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Blasphemy Laws Have Turned Muslim Countries into Killing Fields

Muslims and Non-Muslims Alike Can Be Killed For Blasphemy in Pakistan

Main Points:

·         In Pakistan 1500 people are being prosecuted under blasphemy laws.

·         70 people have been killed since 1990 extra judicially for alleged blasphemy.

·         Quran does not prescribe any physical sentence for blasphemy.

·         Apostasy is also included in blasphemy.

·         Blasphemy is a political tool to suppress dissent in Muslim countries.


New Age Islam Staff Writer

12 October 2021

Blasphemy or sacrilegious speech or writing is widely debated in the academic circles of Islam. Many Islamic scholars are of the view that blasphemy is not a crime but a grave sin against God and His prophet pbuh and so it cannot be punished by the law, God condemns blasphemy against Himself, His angels and His prophets (not only Prophet Muhammad pbuh) but the Quran does not prescribe any physical punishment for blasphemers. Instead, the Quran advises Muslims to practice restraint and tolerance in face of blasphemy.

But a section of the Islamic scholars in the 11th century in association with the power hungry Muslim rulers made blasphemy a criminal offence to be punished by death. These ulema presented interpretations and explanations of Quranic verses supporting punishment for blasphemy. For example, Islamic scholar of the 11th century Imam Ghazali presented the view that those propagating unorthodox views on God and resurrections should be punished to death as they were influenced by the Greek philosophy and Shias to corrupt Sunni Islam. After that a number of Muslim scientists and philosophers were tortured and executed.

This tradition of considering blasphemy a criminal offense in Islam was taken forward and even strengthened by some ulema of the 20th century though at the same time a section of liberal ulema opposed the idea of punishment for blasphemy on the basis of the verses of the Quran that advise Muslims to practice restraint and leave the blasphemers only after verbally condemning them. But the majority of the modern ulema, even the ulema of 21st century, blasphemy is a criminal offence and should be punished with no less a punishment than death.

Interestingly, it has been observed that ulema from Muslim majority countries favour death sentence for blasphemers and ulema from Muslim minority countries favour only verbal protest and condemnation. For example, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, an Islamic scholar from India held the view that Quran did not prescribe death for apostasy. Similar view is held by Muhammad Yunus, a scholar of the Quran and other Islamic scholars of India. But on the contrary, majority of ulema of Pakistan hold the view that blasphemy should be punished with death.

It is to be noted that these ulema have included apostasy in the category of blasphemy. Though the Quran does not prescribe death for apostasy too, the ulema cite the consensus of majority of ulema for declaring apostasy a kind of blasphemy and so punishable by death.

Though many Christian countries have repealed their blasphemy laws or have light punishment, many Muslim majority countries have blasphemy laws under which hundreds of Muslims and non-Muslims are prosecuted and killed extra judicially.

In Pakistan and Iran the blasphemy laws are the strictest. In Pakistan, members of minority communities --- Hindus, Christians, Ahmadiyyas, Shias and other people expressing unorthodox views about religion are charged with blasphemy but no convictions take place. Still the accused are killed by mob or extremists outside the court. About 70 people have been killed extra judicially after the cases against them did not stand in the court. This is a very disappointing situation when the law framed with the approval of the hardline ulema does not find the accused guilty and still they are killed extra judicially.

In Pakistan anyone can be charged with blasphemy even if he challenges the behavior of the clergy. This should change. Liberal thinkers and intellectuals of Pakistan raise their voice against this tradition but they are always under threat. Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor was killed by an extremist for demanding a repeal of the blasphemy laws. The situation seems hopeless as even an Islamic scholar of the status of Dr Tahir ul Qadri who had published a voluminous fatwa against suicide bombings and terrorism supports death for blasphemy and holds the view that even Muslims can be charged with blasphemy.


