By Jay Hashmi
Jul 24, 2018
Question: What does the Quran say about blasphemy?
This is a great question. Contrary to popular opinion, the Qur’an does not endorse a worldly punishment for the sin of blasphemy, at least not one to be meted out by humans. In fact, quite the opposite: the Qur’an tells believers that the proper response to blasphemous and irreverent talk is to ignore such ignorant people. To simply turn away from such folk and to not give them the time of day, and to leave them with words of peace.
On the other hand, the Qur’an does promise such blasphemers punishment in the next life (as well as divine curse in this worldly life), which however can be averted by repentance, rehabilitation, and reform.
On the topic, the Qur’an says:
The servants of [God] the Most Compassionate are those who walk humbly upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them [with words of rebuke and derision], they reply, “Peace.” (Q 25:63)
When you hear the signs of God being rejected and mocked, do not sit with them until they engage in some other discourse, or else you will surely be like them. (Q 4:140)
In another verse said to be revealed when Abu Jahl “hurl[ed] insults and abuse” (TSQ) at some new Muslims, the Qur’an referred to this as “idle talk” and replied:
[The believers are] they [who] repel evil with good, and spend from that which We have provided for them, and when they hear idle talk, they turn away therefrom and reply, “Unto us our deeds and unto you your deeds. Peace be upon you! We do not seek out the ignorant!” (Q 28:54–55)
This ties in with the Qur’an’s general import:
Hold to forgiveness, and enjoin right conduct, and turn away from the ignorant. (Q 7:199)
This verse is advocating “gentleness and leniency with one’s religious opponents” (TSQ), specifically those who mock and deride the faith. In the commentary of this verse, The Study Qur’an (TSQ) includes a narration attributed to Gabriel about this verse, which is to “pardon the one who wrongs you.”
Patience, pardon, and forgiveness is thus what the Qur’an advocates towards the ignorant people who mock and deride the faith. Moreover, this belief in being lenient with the blasphemers is based directly in the belief that it is God Himself who will punish the sinners:
Bear patiently that which they say and take leave of them with gracious avoidance. Leave to Me the deniers living in luxury, and be gentle with them for a little while [i.e. until they meet God]. Truly with Us are fetters and Hellfire. (Q 73:10–12)
However, even this punishment can be averted by God’s forgiveness:
They uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out [to rid themselves of the Prophet]… If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), God will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them. (Q 9:74)
The Qur’anic view towards blasphemy ties in with the Qur’an’s general attitude towards freedom of religious expression and conviction:
Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error. (Q 2:256)
And numerous verses tell the Prophet that he cannot compel people to believe nor be a dictator (in matters of belief), and that he is only responsible for conveying the message to the people; their reaction, whether positive or negative, is God’s domain:
We know best that which they say. Your job is not to compel them. So remind, by means of the Qur’an, those who fear My warning. (Q 50:45)
Lastly, I close with a relevant extra-Qur’anic text—an old Arabic proverb, which contains in it much wisdom:
الكلاب تنبح والقافلة تسير
“The dogs bark and the caravan goes by.”
Jay Hashmi is a Physician & PhD candidate in Religion at Harvard
Original Headline: What does the Quran say about blasphemy?
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