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Islamic Sharia Laws ( 16 Jan 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Is blasphemy a capital crime in Islam?

By A Faizur Rahman

January 14, 2011

When the Prophet (PBUH) could forgive a person of unquestionable antagonism towards Islam, why can the ulema of Pakistan not let off a poor village woman who is not a known enemy of our religion and whose guilt has not been established beyond doubt?

The brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken governor of Punjab, is an ominous indication that Pakistan is plunging headlong into a state of ataxia. And one wonders if it will ever come out of it. Salmaan was killed, as confessed by his murderous bodyguard, for being a staunch opponent of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan and seeking presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who was recently awarded the death penalty under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for allegedly abusing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

It is a fact that the use of derogatory language against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or for that matter any prophet, is considered a great sin in Islam. But it is also no ordinary crime to sentence somebody to death without evidence. So far, the charges against Aasia Bibi have not been incontrovertibly proved. Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, is on record as saying that the case against her is concocted as the complainant and major witnesses were not present at the site of the incident. But, then, the courts in Pakistan work under tremendous right-wing pressure. It may be recalled that in 1997, the Lahore High Court Judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians accused of blasphemy in 1995, was shot dead.

But the bigger question is: is there any evidence in the Quran to justify capital punishment for the crimes mentioned in section 295-C of the PPC? Also, what was the Prophet’s (PBUH) own reaction to such personal insults? The answers to these questions assume the significance of a categorical imperative (to use a Kantian term) because, as far as Islamic sharia is concerned, any law made in contravention of the universality of the Quranic doctrine as expounded by the prophet (PBUH) is void.

Interestingly, the Quran records some of the nasty insinuations that were hurled at the Prophet (PBUH) (see 25:41 and 38:4-5) and defends and consoles him without suggesting any mundane punishment for the abusers. Such invectives would certainly have hurt the Prophet (PBUH) and, therefore, he is assuaged with, “Have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble dignity” (73:10), and, “You possess the most exalted standard of character” (68:4).

After having comforted the Prophet (PBUH) thus, the Quran advises him — and through him his followers — to “forgive and overlook; for God loves those who are kind” (5:13). Another verse points out that when evil is repelled with an act of goodness, “then will he between whom and you was hatred become as if he were your intimate friend” (41:34). The Prophet (PBUH) followed this exhortation to the letter, a fact acknowledged by the Quran, which confirmed that he indeed was kind to the people and never “harsh-hearted” (3:159).

There are several instances in the Prophet’s (PBUH) life, which show that he pardoned the foul language of even his sworn enemies. For instance, when a Jew, who was opposed to the reform movement of Islam, greeted him by saying “As-saamu-alalikum” (death be upon you) and the Prophet’s (PBUH) wife Hazrat Aisha responded with “As-saamu ‘alaikum wal-laa’na”(death and Allah’s curse be upon you too), he expressed his strong displeasure by saying, “Be gentle and calm, Aisha.” And when one of his companions sought permission to harm the Jew, the Prophet (PBUH) silenced him with an emphatic “No” (Sahih Bukhari). According to another tradition, a man demanded his debts from the Prophet (PBUH) in such a rude manner that his companions wanted to beat him up. But the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Leave him, for he (the creditor) has the right to demand it (harshly)” (Sahih Bukhari). Furthermore, the Prophet (PBUH) warned Muslims by saying, “Eeyakum wal ghulu fiddeen. Fa innahu ahlaka man kaana qablakum al ghulu fiddeen (Ibne Maaja). This translates as, “Eschew extremism in religion. For extremism has destroyed its practitioners in the past.”

The foregoing scriptural evidence proves that there is no Islamic basis for the histrionic emotionalism and maddening perversity of thought that marks the defence of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The natural question that comes to mind is: when the Prophet (PBUH) could forgive a person of unquestionable antagonism towards Islam, why can the ulema of Pakistan not let off a poor village woman who is not a known enemy of our religion and whose guilt has not been established beyond doubt? On the contrary, a cleric has announced an award of $6,000 to anyone who kills Aasia Bibi if the higher courts acquit her. And this has been done in the name of a prophet who was crowned Rahmath al lil aalameen (Mercy unto Humanity) by the Quran.

It is precisely this kind of fiendish behaviour that fuels Islamophobia across the globe. In fact, Muslim extremism and Islamophobia now enjoy a symbiotic relationship, feeding on each other’s fanaticism. This, of course, is not to condone organised attempts to malign religious personalities such as the publication of Danish cartoons in 2005. Such defamatory campaigns are, in reality, Machiavellian designs to incite communal hatred and, therefore, they deserve to be condemned by not just Muslims but all right-thinking people for the sake of world peace.

Finally, one of the reasons behind Muslim extremism flourishing today is the unrestricted flow of petro-dollars into Muslim societies, which has resulted in the proliferation of prejudiced preachers and radical televangelists who populate the airwaves with their fanaticism. Such is the sway of these preachers that Muslims in large numbers are falling prey to their manipulative agenda and have started to exhibit a supremacist attitude that looks down upon all those who are reluctant to get initiated into their kind of puritanism. The only way out of this mess is to stimulate debates among Muslims on the interpretations of Islamic texts with the ultimate aim of countering religious chauvinism through appeal to reason and logic as done by the Prophet (PBUH) himself.

The writer is secretary-general of the India-based Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought among Muslims. He can be reached at

Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan