May 13, 2017
In the 1979 hit British comedy Monty
Python’s Life of Brian, an elderly man is charged and convicted for committing
blasphemy. His crime? Uttering the name Jehovah. He insists he’s innocent, but
an angry crowd is ready to unleash a barrage of stones on him.
It seems life imitates art. Last week
Ireland investigated Stephen Fry, an outspoken critic of religion, for
allegedly running foul of a 2009 blasphemy law. In the United States this week,
a woman was convicted of laughing at Attorney General Sessions, and faces a
year in prison.
Blasphemy laws historically began in
Christian Europe as a means to prevent dissent and enforce the church’s
authority. They were exported to Muslim majority nations via British
imperialism. Today, just about every Muslim majority nation that has blasphemy
laws can trace them back to British statute from centuries prior.
Nowadays, blasphemy cases are becoming
increasingly popular as a means to persecute minorities in nations like
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In Pakistan, notable Ahmadi Muslim Tahir
Mehdi was finally released after nearly two years in prison for the alleged
blasphemy of claiming he is Muslim. Meanwhile another Ahmadi Muslim —
81-year-old Shukoor Ahmad — serves an eight-year prison term for the same
alleged crime of blasphemy.
In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi is still in
prison for the alleged blasphemy of being an atheist. And this week in
Indonesia, courts convicted Jakarta’s Governor Ahok of blasphemy: the governor,
who is a Christian, faces a two year prison sentence. Ahok’s crime? He rebuked
claims by clerics that the Quran mandates Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a
By convicting Governor Ahok of blasphemy,
Indonesia disgraces itself, violates human rights and ignores Islamic
teachings. In fact, despite addressing blasphemy dozens of times, the Quran
prescribes absolutely no worldly punishment.
That notwithstanding, Governor Ahok is
right that the Quran does not mandate Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a
non-Muslim. Instead, Quran 4:59-60 commands Muslims: “Verily, Allah commands
you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge
between men, you judge with justice... O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey
His Messenger and those who are in authority among you.”
Thus, the Quran commands Muslims to judge
with justice, not religion. Likewise, the Quran could have added that the
faithful should only obey those in authority who are Muslim – but that notable
omission speaks volumes otherwise.
So, in a twist of irony, the Christian
governor accused of blasphemy cited the Quran correctly, while the Muslim
clerics punishing him are themselves wrong. Thus, if such clerics are that
hell-bent on blasphemy laws, they should arrest themselves and set Governor
But they won’t, because blasphemy laws
don’t exist to protect God: they exist to protect the fragile egos of corrupt
clerics. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and has long stood as a
beacon of hope. But Governor Ahok’s conviction, along with the ongoing violent
persecution of Indonesia’s Ahmadi Muslims, threatens this thriving democracy’s
The solution is embedded in a revival of
true Islam based on a proven model of success and reformation of Muslims.
Muslim leadership must be more accountable to protecting the rights of
religious minorities in Muslim majority nations. How tragic that a Christian
should be sentenced to prison for a peaceful difference of opinion, while the
Prophet Mohammed instead wrote in a letter that “Christians are my citizens and
I hold out against all that displeases them”.
In 2009, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam
Mirza Masroor Ahmad delivered a landmark address in Frankfurt, Germany, where
he implored religious freedom, concluding: “The followers of any religion
should be able to practise their religious customs freely; otherwise if the
government will interfere with religion, in this civilised world, such
interference will negate their claim to being secular and discharging the
rights of others.”
So how did that Monty Python blasphemy
scene end? Well, it ends when the judge charged with stoning the accused to
death is himself stoned to death after accidentally uttering the word Jehovah.
There is a lesson in this for all governments who punish peaceful difference of
opinion: in doing so, you ultimately destroy yourselves.
Rashid is an attorney, author, and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya
Muslim Community USA.