Why Blasphemy Is A Capital Offense In Some Muslim Countries


By Ahmet T. Kuru, San Diego State University


(Photo courtesy:


The Prophet Muhammad never executed anyone for apostasy, nor encouraged his followers to do so. Nor is criminalising sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Koran. In this essay, Ahmet Kuru exposes the political motivations for criminalising blasphemy and apostasy


Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer in Pakistan, had been imprisoned for six years when he was sentenced to death in December 2019. The charge: blasphemy, specifically insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

Pakistan has the world’s second strictest blasphemy laws after Iran, according to U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Hafeez, whose death sentence is under appeal, is one of about 1,500 Pakistanis charged with blasphemy, or sacrilegious speech, over the last three decades. No executions have taken place.

But since 1990 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes who accused them of insulting Islam. Several people who defend the accused have been killed, too, including one of Hafeez’s lawyers and two high-level politicians who publicly opposed the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted for verbally insulting Prophet Muhammad. Though Bibi was acquitted in 2019, she fled Pakistan.

Blasphemy and Apostasy

Of 71 countries that criminalize blasphemy, 32 are majority Muslim. Punishment and enforcement of these laws varies.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Among non-Muslim-majority cases, the harshest blasphemy laws are in Italy, where the maximum penalty is three years in prison.


Junaid Hafeez was a lecturer in English literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, Pakistan. Appointed in 2011, he soon found himself targeted by an Islamist student group who objected to what they considered Hafeez's "liberal" teaching. On 13 March, 2013 Hafeez was arrested – accused of using a fake Facebook profile to insult the Prophet Muhammad in a closed group called "So-Called Liberals of Pakistan". Imprisoned without trial for six years, much of that time spent in solitary confinement, the academic was finally sentenced to death in December 2019


Half of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries have additional laws banning apostasy, meaning people may be punished for leaving Islam. All countries with apostasy laws are Muslim-majority except India. Apostasy is often charged along with blasphemy.

This class of religious laws is quite popular in some Muslim countries. According to a 2013 Pew survey, about 75% of respondents in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia favour making sharia, or Islamic law, the official law of the land.

Among those who support sharia, around 25% in Southeast Asia, 50% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 75% in South Asia say they support “executing those who leave Islam” – that is, they support laws punishing apostasy with death.

The Ulema and the State

My 2019 book “Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment” traces the root of blasphemy and apostasy laws in the Muslim world back to a historic alliance between Islamic scholars and government.

Starting around the year 1050, certain Sunni scholars of law and theology, called the “ulema,” began working closely with political rulers to challenge what they considered to be the sacrilegious influence of Muslim philosophers on society.

Muslim philosophers had for three centuries been making major contributions to mathematics, physics and medicine. They developed the Arabic number system used across the West today and invented a forerunner of the modern camera.


A conspiracy against Sunni Islam? For three centuries, Muslim philosophers had been making major contributions to mathematics, physics and medicine, developing the Arabic number system used across the West today and inventing a forerunner of the modern camera. Yet the conservative ulema felt these philosophers were inappropriately influenced against Sunni beliefs by Greek philosophy and Shia Islam. Their views were reinforced by the brilliant and respected Islamic scholar al-Ghazali, who declared two long-dead leading Muslim philosophers, Farabi and Ibn Sina (a.k.a. Avicenna), apostates for their unorthodox views on God’s power and the nature of resurrection. Their followers, al-Ghazali wrote, could be punished with death


The conservative ulema felt that these philosophers were inappropriately influenced by Greek philosophy and Shia Islam against Sunni beliefs. The most prominent in consolidating Sunni orthodoxy was the brilliant and respected Islamic scholar Ghazali, who died in the year 1111.

In several influential books still widely read today, Ghazali declared two long-dead leading Muslim philosophers, Farabi and Ibn Sina, apostates for their unorthodox views on God’s power and the nature of resurrection. Their followers, Ghazali wrote, could be punished with death.

As modern-day historians Omid Safi and Frank Griffel assert, Ghazali’s declaration provided justification to Muslim sultans from the 12th century onward who wished to persecute – even execute – thinkers seen as threats to conservative religious rule.

This “ulema-state alliance,” as I call it, began in the mid-11th century in Central Asia, Iran and Iraq and a century later spread to Syria, Egypt and North Africa. In these regimes, questioning religious orthodoxy and political authority wasn’t merely dissent – it was apostasy.

