Imams say British Muslims 'will inevitably be hurt by republication of the cartoons' as Charlie Hebdo sells out

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There were reports that Charlie Hebdo was selling out of French newsagents in minutes today with only around 1,000 copies expected to be on sale in the UK.

The new magazine carries a cartoon of a crying Prophet Muhammad on its front cover in defiance of the gunmen who slaughtered 12 people at its Paris offices over its depictions of the Islamic spiritual leader.

Interest in the edition has prompted more than 50 British Muslim leaders to appeal for calm from the Islamic community in response to the cartoon.

In an open letter, the imams and religious leaders write: "With dignified nobility we must be restrained, as the Koran says 'And when the ignorant speak to them, they say words of peace'.

"Most Muslims will inevitably be hurt, offended and upset by the republication of the cartoons. But our reaction must be a reflection of the teachings of the gentle and merciful character of the prophet (peace be upon him).

"Enduring patience, tolerance, gentleness and mercy, as was the character of our beloved prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is the best and immediate way to respond."

Three million copies of the magazine have been printed, its largest ever run, with translations into English, Spanish and Arabic, and versions available in Italy and Turkey.

It comes the day after funerals in Paris and Jerusalem for some of the 17 people killed in the terror attacks, including the three police officers gunned down. French president Francois Hollande told mourners at the officers' funeral: "They died so that we can live free."

Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief Gerard Biard (pictured above, left, with cartoonist Luz – centre – and columnist Patrick Pelloux) said the latest edition had been "drawn up in pain and joy".

The magazine shows Muhammad against a green background with a tear streaming down his cheek, holding a sign reading Je Suis Charlie – the I Am Charlie rallying cry that has been used as a show of unity in the wake of the attacks.

The headline carries the phrase Tout Est Pardonne (All Is Forgiven), which French media have interpreted to mean Muhammad is forgiving the cartoonists for lampooning him.

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald "Luz" Luzier told the press conference he had drawn Muhammad as a "man who is crying".

"We are cartoonists and we like drawing little characters, just as we were as children," he said.

"The terrorists, they were kids, they drew just like we did, just like all children do. At one point they lost their sense of humour. At one point they lost the soul of their child which allowed them to look at the world with a certain distance.

"I'm sorry we've drawn him yet again but the Muhammad we've drawn is a man who is crying."

Wholesalers Smiths News, Comag and Menzies Distribution said they would be distributing the magazine.

But retailer WH Smith said it would not be selling the magazine as it does not usually stock the title.

UK news organisations have been split on whether to republish the Charlie Hebdo front page.

So far only The Guardian, Times, FT, Independent and BBC have opted to publish the front page from the major UK newspapers and broadcasters. Websites Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Yahoo News have also published this week's Charlie Hebdo front page.

Among those declining to do so are: The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, Sky News, ITN and Press Gazette.

Explaining The Sun's decision not to reproduce any Charlie Hebdo front pages depicting Muhammad last week, managing editor Stig Abell said: "Freedom of expression is freedom of choice. It doesn’t mean that we will never reproduce images, we made a decision yesterday of how to cover this case and I think the thing that struck us most forcibly was that this was a moment in time in which 12 people were butchered."

Buzzfeed editor Luke Lewis said this week: "We had a spirited debate about whether or not to run the images…we’ve got a number of Muslim members of staff. And in the end we decided unanimously that there was a clear news value to publishing the images. These were images that had sparked a world-shaking act of violence and to write a news story about that and to not include the images would be perverse."

Explaining his decision not to publish the latest Charlie Hebdo front page Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard said: "Get real, folks. A Jewish newspaper like mine that published such cartoons would be at the front of the queue for Islamists to murder."

Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford said: "We are part of a much larger publishing group and because of the sensitivities around this issue I consulted with colleagues about whether to republish the Charlie Hebdo front page. We've made a company decision not to do so."

George Pitcher, editor in chief of IB Times UK, said: "It's where we might sleep-walk into causing gratuitous offence that we must be careful. On my watch, we will not publish material that contributes to an incitement to racial or religious hatred.

"And, whatever our own views, there are members of the Muslim community, who abhor violence and extremism, but who also find satirical cartoon images of their prophet deeply offensive. We must respect that. Furthermore, we must not unwittingly become an agent of Islamophobia."

The IB Times got around the problem by putting the photo in a black box and warning readers not to click on the box to reveal the photo if they would find the depiction of Muhammad offensive.

Similary The Guardian placed the Muhammad cartoon below the fold on its website and warned readers not to scroll down if they would be offended. It has not reproduced the cartoon in its print edition.

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