Many Muslim intellectuals are worried that the incident will harm the interests of France's five million Muslims and fuel Islamophobia, already rampant in many sections of Western society.

In the event of their execution, the damage will be far more severe, they caution.
 
Small wonder, then, a number of prominent religious leaders in the Arab world are pulling out all the stops to get the two journalists freed.

Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the Muslim world's most respected scholars and theologians, has appealed to the captors to release the journalists immediately, saying that hostage-taking is "incompatible with Islam".

"This act is unacceptable and inadmissible in light of the Sharia. Hence, I appeal and urge those who kidnapped the two French journalists to free them immediately and refrain from harming them in anyway," Qaradawi said on Aljazeera television on Monday.

'Incompatible'

Qaradawi echoed the feelings of the Arab world when he noted that France had rejected the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq, and refused to send troops to the occupied Arab country.

In another significant development, the chief of the officially banned but influential Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Akef, appealed to the captors to set the French journalists free, arguing that kidnapping is incompatible with the teachings of Islam.

French Muslims say kidnapping is
no way to advance their cause

In the occupied Palestinian territories, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has also called on the captors to set free Malbrunot and Chesnot.

The group's spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Aljazeera television that Hamas deplores the abduction of innocent people, especially the French journalists.

"We believe such acts are utterly incompatible with the sublime  teachings of Islam and can only harm the traditionally good and friendly relations between France and the Arab world"

"We urge the kidnappers to free the hostages unharmed immediately," he said.

Likewise, the Palestinian Journalists' Union issued a leaflet on Tuesday demanding the immediate release of the two Frenchmen.

"We believe such acts are utterly incompatible with the sublime  teachings of Islam and can only harm the traditionally good and friendly relations between France and the Arab world," the statement said. 

"We believe such acts are utterly incompatible with the sublime  teachings of Islam and can only harm the traditionally good and friendly relations between France and
the Arab world"

Palestinian Journalists' Union statement

However, the statement held the United States and its occupation army "responsible for fostering an atmosphere of anarchy and chaos in Iraq" which makes "these repugnant acts inevitable".

Indeed, the statement highlighted the deaths of Arab journalists in recent months at the hands of US troops, in particular Aljazeera's Tareq Ayyoub and Reuters cameraman Mazen Daana, both Palestinians.

Shia response

Predictably, the abduction of Chesnot and Malbrunot has been denounced by some prominent Shia Muslim figures, notably the Lebanese scholar Shaikh Muhammad Husayn Fadl Allah, Hizb Allah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasr Allah and Muqtada al Sadr, the Iraqi Shia Muslim leader who recently led an uprising against the US-backed interim Iraqi Government.
 

The French foreign minister is in
the Middle East to rally support

In a statement to the press, Fadl Allah described the hostage-taking as a criminal and  irresponsible act that could only besmirch the image of Islam and give further ammunition to those who seek to promote the morbid concept of "clash of civilisations".

For its part, the Arab League has called the kidnapping "an act of terror". Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa has urged "everyone to resolve this matter as soon as possible to avoid any unwanted consequences".

On Sunday French President Jacques Chirac delivered a televised address demanding the release of the two journalists. Chirac said everything has been done and would be done to ensure the two men's safety and release.

Currently, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier is in the Middle East holding a series of meetings with Arab leaders in an effort to secure the release of the two French journalists.