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Op-Ed: The Blasphemy Law, an Islamic or a Barbaric Law in Pakistan?

Pakistani writer Noor Dahri explained why Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law is not based upon Islamic law or Islamic beliefs. He claimed that the Islamists have taken non-Muslim radical ideas and made them Islamic.
Photo Credit: Noor Dahri

The history of blasphemy is long and complicated. The law was actually introduced by the British Empire in India. The law was supported by Muslims through the religious texts afterwards. If we look at the texts, one with great knowledge would see the Islamic arguments are weaker in support of the Blasphemy law. There is nothing in the Quran or the authentic teachings of the Prophet of Islam justifying the killing of people for opposing, criticizing, humiliating or showing irreverence towards Islamic holy personages, religious artefacts, customs and beliefs. 

The people of South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan, are still very confused how, where and whom to implement this law. There is a huge confusion regarding this law. Some people apply this law over the people who leave Islam and accept another religion; some apply it against those who insult the religion by his actions or words or even mock the Prophet of Islam.

I have personally experienced while living in Pakistan that people killed those who even talked ill about their sects and one Imam in the province of Punjab was killed under the false allegation of Blasphemy. He burned the unwanted pages of the Quran outside his mosque and later found out that the deceased Imam belonged to a Salafi group and his opponent group killed him due to personal religious enmity. Beware that burning unwanted Quranic pages are allowed in Islam.

In Pakistan, from the 1990’s till now, more than 65 people have been killed by various traditional means under the false allegation of the blasphemy law. One of the victims of blasphemy was a governor of Punjab province Salman Tasir, who was killed by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri (a religious Barelvi extremist). In prisons, thousands of people await their trials and a few of them got the death penalty but nothing happened so far and they have been left to their fate.

There is no earthly punishment mentioned in the Quran for those who commit acts of blasphemy and neither is there solid proof from the Seerah (life of prophet Muhammad) or in Ahadith (sayings and narratives of prophetic actions) of the Prophet of Islam that define the earthly punishment of Blasphemers.: “Those who disbelieve and oppose the messenger after the guidance hath been manifested unto them, they hurt God not a jot, and He will make their actions fruitless. Those who disbelieve and turn from the way of God and then die disbelievers, God surely will not pardon them” (Qur’an 47:32, 34).

According to Zeeshan Hasan, a Harvard Divinity School US graduate and writer on religious topics: “This verse makes the point that God cannot be harmed even “a jot”, the logical implication of which is that the blasphemy laws are not required for His protection. This is in keeping with the following verses that explicitly identify the punishment for blasphemy and disbelief as being in the afterlife, with no mention of any earthly punishment.”

Most of the times, people defend the earthly punishment of Blasphemer from the Prophet of Islam when He asked his companions to kill Kaab bin Ashraf, who was mocking Islam and the prophet in the streets of Mecca; he was killed by one companion of the Prophet of Islam. (Bukhari Vol. 3 Book 45 Ch. 3 no. 687 p. 415) However, few know that this earthly punishment was given to him for treason (breaking the agreement of peace) not under blasphemy. It was a pure political punishment given by the Prophet of Islam and not a religious one.

He further writes: “On the face of it, this seemingly justifies the death penalty for speaking against the Prophet. However, blasphemy implies a religious offence. A significant fact about Ka’ab Ibn al Ashraf is that his opposition to Muhammad was not religious in nature. Rather, he was a political opponent of the Muslim community of Medina. In spite of being a Medinan and nominally at peace with the Muslims living there, Ka’ab publicly allied himself with the Quresh, who had not only expelled the Muslims from Mecca but were still in a state of war with them. So, technically, this killing was not for blasphemy at all but treason during wartime.” This definition means there is neither an earthly punishment mentioned in the holy Quran nor in the Ahadith/Sunnah as well as in Prophetic biographies. 

Now, the fact of the matter is, can we implement religious earthly punishment for blasphemy just like apostasy? In my personal opinion, no, we cannot, because both crimes are different in context. The punishment for Blasphemy is not widely proved in the Quran and Hadith respectively. However; the apostasy matter is far different from blasphemy. I will define the apostasy matter in another article in detail whether it is allowed in Islam to kill someone who accepts another religion after leaving Islam as it is again a very complicated issue. However, we must remember that apostasy meant far more than a personal statement of faith.

The death penalty of Apostasy was again a political order not religious which was implemented in the first eras of Islam when Islam was weaker and after the death of the Prophet of Islam, the Muslims were facing a great danger of apostasy so finally they implemented the death penalty for those who were willing to leave Islam. However, once the Muslims triumphed over the Arab peninsula, the association of apostasy and treason ended. In peaceful times, apostasy is considered an individual’s personal matter of faith. 

