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Islamic Society ( 30 Nov 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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How Not to Talk About Blasphemy

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

1 December 2021

Concepts like Blasphemy Should Have No Place in the Modern World

Main Points:

1.    AIMPLB needs to be called out for demanding an anti-blasphemy law.

2.    Two strategies through which reform minded Muslims are opposing blasphemy.

3.    The first takes recourse to religious re-interpretation; the second seems content with existing national laws.

4.    Both are inadequate in the fight against anti-blasphemy laws.

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The recent attempt by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to demand an anti-blasphemy from the government needs to be debated widely within the Muslim community. While it is true that anti-Islam and Muslim bigotry is on the rise, it is equally worthwhile to think about whether such a law is indeed needed or will be effective in curbing such activities. Moreover, it is also important to understand the purposes to which such a law would be put and what bearing it will have on the voices of dissent within the Muslim community. Already such voices are few within the community; such a law would mean that even those voices will be become silent.

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Also Read:    Anti-Blasphemy Terrorist Beheadings In Nice And Paris: Muslims Must Foil The Eulogising Of These Killers As ‘Ghazis’! Don’t Expect Even Sufi Ulema To Go Beyond Ritual Condemnation and Look Into Roots of Terrorism in Islamic Theology

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That such a law is being demanded by the AIMPLB also needs to be called out. The Board today stands discredited within the Muslim community. In the wake of anti-NRC protests, leading members of the Board refused to come out and side with protesting students. On multiple occasions, when they tried to speak, they were boycotted and booed by the protesting youth. This regressive Board, which justifies every misogynistic attitude within the Muslim community, may be trying to retrieve its lost ground by raking up such emotional issues. Moreover, it is rather rich of the Board to cry victim when in the past it has effectively victimized Muslims of other faith orientations. The same Board, for example, will have huge issues, if they are asked to treat Ahmadis as fellow Muslims. In fact, its members have been at the forefront in vandalizing Ahmadia exhibitions and in organizing Khatm e Nabbuwat (End of Prophecy) conferences in which their sole agenda is to vilify this religious faith. 

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Also Read:  Blasphemy Law has NO Qur’anic Basis

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The issue of blasphemy is not just limited to India. Throughout the Muslim world, we are witnessing the enactment of legal frameworks which makes it difficult to even mount a genuine criticism of Islam, if one wants to. Till 2020, blasphemy was a criminal act in 84 countries all over the world while as many as 21 countries criminalized apostasy. Keeping in mind the fact that acts deemed blasphemous might be covered under alternate criminal laws (like in India), the actual numbers of these countries which limit freedom of expression must be higher. The legal penalties for such offences often range from fines to imprisonment to corporal punishment. In 12 countries, such offences might lead to the death penalty.

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Also Read:  Blasphemy, Islam and Free Speech

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These 12 counties are: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Pakistan, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. It is not surprising that 11 out of these 12 countries have Islam as their state religion, with the exception of Nigeria which is officially secular, although 12 of its states are governed parallelly by the Sharia. Blasphemy related executions have been carried out in Saudi Arabia and Iran; victims are mostly religious minorities in both these countries, suggesting that blasphemy laws have been used to curb political dissent. In Pakistan, no one has been executed till date for blasphemy despite high volume of such cases in courts. Here the penalty is being carried out by Islamic vigilantes, who do the dirty work on behalf of the state.

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Also Read:  Blasphemy Laws Of Pakistan: Indian Clerics Are No Less Extremist And Obscurantist - Part 1

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Also Read: Blasphemy laws of Pakistan: Indian clerics are no less extremist and obscurantist – Part 2

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Many Muslims oppose blasphemy and have argued that such concepts should have no place in the modern world. They have generally put forward two strategies: an Islamic counter argument against blasphemy or standing with existing secular state laws. While both strategies are laudable as they are designed to save lives, but they have their limitations.

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Also Read:  The Muslim Consciousness of Persona of Muhammad, the Messenger of God: Reflections on an Islamist Radical Beheading History Teacher Samuel Paty in Paris for Displaying Cartoons portraying the Prophet as a Suicide Bomber

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The Islamic counter argument takes recourse to hermeneutics by privileging the following Quranic verses: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:256); For you is your religion, and for me is mine” (9:106); “If anyone killed a person, it is as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind” (5:32). From within the Islamic tradition, Muslims have noted that the Quran does not speak of death penalty but leaves the punishment with God, meaning that human beings should not arrogate to themselves what genuinely belongs to God. Some have argued that the punishment for blasphemy or apostasy instituted 15 centuries ago was more for treason rather than for religious reasons. In other words, renouncing Islam was not framed as a religious transgression but a political one.     

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Also Read:  Blasphemy, Islam and Free Speech

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There are pious intentions behind such interpretations, no doubt. But there is little effect of such counter interpretation on either the Muslim orthodoxy or the state who go with their own set of interpretations. And because they are in position of power, it is their interpretation which becomes hegemonic. Today there are many Muslims who want to point out what is wrong in their religion. How would one categorize such endeavors? Religion and politics are so closely fused together that often it is impossible to separate them. Any act of religious transgression is also a political act, especially done in the context of Muslim societies, where, even asking simple questions from a system of ideas called Islam can land one in trouble. The answer therefore may not lie in the re-interpretation of Islamic texts but in strengthening sensitivities to human rights, and not just of Muslims. 

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Also Read:  Islam and Free Speech: A Reply to A. Faizur Rahman

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The other strategy to take note of is that of groups like Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (Disclosure: This writer is a member) which is largely comprised of secular and religious Muslims. In the specific context of India where anti-Muslim bigotry is on the rise, they argue that existing laws are sufficient to tackle the problem. Hence, they are opposed to the AIMPLB’s demand of having a separate anti-blasphemy law. But wasn’t it the ‘existing law’ which was used to ban the publication of Satanic Verses in India? And wasn’t the existing law used again to punish the likes of Taslima Nasrin and MF Husain? The scope of the existing Indian law is so draconian that it very nearly incorporates blasphemy within its purview. Opposing the Ulama’s demand for an anti-blasphemy law makes sense, but upholding an existing state law that has been used to stifle dissent doesn’t. Rather than pointing to the necessity of 295(A), we need to demand that it should be diluted to make it harmonious with freedom of expression and dissent.

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Also Read:   Salman Rushdie's Indian Mullah critics, listen to the message of Satanic Verses

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At a time when the concept of blasphemy is being imported into other religions like Hinduism, it is all the more important to underline that there is no right to free expression without the right to offend. 

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A regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia.


URL:     https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/blasphemy-aimplb-indian-muslims/d/125880


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