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'Comic bio' of Muhammad risks Muslim ire

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'Comic bio' of Muhammad risks Muslim ire
Charlie Hebdo's office after they were hit by a firebomb in 2011. Photo: David Monniaux.
14:36 CET+01:00
A French magazine, which sparked international protests and saw its offices firebombed after it printed cartoons mocking Muhammad, on Wednesday published a "halal" cartoon biography of Islam's founder.

The editor of Charlie Hebdo weekly insists that "The Life of Mohammed", whose cover shows a goofy-looking prophet leading a camel through the desert, is an educational work prepared by a Franco-Tunisian sociologist.

"It is a biography authorised by Islam since it was edited by Muslims," said Stéphane Charbonnier, who was also the illustrator of the book which comes complete with academic footnotes.

"I don't think higher Muslim minds could find anything inappropriate," said Charbonnier, whose magazine has repeatedly enraged some Muslims with satirical depictions of the prophet, including showing him naked.

He said the idea for the comic book came to him in 2006 when a newspaper in Denmark published cartoons of Mohammed, later republished by Charlie Hebdo, that sparked angry protests across the Muslim world.

"Before having a laugh about a character, it's better to know him. As much as we know about the life of Jesus, we know nothing about Muhammad," he told AFP last week.

He said the book was "perfectly halal", a joking reference to meat that is deemed fit for Muslims to consume.   

Despite Charbonnier's insistence that the book is well-intentioned and inoffensive, the depiction of the Muslim prophet in any visual form is deemed sacrilegious by many Muslims.

Also likely to cause offence are the drawings of naked men wearing turbans on its first page and later depictions of naked female breasts and exposed female genitalia.

The book also at one point shows Muhammad – as a boy – taking his clothes off to join other naked children.

There was little initial reaction Wednesday to the new comic book, which retails at six euros (eight dollars), but some condemnation was starting to appear on social media networks.

"#CharlieHebdo at it again, No matter what they claims (sic) this is a deliberate effort to create chaos," wrote one Twitter user.

"#CharlieHebdo is reopening a can of worms: publishing a comic with illustrations about the Prophet Muhammad... I wish they leave it alone," wrote another.

On Monday a senior political advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the work.

"Turning the prophet of Islam into a cartoon character is itself wrong," Ibrahim Kalin said in a Twitter message. "No matter what Charlie Hebdo people say, this is a provocation. My advice to Muslims: ignore it. Don't give them what they want."

In September Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of a naked Muhammad as violent protests were taking place in several countries over a low-budget film, titled "Innocence of Muslims", which was made in the United States and insulted the prophet.

French schools, consulates and cultural centres in 20 Muslim countries were briefly closed along with embassies for fear of retaliatory attacks.

In 2011 Charlie Hebdo's offices were hit by a firebomb and its website pirated after publishing an edition titled "Charia Hebdo" featuring several Muhammad cartoons.

Charbonnier, who has received death threats, lives under police protection.

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