Olympic gymnast Louis Smith has missed out on celebrations being held in central London to honour Britain’s Olympic team – to visit two London mosques in a bid to atone for having joked about Islam.
While other Rio medallists took part in festivities in Trafalgar Square, and later attended a reception at Buckingham Palace, four-time medallist Smith instead visited two mosques in East London to learn more about the Muslim faith. Smith apologised for the video as soon as it was made public.
The athlete has been pilloried in the British media after a video emerged of him and his friend, fellow gymnast Luke Carson, jokingly mimicking Muslim prayers while drunk at a wedding. Carson has already retired from professional competition due to an injury, but Smith may miss out on the next Olympic games, due to be held in 2020, thanks to the level of objection to the joke.
In a statement posted to his official Facebook page, Smith told his fans: “So today I visited 2 mosques in London that I was invited to. I accepted the offer to learn more about the Muslim community and Islam. I honestly can say it was actually a really good day. I was a little nervous and anxious before visiting because of the reason events in the last week. But the people and the community where [sic] so understanding and inviting.”
One of the mosques he visited is run by Ahmadi Muslims, a sect within the faith which rejects violence and focuses on charitable works.
Smith said: “We discussed my actions and they showed me what they learn & the true meaning behind there [sic] religion of peace. The community work they do for various charities is actually crazy and the money raised each year would blow your mind.”
Following the public release of the video over a week ago, Smith admitted that he has been inundated with death threats on his social media accounts, forcing him to go to the police.
However, he rejected the idea that his actions fall under legitimate freedom of speech, saying: “I was ignorant to people’s religion. And I apologised for offending those who follow the faith. And just because I have the right to doesn’t mean I’m happy with doing that.
“People have commented about it’s freedom of speech but I feel if I was to preach freedom of speech I wouldn’t use my video to endorse that. We can all exercise our rights of freedom of speech but being in the public eye and someone of sporting influence it’s my responsibility to exercise it in good taste, and on that part I messed up .”
He finished by offering a “Big thank you to everyone who welcomed me today. Had a good time getting to know you and your views.”
Many Muslims have responded to the statement critically, accusing Smith of not visiting a “real” mosque as Ahmadis are considered by many Muslims not to be Muslim as they believe in prophets more recent than Mohammed. (Most Muslims hold that Mohammed was the final prophet of Allah.)
One wrote: “Lol qadiyanis [a derogatory name for Ahmadis], ain’t even Muslim, visit a real mosque bro.”
Another said: “If you are visiting the Ahmadiyya community, they are considered heretics by all muslims [sic] and they worship in temples not mosques. Would be nice for u to actually visit a proper mosque. Thanks.”
Meanwhile, non-Muslims have argued that Smith had no need to apologise in the first place. One reader commented: “I don’t see why you had to do this. No religion should be immune from criticism or mockery. Would we ask monty python to go grovelling to a church because of the Life of Brian? The outrage at this harmless drunken joke is nothing more than a blasphemy law via the back door.”
Another added: “Stop grovelling to these people – you did nothing wrong in the first place. These so called “peace loving” muslims [sic] are sending you death threats for goodness sake – it is THEM that should be apologising to you.”