The Blasphemy law cannot be judged under the same definition of apostasy because I have already mentioned that there is no Islamic support against the earthly punishment for blasphemers. Some illiterate Islamic scholars gave a fatwa for killing those non-Muslims who committed acts of Blasphemy in Pakistan or abroad. According to the Islamic teaching, you cannot punish non-Muslims either for committing blasphemy against the religion or the Prophet of Islam because they know nothing about your religion. It should be further noted that even the Hadith of the Prophet does not support the killing of non-Muslim blasphemers. So, in this case, it is better for Muslims to educate them in a polite way or leave them alone completely without harming.

 The assassination of a Pakistani Christian minister of the cabinet or the Punjab Governor Salman Tasir for speaking against the blasphemy law is a stab in the heart of Islam and a humiliation of the Prophet of Islam by those who claim to be his followers. Those who are supporting killings or similar actions are the worst enemy of Islam who neither understand Islam nor respect the Prophet of Islam. No matter who they are, they must be challenged on the basis of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet of Islam.

Though, I have proved that the Blasphemy law has nothing to do with the Quran or the teachings of Islam, I need to mention, where the idea of blasphemy came from? If we look at the history of religions, we can find the medieval idea from other religions which was adapted from the Muslim world such as anti-Semitism that came from the Western world to the Middle East. The idea of Blasphemy is foreign to Islam. The Blasphemy law was wrongly justified by some medieval Muslim scholars on the basis of their understanding of Jewish and Christian texts supporting the law against those who blaspheme and vilify their religions.

Dr Aslam Abdullah, a director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, highlighted this issue very precisely. He defined the idea of Blasphemy, which was widely practiced by other religions as well. According to his brief:  “The word "blasphemy" came from Middle English blaspheme, the Old French blasphemer and the Latin blasphemer, meaning "I injure." Based on this definition, rulers used laws to victimise non-members of and dissident members of the ruling party. Countries that had a state religion used it often to serve the interests of the rulers. In Judaism, the third book of Torah Leviticus states that those who speak blasphemy shall surely be put to death: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16)

The seven laws of Noah seen by Judaism as applicable to all of humankind prohibit blasphemy in Christian theology “…. but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”  The Gospel of Mark 3:29 describes blaspheming the holy spirit as an unforgivable eternal sin. Thomas Aquinas considered blasphemy a major unforgivable sin, graver than murder. The Book of Concord describes it as the greatest sin ever committed. The Baptist Confession of Faith calls it a disgusting and detesting act. The Catholic Church has specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation for blasphemy against God and the Church, which was a crime punishable by death in much of the Christian world. In England, the last blasphemy execution was that of 18-year-old Thomas Aikenhead who was executed for the crime in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the accuracy of the Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ's miracles.

I do not want to blame any religion here but I raise a point that if the followers of other religions can learn and refrain from their religious wrongdoings, why can’t Muslims reform their religion in relation to bringing it back to its peaceful origins rather than following dark political Islam?

The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan comes under the criminal code 295C, which suggests the death penalty for those who defame the Prophet of Islam. This law is an un-Islamic law and it has no Islamic divine support but the British Law that became the Pakistan Panel Code (PPC) after the partition in Pakistan is slightly different.  The supreme leader of the Shia state of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the blasphemy of Salman Rushdie for writing a book titled the Satanic Verses. It was completely his own personal opinion because he has no divine proof that supports his fatwa. Therefore, all killings of innocent Muslims or Non-Muslims including the unlawful killings of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists was unjustified under the Islamic law.  All of these fatwas and killings under the Blasphemy law are baseless and supported by an Islamic scholar’s personal opinion, nothing else.

The recent unlawful and un-Islamic killing of Mashal Kahn in Pakistan raised a serious debate among Muslims, why do people use the Blasphemy Law and abuse it in every Blasphemy case? It’s easy that there is someone to blame for Blasphemy and to use a Mosque for announcing it. That’s it and no one would dare to save the person from being brutally killed by the ruthless secular and religious mob. The Muslim communities all around the world need to educate themselves regarding Islamic and Arab history. They should know that if they claim Islam is a peaceful religion, then they need to prove it by their peaceful actions. Islam is not an emotional religion but a logical religion based on fact and reality. Unfortunately, Muslims have taken the Islamic law into their own hands and no human in the world is safe from their mischief. May Allah guide all Muslims and let them understand the real teachings of Islam instead of following in the dark shadow of political Islam. In Shaa Allah/ B’ezrat HaShem/With God’s help.   


JOL Blogger | Noor Dahri

Noor Dahri is the director of the Pakistan Israel Alliance. He is an independent counter-terror expert based in London. He is an honorary member of the ZF-UK.

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