Skip to main content

Iran responds to caricatures with 'I love Muhammad' campaign

Iranians have rallied around the hashtag campaign "I love Muhammad" on social media following Charlie Hebdo's printing of another caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
Iranian worshippers demonstrate after the weekly Friday prayers on January 23, 2015 in Tehran to protest against a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that was published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in an edition issued a week after 12 people were killed by Islamist gunmen at its Paris offices. Iran denounced the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo but has also condemned as "insulting" and "provocative" its publication last week of a new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.  AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ M

Iranians are responding to Charlie Hebdo publishing an image of the Prophet Muhammad after the Jan. 7 terrorist attack with their own “I love Muhammad” hashtag campaign on social media.

Over the last two weeks, Charlie Hebdo has been a popular topic on social media, since two terrorists affiliated with extremist groups killed 12 members of the French satirical magazine's staff in Paris. The two perpetrators claimed that the massacre was in retaliation for the magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Iran, many were angry with the terrorists for spreading the idea that Islam is a violent religion. Many Iranians believed that the damage from the terrorist attack to Islam is much worse than the damage caused by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and that killing is never the right way to confront such actions. Iranian officials also condemned the Paris attacks. On Jan. 9, conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami, Tehran's Friday prayer leader, said, “We strongly condemn the terrorist attack in France and believe that Islam does not allow the killing of innocent people, be it in Paris, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan.”

After the attack, Charlie Hebdo announced that it would continue publication, but its latest issue was different, because of the timing and the cartoon they chose to publish on the magazine's front page. Charlie Hebdo's staff told the world that their front-page caricature would be of the Prophet Muhammad, who's beloved by 1.5 billion people around the world.

Publishing this cartoon has prompted different reactions around the world, with some saying it is immoral and insulting to Muslims. Others believe that publishing this type of cartoon is part of one's freedom of speech.

The latest cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad began to eclipse the Charlie Hebdo massacre, as Iranians were no longer condemning the terrorists, but instead expressing their confusion and anger over publishing the caricature.

Hashtag campaigns condemn Charlie Hebdo

The Iranians who felt insulted by the caricature began hashtag campaigns on Instagram, such as “I love Muhammad” and “lovers of Muhammad.”

A week ago, well-known cleric Shahab Morahdi attempted to unify responses to the contentious cartoon by starting the “I love Muhammad” campaign on Instagram. He asked social media activists to publish the three slogans “I love Muhammad,” “I hate terrorism” and “I condemn insulting the holy prophets” in Persian, English, French and Arabic.

According to IRNA, more than 5,000 tweets related to this campaign have been posted. Because of the low number of Iranians on Twitter, the “I Love Muhammad” campaign has gained more popularity and attraction on other social networks. The Instagram search engine turns up 22,000 posts for the campaign. Moreover, over 500,000 Facebook users "like" the "I love Allah and Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H)" page.

According to a study conducted by Internet World Stats, 46.7% of Facebook users in the Middle East are from Iran, and the number of Iranians opening accounts on Instagram is rising rapidly.

“The goal of this campaign is to announce Muslims' abhorrence of terrorism and to confront Islamophobia. What’s important for us is to oppose the thought of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, not the people behind the publication of the cartoon,” said Morahdi in an interview with local Iranian media, adding that real Islam is in opposition to any assassination and insult.

Many prominent public figures have joined the campaign, like Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, artist Ebrahim Hatamikia and Mehdi Rahmati, the former goalkeeper of Iran's national soccer team.

Mohammad Reza Aref, the sole Reformist candidate in the 2013 presidential election, slammed the French magazine for publishing the cartoon. "Media should be free to publish their news and analysis," he said, "yet the freedom that allows the French magazine to offend Muslim beliefs is by no means freedom, on the contrary it is abuse of freedom and is in violation of our moral and religious teachings."

Actress-comedian Bahareh Rahnama expressed support for the campaign on her Instagram page, writing: "Oh Muhammad, a world without violence is wishful thinking, but I ask you to grant us calmer and kinder days. You, whose love the pillars of heaven are built on, make the violent world today perfumed with your love."

Pop singer Reza Sadeghi wrote on his Instagram page: “I'm a Muslim. My religion is the seeker of peace, and my Prophet was the messenger of morality. I hate war and terrorism, but all of the religions are respectable for me.”

According to IRNA, the hashtag campaign is drawing the attention of citizens from other predominantly Muslim countries.

In Iran, even non-Muslim religious leaders have taken part in the campaign. Mashallah Golestani Nejad, a leader of the Iranian Jewish community, told a news agency: “The French government is to be blamed for the Paris events that hurt Muslim emotions and encouraged some to resort to violence by their own fatwa.”

He then counted, based on Jewish law, four penalties for the Charlie Hebdo staff including stoning, burning, decapitation and asphyxiation.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, chairman of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and a deputy of former President Mohammad Khatami, told Al-Monitor: “A few years ago, Mr. [Jacques] Chirac warned about such insults to sanctities, but they didn't listen to him, so these terrorist acts happened, which are hated by Muslims.”

He added: “I see Muslims as the victims of this type of behavior. Some incite extremists to commit crime and make the Islamic world the victim of that. Publishing the Prophet caricature on the front page was headstrong. We can’t make the world full of peace with this kind of behavior.”

Abtahi said: “People shouldn’t see this event in the freedom of speech context. On the contrary, they ought to think of it in the peaceful managing of the world context, which is completely different from the former. In the latter context, publication of the cartoon was irrational because it would motivate some extremists to commit terrorist attacks and assassination.

"Iranians are part of the Islamic world and they are completely upset and resentful of offending the Prophet. In fact, not only Iranians but also every Muslim feels insulted by this action. Even secular movements, which don’t have juridical and practical faith in Islam, are indignant, believing the most respectable and sacred figure of millions of humans has been offended.”

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in