The 62-page comic book, titled “Life of Muhammad,” was prepared under the guidance of Zineb al-Rhazoui, a sociologist of Moroccan origin. The preface of the comic book was written by al-Rhazoui, who in a September interview described herself as an atheist and an opponent of Islam.
The comic book includes cartoons of the Prophet and his companions and provides distorted information about them.
The magazine's editor-in-chief, Stephan Charbonnier, said Prophet Muhammad is a historic personality and that cartoons of him should be interpreted like those of Jesus, Napoleon and Zorro.
Charbonnier said the content of the comic book was prepared by Muslims and that only the images were drawn by the magazine's staff, so the comic book is considered “halal.”
He said the cartoons are not satirical but are a biography of the Prophet, adding that it was prepared following detailed and extensive research of Islamic history.
Charbonnier also said he does not expect Muslims to make any accusations against the magazine, adding: “This publication is not part of the Quran. It is not to humiliate [the Prophet]. If I can read stories about the life of Jesus, why shouldn't I be able to do the same about Muhammad?”
The first edition of the comic book covers events starting from the birth of Prophet Muhammad to the start of his prophethood.
One cartoon depicts Muhammad's face and his physical appearance. In another cartoon, the Prophet is drawn as a “circumcised boy,” while a cartoon depicting his mother mocks her.
The second edition of the comic book will be published by the magazine later.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a spokesperson for the French government, said she has not yet seen the latest issue of the magazine, adding that a good balance should be established between freedom of speech and respect for public order, considering the country that they are living in. Vallaud-Belkacem, a Muslim, said it would not be right to add fuel to the fire by publishing such cartoons.
Charbonnier said during a press conference on Sunday that they have no intention of provoking Muslims and that the cartoons will not be offensive. He made it clear that he does not think that representing the Prophet in picture form should be taken as a provocation. “The ban on the portrayal of the Prophet is just a result of tradition; it's absolutely not written in the Quran. If people want to be shocked, let them be. But we did not produce this work to shock people,” he said in response to a question.
The publication of controversial cartoons by the magazine drew immediate reactions from the Islamic community.
The president of L'association des Musulmans de Noisy-le-Grand (The Association of Muslims of Noisy-le-Grand) Enis Chabchoub said no prophet is portrayed in Islamic tradition but that everyone is free to portray them in their own minds.
“But if some people want to make cartoons of the Prophet, I cannot accept this person as a Muslim,” he said.
Samir Amghar, a researcher and writer, said the publication of insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad will be seen by French Muslims as an act of provocation.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has expressed his concerns over the publication, stating that the move could incite protests.
Addressing the audience at the opening ceremony of the OIC, which will convene in İstanbul on Jan. 7-8 to discuss religious tolerance, İhsanoğlu said publications that clearly misrepresent the life of the Prophet Muhammad are a misuse of the freedom of thought and expression.
Describing Charlie Hebdo’s publication of a comic book biography of the Prophet Muhammad as a move incompatible with the norms of journalism and as the abuse of freedom of expression, İhsanoğlu said such a publishing mentality, which he thinks foments hatred and provocation, also runs against the norms of international law.
İhsanoğlu called on French authorities to take action against Charlie Hebdo, and urged restraint and calm throughout the Muslim world.
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. Its Paris offices were firebombed in November 2011 after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad. Charbonnier has been under police guard ever since.
Despite this, the magazine also ran controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2012, leading to outrage from Muslims around the world. Charlie Hebdo also ran mocking cartoons about other religions, including Christianity and Judaism and values of other religions.