On Sunday, September 25, the 56-year-old Jordanian Christian Nahed Hattar was assassinated in Amman, Jordan. He had been arrested earlier in August by the Jordanian authorities after he posted on Facebook a cartoon mocking jihadis and their lustful portrayal of the afterlife.
The cartoon portrays a jihadi with a thick black beard lying in bed in paradise, accompanied by two women. Allah is asking him whether anything more is needed to make sure that he is completely satisfied.
The point of the cartoon should be clear: Jihadi terrorists portray paradise in a disgusting way, envisioning Allah as working to satisfy their lustful desires for wine and women. It should be clear, also, that Hattar was not the creator of the cartoon; he merely reposted it.
But many Jordanian Muslims perceived the cartoon as insulting Allah himself, which is still treated as a crime in many parts in the Middle East. And many of those who found the cartoon offensive blamed Hattar for it.
Consequently, the state charged Hattar with provoking sectarian strife, especially as he is a Christian who sought to treat an Islamic topic. On September 25, a gunman waited for Hattar outside the court where he was facing charges, and struck him with three bullets.
Hattar was a well known liberal journalist. He wrote against radical political Islam and supported the current regime in Syria. He advocated for the civil rights of all Jordanians, especially those of Palestinian origin. Because of his daring political and religious positions, he was jailed several times and has been the target of several unsuccessful assassination attempts.
Even today in various parts in the Middle East, it is unacceptable to assess various elements of Islam’s doctrines and practices, especially if you are not Muslim. You cannot critically question the deeds of Muhammad nor the reasonableness of radical religious discourse. The price is huge: one’s own life. Hattar was jailed by the authorities in August and murdered by a terrorist in September. The message is simple and clear: Islam is untouchable.
Rest in peace, Mr. Hattar! But, what peace? Rest in honor. Rest in dignity, respect, and admiration, sir!
Ayman S. Ibrahim is postdoctoral fellow of Middle Eastern history at Haifa University and assistant professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.