PARIS — Muslim groups and scholars in France and elsewhere voiced concerns Tuesday that a satirical newspaper’s first cover since the attack on its journalists last week could ignite dangerous new passions in a debate pitting free speech against religious doctrine.
One of Egypt’s highest Islamic authorities, Dar al-Ifta, warned that the new cartoon, depicting the Prophet Muhammad, would exacerbate tensions between the secular West and observant Muslims. Death threats circulated online against the surviving staff members of the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
The offices of the newspaper were attacked last Wednesday in apparent retaliation for routinely publishing cartoons lampooning Muhammad. Some interpretations of Islamic law forbid images of the prophet.
Survivors of the attack had said they would proceed with their next issue and again depict Muhammad.
The cover of the new issue — already widely seen on the Internet — will be published Wednesday in a print run of up to 3 million copies, compared with a typical print run of 60,000 copies. It shows Muhammad displaying the slogan that has become the symbol of resistance to Islamic militants: “Je Suis Charlie,” or, “I am Charlie.” He is shown weeping under a headline that reads: “All is forgiven.”
Muslim organizations in France issued a joint statement Tuesday expressing concern about the “numerous anti-Muslim acts observed these days,” and calling on the authorities to guarantee the security of mosques.
The statement Tuesday also commented on the new Charlie Hebdo cover, urging French Muslims to “remain calm and avoid emotive or incongruous reactions incompatible with dignity,” while “respecting freedom of opinion.”
In Egypt, Dar al-Ifta, which issues religious edicts, called on the French government to “announce their rejection of this racist act that attempts to raise religious strife and sectarianism, and deepen hatred.”
The blunt admonition, from a pillar of the mainstream Sunni Muslim establishment in the Arab world’s most populous country, recalled the pronouncements of Egyptian clerics in 2006 when cartoons depicting Muhammad were published in European newspapers, prompting a massive outpouring of protest — some of it violent — in many parts of the Muslim world.
Egypt’s government has strongly condemned the attacks, framing them as part of its own struggle against Islamist militants who have killed hundreds of soldiers and police officers over the last year and half.
In its statement, Dar al-Ifta mentioned attacks on mosques in the wake of the attacks in Paris. And it said that the planned Charlie Hebdo cover would serve as an “unjustified provocation to the feelings of a billion and half Muslims around the world who love and respect the Prophet.” It said the newspaper’s cover “will give an opportunity for extremists from both sides to exchange violent acts that only the innocent will pay for.”
Renald Luzier, who drew the latest cover and who is one of the most prominent cartoonists at the newspaper, escaped the massacre last week because he was late to work. At a news conference Tuesday he sought to explain the drawing.
“I had the idea to draw Muhammad because he is my character. Because he exists when I draw him, because he is a character that caused our premises to be firebombed, and later to be treated as irresponsible provocateurs — while we are above all cartoonists who love to draw little guys, like when we were children.”
“The terrorists have been children, too,” Luzier continued. “They drew like all the children do, and then they lost their sense of humor.”
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Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo. Merna Thomas contributed reporting from Cairo.