Northern Ireland

Pastor James McConnell: Imam welcomes court ruling

Imam Muhammad Al Hussaini and Pastor James McConnell Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Imam Muhammad Al Hussaini welcomed the Belfast Magistrate's Court ruling that Pastor James McConnell was not guilty of making 'grossly offensive' remarks against Islam

An imam has welcomed a ruling that found evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks against Islam.

Muhammad Al Hussaini travelled from London to Belfast to give evidence on behalf of Mr McConnell.

The 78-year-old, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, denied two charges relating to a sermon he gave in a Belfast church in 2014.

He was found not guilty at Belfast Magistrates' Court on Tuesday.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The evangelical Christian preacher was found not guilty of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam at Belfast Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, Muhammad Al Hussaini said it is not the role of the judiciary to criminalise speech, "however distressing it might be", unless it provokes violence.

However, he added that it is now "time for reflection on the kind of language that would be appropriate for ministers of religion like myself - Muslim, Jewish and Christian ministers".

"Of course {the comments} were hurtful but one of the greatest things that came out of the experience of coming over to Belfast was developing a strong friendship with Fr Pat McCafferty, a Catholic priest whose faith had already been quite strongly critiqued by Pastor McConnell.


"He didn't go crying off to the police. He engaged with Christian grace and openness and honesty. They had very frank, robust disagreements but at the same time, he engaged in a manner that allowed a 20-year friendship. And in so doing, he maintained a moral high ground."

Mr Al Hussaini condemned censorship of discussion on "the really dangerous phenomenon of rising, religiously motivated violence, persecution and extremism".

He said: "When we see the heinous persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other parts of the world, to constrain the theological discussion that we need to have as a country and as a world on these questions actually worsens community tensions.

"We need to create an environment where we can talk quite frankly about these questions and in so doing, we need to defend civil society's role in this and not allow a creeping judicial role in constraining debate and discussion."

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