Turkey's top Islamic cleric has raised eyebrows by claiming cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed are as bad as the destruction brought about by the Islamic State (Isis) group. Mehmet Gormez, the country's head of religious affairs, reportedly drew the controversial comparison in remarks to celebrate the anniversary of Mohammed's birth, a festival known as Mawlid an-Nabi.
"Today, the damage caused [by] the networks, distant from any belief, reason, and wisdom, who engrave the name [of God] on their so-called flags is no less than the [damage caused by] cartoons — intolerable by any means — by the pioneers of Islamophobia," he said, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
The reference to the flag seems clearly directed at IS (Daesh). The jihadi group's black and white banner, in fact, features the shahada, a declaration of faith that Muslims pronounce to declare their belief in God and his prophet.
According to estimates and surveys, IS has killed some 10,000 people in Syria and Iraq and another 1,600 in 83 attacks elsewhere in the world over the past 18 months. Some attacks were eventually carried out by fanatics acting in retaliation for cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.
In February, for example, an IS sympathiser opened fire in a public debate on blasphemy and freedom of expression in Copenhagen. The event featured Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist, who had portrayed Mohammed in cartoons.
According to the Islamic faith, it is offensive to depict the Prophet in any manner and snarky cartoons are perceived as deeply offensive.
French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo became a target for Islamist radicals after it defiantly printed Prophet Mohammed caricatures several times. Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who carried out a deadly shooting at its offices in Paris in January, claimed they were on a massacre mission to "avenge" the Prophet.
Gormez is the head of the directorate of religious affairs, a public body funded with taxpayers' money which operates under the prime minister's office and caters for the Sunni community. In his Mawlid an-Nabi message he went on to say that the biggest problem for Muslims today "is that they have lost the status of being an example and cannot deservedly represent our prophet's message of grace and mercy".