these laws needs to be set as high as possible so as not to impinge on the right to freedom of speech.

Paula Penfold, award winning journalist for Stuff circuit investigative unit, drew on her recent experiences of investigating the dark web and how this has altered her view of how free speech in an uncontrolled environment can quickly spiral into hate speech, which can sometimes end in horrific events such as the Christchurch terrorism. Ms Penfold emphasized the role society can play in integrating marginalized individuals so they don’t end up being radicalized, and how symposia like these can help provide a platform to achieve that goal.

Dr Rob Kilpatrick, director of Traidmission, asked for community leaders and politicians to steer and guide the society towards concentrating on what binds us together as human beings despite coming from different back grounds.

Imam Mustenser Qamar cited the example of defaming statements and caricatures about the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as a misuse of freedom of speech. And whilst being most hurtful to all Muslims, how the extreme response shown by some in destroying life and property is in contradiction to the true Islamic teaching. The Imam drew on the examples from Holy Quran and the life and practices of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him), highlighting how he dealt with sensitive issues such as blasphemy (hate speech) in his lifetime, which demonstrate that the religion of Islam actually teaches tolerance, patience and turning towards God Almighty in prayer in response to hateful speech and not giving it oxygen. Likewise, he emphasised that Islam is a strong proponent of freedom of speech and only draws the line where there is an immediate threat or call towards violence and hostility - beyond this, true Islam doesn't push for laws limiting freedom of speech, seeking instead to establish a society based on morals and respect towards opposing views whilst at the same time encouraging constructive dialogue. Imam Mustenser concluded by calling on Muslim leaders of today to incorporate these practices to improve laws and human rights in modern day Islamic countries.

The event was well attended by over 150 guests. Notable amongst guests were Hon MP Dr Parmjeet Parmar, and MP for Botany Jamie Lee Ross. In addition representatives of New Zealand Police, and leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu faiths also attended the symposium. The event concluded with a combined prayer and commitment to work towards establishing a peaceful society. The speakers and attendees also lauded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for holding the symposium, and on its continuous efforts to encourage peace in the society.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a dynamic, fast-growing international revival movement within Islam. Founded in 1889 by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in Punjab, India, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spans 210 countries with membership exceeding tens of millions. Its motto of ‘Love for all and hatred for none’ is evidenced through the peaceful actions of its millions of followers. The New Zealand branch of this community was established in 1987 and is a registered charitable organisation that endeavors to be an active and integrated community within New Zealand society.


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