Published February 11, 2006
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia's top cleric called on the world's Muslims to reject apologies for the "slanderous" caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed and demanded the authors and publishers of the cartoons be tried and punished, Saudi newspapers reported Saturday.
Thousands of Muslims, meanwhile, took to the streets in London and several other European cities to protest the drawings that were first published in a Danish newspaper in September and recently reprinted in other European publications. One depicted the prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse.
Denmark also announced it has temporarily withdrawn its ambassadors from Syria, Iran and Indonesia because their safety was at risk in the wake of the controversy.
Speaking to hundreds of faithful at his Friday sermon, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Seedes, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, called on the international community to enact laws that condemn insults against the prophet and holy sites.
"Where is the world with all its agencies and organizations? Is there only freedom of expression when it involves insults to Muslims? With one voice...we will reject the apology and demand a trial," Al Riyad, a Saudi daily newspaper, quoted al-Seedes as saying.
Al-Seedes said the cartoons "made a mockery" of the Islam and the Prophet and called them "slanderous."
A diverse crowd ranging from teenagers in jeans and T-shirts to women in head scarves gathered in Trafalgar Square in central London. Many carried placards reading "United Against Islamophobia."
"It was absolutely wrong to publish the cartoons," said Ihtisham Hibatullah, media director for the Muslim Association of Britain, one of the protest organizers.
But he said demonstrators also wanted to send the message that "the clash of civilizations is only promoted by fringe minorities. We see the future as one of dialogue between practices, cultures, faiths and ideologies."
Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry. No major British newspaper has reproduced the caricatures, and the country had seen only small demonstrations before Saturday.
Noisy but peaceful rallies also were held in Turkey, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Germany, France and elsewhere, although the Middle East was largely calm, a day after demonstrations by thousands of Muslim worshippers emerging from Friday prayers.
Protesters in the Turkish capital of Ankara stomped on Danish flags and shouted, "We will not forgive the ones who humiliated our prophet!"
Arab governments, Muslim clerics and newspaper columnists have been urging calm in past days, fearing that recent weeks of violence have only increased anti-Islamic sentiment in the West.
So far, eleven people have been killed in the protests — all during three days of riots this week in Afghanistan. A 12th person died in Nairobi Friday when he was hit by an ambulance rushing away a wounded person.
Denmark's embassy buildings in Syria, Iran and Indonesia had been targeted by angry mobs and the Foreign Ministry said it was withdrawing Danish ambassadors from all three countries.
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons in September, has apologized for offending Muslims but stood by its decision to print the drawings, citing freedom of speech.
The newspaper's culture editor, Flemming Rose, who was in charge of the drawings, went on indefinite leave Thursday but many Muslims said that would do little to quell the uproar.
The paper has denied that Rose was ordered to go leave because he suggested reprinting Holocaust drawings solicited by an Iranian newspaper, setting off a dispute earlier this week with Jyllands-Posten's editor-in-chief.
"He was not forced out," said the paper's spokesman, Tage Clausen. "He's on vacation, that's all."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the controversy over the cartoons has created unprecedented tension between the Islamic and Christian world.
"For the sake of global peace and safeguarding of our commonly held values, I believe it has now become essential that the statesmen and politicians act with wisdom and commonsense," he said in a letter published in Turkish media and sent to U.N. member nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and NATO.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated that many Muslims consider the cartoons an insult to their faith, but he called on Muslims to forgive those who have sincerely apologized.
"Reprinting the cartoons in order to make a point about free speech is an act of senseless brinkmanship," he said in a commentary in the International Herald Tribune.
"It is also a disservice to democracy. It sends a conflicting message to the Muslim community: that in a democracy it is permissible to offend Islam. This message damages efforts to prove that democracy and Islam go together."