CAIRO, Egypt 

Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, has condemned the display of cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Britain.

In a statement, the Cairo-based institution’s Observatory for Combating Extremism described the caricatures as a “disgraceful act” which amounts to “hate speech”.

“This is an unjustified provocation of the feelings of nearly two billion Muslims around the world,” it said.

On March 22, a teacher at the Betley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, England, displayed offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad during a class. The caricatures are believed to be one of those published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Tens of people gathered in front of the school on Thursday and Friday to protest the drawings under police presence and called for the teacher involved in the incident to be sacked.

The school has since suspended the teacher and preferred to switch back to online teaching for the day, local media reported.

Its director, Gary Keppel, “categorically” apologized for the incident, adding that “the teacher also apologized”.

Al-Azhar said it is “saddened” by the incident, stressing its “total rejection” of such behavior. “They [blasphemous caricatures] have become a clear embodiment of a serious defect in those societies,” the statement added.

In October 2020, cartoons insulting Prophet Muhammad were published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, sparking protests across the Muslim world. Campaigns calling for a boycott of French products were launched on social media platforms.

The caricatures were also projected on buildings in a few cities in France.

Several Arab countries as well as Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have condemned the caricatures and French President Emmanuel Macron’s attitude regarding the drawings.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara

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