Hong Kong’s largest mosque has distanced itself from an anti-France protest which was staged outside its gates last week.

After Friday prayers at Kowloon mosque, a group of around 100 Muslims demonstrated against French President Emmanuel Macron after he defended the right to display caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Macron was speaking after an attack on October 16, when a Muslim extremist beheaded a French teacher on the streets of Paris to “avenge” insults to Mohammad, after the teacher showed caricatures of the prophet in a class about freedom of speech.

Last week, protesters chanted “Macron go to hell!” in Urdu and displayed an effigy of the French president before police dispersed the crowd under pandemic restrictions, which place a four-person limit on social gatherings.

Some held placards echoing the call by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to boycott French imports. Similar protests have been held by other Muslim communities across the globe.

When asked on Monday why demonstrators were angry with Macron, one protester Alex told HKFP: “It’s because of France, because they were publishing cartoons of our prophet and they’re degrading our prophet.”

“It’s because he published the cartoons on the government buildings on a big screen in France, and he had some bad comments about Islam as well, saying Islam is in crisis,” Alex said, referring to displays of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on the walls of local government buildings in Toulouse and Montpellier.

“This is totally unacceptable, to make cartoons of our prophet and publicise it. We cannot take this as a normal issue. We are offended,” the protester added.

“It [Friday’s protest] was done by local Hong Kong Muslims… not any organisation or NGO. It was done in a personal capacity.” he told HKFP. “People just gathered together.”

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

When asked why the protest was held outside the mosque, Alex said it was the most obvious location. “The Trustees have a different stance, maybe,” he added. “They don’t want to protest. But the other Muslims, we have a lot of anger.”

The Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community oversees the administration of the city’s mosques.

In the teachings of Islam, the prophet Mohammad instructed his followers that they should not produce any depictions of him, lest future generations worship the image.

‘Outside people’

The Board of Trustees has sought to distance itself from the protest.

They are “outside people” with no affiliation with the mosque, a spokesperson for the Kowloon Mosque told HKFP, adding that the mosque did not support the protest. The trustees have placed a notice on the mosque gates, “strictly prohibiting” further demonstrations, protests or political gatherings.

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Others in the community have also criticised Friday’s demonstration. Adeel Malik, founder and chairman of the Muslim Council of Hong Kong, told HKFP it went against the teachings of Islam. “The mosque is supposed to be a place where people come to pray, learn the Koran and have some social gatherings, but any types of demonstrations that are politically motivated will not be acceptable.”

“You shouldn’t vilify, you shouldn’t demonise,” he said. “We’re losing this yardstick of morals and values because we want to enforce our ideology, our school of thought on other people. That’s what leads to wars, arguments and disunity,” he said, adding that the burning of effigies and flags in protests worldwide was akin to “vigilante” behaviour. “It’s definitely not from Islam.”

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Malik, however, said he understood the frustrations that led to the anti-France protests. “The trigger which led to what we have seen in the past week is a president, a leader, defending the actions of those people who are taking a figure who we hold to our heart for fun, for mockery,” he said. “When a political figure… endorses it, accepts it, that’s when the red line is being drawn.”

“The way they’re portraying the cartoons is an insult,” the chairman said, “[But the] reaction need to not disturb the social order and the laws of the land.”

Straw poll shows apathy

Others, however, were less concerned. Of the two dozen-odd people who identified as Muslims approached by HKFP on Tuesday, most held no opinion on the entire issue. Only one man expressed support for Friday’s protest.

Hasan, a Turkish Muslim who has been in Hong Kong for 26 years, said he saw the whole issue as politically motivated. “Turkey and France are supporting different men in Libya. It’s all about the money. France gets a lot of oil from Libya,” he said, referring to the escalating tensions between the French and Turkish leaders.

“Nobody really knows what Mohammad the prophet looked like, whether he was dark skinned or light skinned, tall or short. They’re getting angry at a drawing of something that is imaginary,” he added. “It’s stupid to get angry at something imaginary.”

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.