Wrong Direction

Parts of Western Europe were ruled by a similar alliance between the Catholic Church and monarchs. These governments assaulted free thinking, too. During the Spanish Inquisition, between the 16th and 18th centuries, thousands of people were tortured and killed for apostasy.

Blasphemy laws were also in place, if infrequently used, in various European countries until recently. Denmark, Ireland and Malta all recently repealed their laws.

But they persist in many parts of the Muslim world.

In Pakistan, the military dictator Zia ul Haq, who ruled the country from 1978 to 1988, is responsible for its harsh blasphemy laws. An ally of the ulema, Zia updated blasphemy laws – written by British colonizers to avoid interreligious conflict – to defend specifically Sunni Islam and increased the maximum punishment to death.

From the 1920s until Zia, these laws had been applied only about a dozen times. Since then they have become a powerful tool for crushing dissent.

Some dozen Muslim countries have undergone a similar process over the past four decades, including Iran and Egypt.

Dissenting Voices in Islam

The conservative ulema base their case for blasphemy and apostasy laws on a few reported sayings of Prophet Muhammad, known as hadith, primarily: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”

But many Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals reject this view as radical. They argue that Prophet Muhammad never executed anyone for apostasy, nor encouraged his followers to do so.

Nor is criminalizing sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Quran. It contains over 100 verses encouraging peace, freedom of conscience and religious tolerance.

In chapter 2, verse 256, the Quran states, “There is no coercion in religion.” Chapter 4, verse 140 urges Muslims to simply leave blasphemous conversations: “When you hear the verses of God being rejected and mocked, do not sit with them.”

By using their political connections and historical authority to interpret Islam, however, the conservative ulema have marginalized more moderate voices.

Reaction to Global Islamophobia

Debates about blasphemy and apostasy laws among Muslims are influenced by international affairs.

Across the globe, Muslim minorities – including the Palestinians, Chechens of Russia, Kashmiris of India, Rohingya of Myanmar and Uighurs of China – have experienced severe persecution. No other religion is so widely targeted in so many different countries.

Alongside persecution are some Western policies that discriminate against Muslims, such as laws prohibiting headscarves in schools and the U.S. ban on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Such Islamophobic laws and policies can create the impression that Muslims are under siege and provide an excuse that punishing sacrilege is a defines of the faith.

Instead, I find, such harsh religious rules can contribute to anti-Muslim stereotypes. Some of my Turkish relatives even discourage my work on this topic, fearing it fuels Islamophobia.

But my research shows that criminalizing blasphemy and apostasy is more political than it is religious. The Quran does not require punishing sacrilege: authoritarian politics do.


Ahmet T. Kuru is Porteous Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, and FORIS scholar at Religious Freedom Institute. Author of "Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey" and co-editor of "Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey", his works have been translated into Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese, French, Indonesian, and Turkish.



CGI Influencers: When the ‘People’ We Follow On Social Media Aren’t Human


By Francesca Sobande

October 1, 2021

Social media influencers – people famous primarily for posting content online – are often accused of presenting artificial versions of their lives. But one group in particular is blurring the line between real and fake.

Created by tech-savvy teams using computer-generated imagery, CGI or virtual influencers look and act like real people, but are in fact merely digital images with a curated online presence.

Virtual influencers like Miquela Sousa (known as Lil Miquela) have become increasingly attractive to brands. They can be altered to look, act, and speak however brands desire, and don’t have to physically travel to photo shoots – a particular draw during the pandemic.

But what can be a lack of transparency about who creates and profits from CGI influencers comes with its own set of problems.

CGI influencers mirror their human counterparts, with well-followed social media profiles, high-definition selfies, and an awareness of trending topics. And like human influencers, they appear in different body types, ages, genders and ethnicities. A closer look at the diversity among CGI influencers – and who is responsible for it – raises questions about colonialism, cultural appropriation, and exploitation.


Human influencers often have teams of publicists and agents behind them, but ultimately, they have control over their own work and personality. What happens then, when an influencer is created by someone with a different life experience, or a different ethnicity?

