(Joint Author), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.
It is an affront to the Qur’an’s cardinal principle of justice, trivializes and demonizes Islam, confounds the Muslim community and needs to be revoked.
Any act, speech, or gesture of cursing or reviling God, His Prophet, a religion or anything held sacred by a community is blasphemy. Technically, hate speech is also blasphemy as it reviles a human being, which, as recipient of some of God’s breath (the Qur’an 15:29, 32:9, 38:72) is sacred. In Islamic Law, the notion of blasphemy is restricted to God, the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad.
The Qur’anic pronouncement “not to insult those whom others (lit., ‘they’) invoke besides God” (6:108) is a clear reminder against profaning any deity, idol or symbols held sacred by other people. The Qur’an, however, does not prescribe any punishment for the offenders. It further declares:
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy – Satans from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore, leave them and what they forge (6:112), that the hearts of those who do not believe in the hereafter may incline to it; let them take pleasure in it and earn whatever they expect to earn” (6:113). “Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals – but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) as a Guide and Helper” (25:31). The Qur’an thus warns humanity that there will always be some people who will hurl seductive remarks at the Prophet (6:113) or be inimical to him (25:31) for fun or cupidity and asks the believers to simply ignore them. In other words, the Qur’an treats blasphemy as a moral vice and does not regard it as a punishable criminal offence.
The Meccan enemies of the Prophet called him impostor, a madman (30:58, 44:14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36) and ridiculed the Qur’anic revelation (18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9),7 which they declared to be strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), a jumble of dreams(21:5)9 and legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). They accused him of forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious witchcraft that was bewildering (10:2, 37:15, 46:7), and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn (17:47, 23:70, 34:8). By definition, all these accusations were blasphemous. Nowhere in its text does the Qur’an prescribe any punishment for those who uttered these blasphemies. The advocates of blasphemy law may raise the following points:
1. The verses date from the Meccan period (610-622), when the Prophet’s followers were grossly outnumbered by his enemies, came mostly from the lower echelon of the society and were weak and oppressed (8:25, 85:10) and that the above verses were context specific.
2. The slanderer and maligner of the Prophet can upset peace and harmony like priests of Cordova (Spain, 851-859) .
3. Maligning any religion, religious leader, text etc. is virtually a moral attack on a community that purports to demonize and dehumanize it and can fuel hatred, religious bigotry and animosity, and in the present day context, feed Islamophobia and Islamofacism. The arguments appear convincing but there are more compelling points that cannot be ignored.
1. The highly porous and subjective character of the ‘offense’ (blasphemy) can lead to a chaotic situation within the Muslim community as anyone can charge anyone else of blasphemy as is happening in Pakistan these days.
2. An uncouth citizen can use it to settle a score with a non-Muslim or even a Muslim neighbour or financially exploit him by a threat of blasphemy charge.
3. An Islamic State can use it for political repression of dissidents.
4. By strict application of blasphemy law in a broader sense, a Sunni Sharia Court can charge the entire Shia community of blasphemy for their invectives against the Prophet’s close relatives – the first three Caliphs, who were either his fatherin-law (Abu Bakr and Umar) or son-in-law (Uthman). 5. The theologians in the Islamic heartlands can issue an endless stream of fatwas for the heads of the countless Islam bashing scholars and writers, whose speech, writing and symbolism can sometimes be construed as blasphemous.
6. The very notion of killing a person for blasphemy contradicts the Qur’anic cardinal principle of justice that relates only to offences committed against fellow humans.
It was conceivably for these reasons that there is no Qur’anic verse of a later period purporting to reverse the passivism of the verses 6:112/113, 25:31 quoted above. Moreover, rather than prescribing any punishment, the Qur’an asks Muslims “to keep away from any conversation or discourse that maligns or reviles it (4:140), and to keep away from those who profane God’s name (7:180).
Conclusion: The relativism and porosity in the definition of ‘blasphemy’ at personal, communal, sectarian and international levels can open a floodgate of blasphemy charges against unsuspecting individuals, Muslim sects and Islam.critcal scholars and writers.
Since the Qur’an, conceivably cognizant of these caveats, does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy, the blasphemy law needs to be repealed. Blasphemy symbolizes and epitomises hatred that inevitably breeds hatred – regardless of any law against it. This can in turn feed radicalisation, foster terrorism, and trigger communal riots. Muslim jurists will do better by insisting on getting a firm Security Council Code of Conduct and may be limited punishment for blasphemy depending upon the gravity and potential impact of the offence and the attitude of the offender, rather than legislating a capital punishment or even, any punishment for blasphemy – which remains a porous act of misconduct and moral turpitude. They can also brief their journalists and media to spring any news of blasphemy with the Qur’anic reminders cited above (6:113, 25:31) on ignoring the offenders.
. Between 851 and 859, some priests in Cordova, now southern Spain, used to utter in public places highly insulting and abusive remarks against the Prophet deliberately seeking capital punishment. They were an embarrassment to both the Christian community and the Emir and were executed by application of Sharia law as this was the only way to prevent them from a highly provocative behavior in public.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar alSharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.