For centuries, black people – especially women – have been objectified and exoticised by white people in pursuit of profit. While this is evident across many sectors, the fashion industry is particularly known for appropriating and commodifying black culture in ways that elevate the work and status of white creators. The creation of racialised CGI influencers to make a profit for largely white creators and white-owned businesses is a modern example of this.

Questions of Authenticity

The sheen of CGI influencers’ surface-level image does not mask what they really symbolise – demand for marketable, lifelike, “diverse” characters that can be easily altered to suit the whims of brands.

I recently gave evidence to a UK parliamentary inquiry into influencer culture, where I argued that it reflects and reinforces structural inequalities, including racism and sexism. This is evident in reports of racial pay gaps in the industry, and the relentless online abuse and harassment directed at black women.

CGI influencers are not exempt from such issues – and their existence raises even more complex and interesting questions about digital representation, power, and profit. My research on CGI influencer culture has explored the relationship between racialisation, racial capitalism and black CGI influencers. I argue that black CGI influencers symbolise the deeply oppressive fixation on, objectification of, and disregard for black people at the core of consumer culture.

Critiques of influencers often focus on transparency and their alleged “authenticity”. But despite their growing popularity, CGI influencers – and the creative teams behind them – have largely escaped this scrutiny.

As more brands align themselves with activism, working with supposedly “activist” CGI influencers could improve their optics without doing anything of substance to address structural inequalities. These partnerships may trivialise and distort actual activist work.

When brands engage with CGI influencers in ways distinctly tied to their alleged social justice credentials, it promotes the false notion that CGI influencers are activists. This deflects from the reality that they are not agents of change but a by-product of digital technology and consumer culture.

Keeping It Real

The Diigitals has been described as the world’s first modelling agency for virtual celebrities. Its website currently showcases seven digital models, four of whom are constructed to appear as black through their skin colour, hair texture, and physical features.

The roster of models includes Shudu (@shudu.gram) who was developed to resemble a dark-skinned black woman. But it has been argued that Shudu, like many other CGI models, was created through the white male gaze – reflecting the power of white and patriarchal perspectives in society.<

Shudu’s kaleidoscope of Instagram posts include an image of her wearing earrings in the shape of the continent of Africa.

One photo caption reads: “The most beautiful thing about the ocean is the diversity within it.” This language suggests Shudu is used to show how Diigitals “values” racial diversity – but I argue the existence of such models shows a disrespect and distortion of black women.

Creations like Shudu and Koffi (@koffi.gram), another Diigitals model, I would argue, show how the objectification of black people and the commodification of blackness underpins elements of CGI influencer culture. Marketable mimicry of black aesthetics and the styles of black people is apparent in other industries too.

CGI influencers are another example of the colonialist ways that black people and their cultures can be treated as commodities to be mined and to aid commercial activities by powerful white people in western societies.

Since I began researching this topic in 2018, the public-facing image of The Diigitals has notably changed. Its once sparse website now includes names of real-life muses and indicates its ongoing work with black women. This gesture may be meaningful and temper some critiques of the swelling number of black CGI influencers across the industry, many of which are not apparently created by black people.

A more pessimistic view might see such activity as projecting an illusion of racial diversity. There may conceivably be times when a brand’s use of a CGI influencer prevents a real black influencer from accessing substantial work. The Diigitals working with actual black people as “muses” is not the same as black people creating and directing the influencer from its inception. However, it is important to recognise the work of such real black people who may be changing the industry in impactful ways that are not fully captured by the term “muse”.

To me, many black CGI influencers and their origin stories represent pervasive marketplace demand for impersonations of black people that cater to what may be warped ideas about black life, cultures, and embodiment. Still, I appreciate the work of black people seeking to change the industry and I am interested in how the future of black CGI influencers may be shaped by black people who are both creators and “muses”.


The Conversation approached The Diigitals for comment, and founder Cameron-James Wilson said: “This article feels very one-sided.” He added: “I don’t see any reference to the amazing real women involved in my work and not having them mentioned disregards their contributions to the industry”. The Diigitals did not provide further comment. The article was expanded to make a more substantial reference to the real women The Diigitals works with.

Source: The Conversation


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