There is no Arabic word for blasphemy. Is that not interesting? English translators in their interpretative translations have translated the Arabic word kufr as blasphemy in several verses. There are twenty three verses in the Quran that contain the word blaspheme or its grammatical variants in Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran. These are 2:88, 102, 3:55, 4:155, 5:17, 64, 68, 72, 73, 103, 6:19, 8:35, 9:74, 10:70, 11:9, 14:28, 21:36, 21:112, 39:8, 39:32, 40:42, 43:15, 33. None of them speak about meting out punishment to the blasphemers by the ruler or by man. Verse 9:74 is about a ‘Muslim’ blasphemer a translation of which by Yusuf Ali is reproduced below. It speaks about Allah punishing them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the hereafter. By implication, the verse rules out punishment by man. Any law that seeks to punish a blasphemer is not in accordance with the Quran and goes against the letter and spirit of the Quran.
9: 74. They swear by Allah that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah 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.
Verse 43:33 (a translation of which by Yusuf Ali is reproduced below), speaks about blasphemers and says that, were it not for making blaspheming very attractive and presumably making belief extremely unattractive in comparison, God would have granted immense wealth to every blasphemer.
43: 33. And were it not that (all) men might become of one (evil) way of life, We would provide, for everyone that blasphemes against ((Allah)) Most Gracious, silver roofs for their houses and (silver) stair-ways on which to go up,
The grievous penalty from God to one who blasphemes after belief in verse 9:74 is to help the believer return to the path of belief and righteousness if he would benefit from the punishment. God punishes in this life, those who do wrong and are likely to benefit from the punishment. Those who are too far gone and are unlikely to benefit from punishment are given a long rope and their life on this earth is made to look very attractive. Some of it is on account of their good deeds that have no rewards in the hereafter and some of it is as a test for the believers whose patience and quality of faith is tested through relative adversity when compared to the life of the non believers.
Verses 9:74 and 43:33 implicitly rule out punishment by man for blasphemy. The message of the Quran cannot be clearer on this issue for those who seek true guidance. Any law that seeks to punish a blasphemer seriously interferes with God’s plans described in 43:33. Every nation that calls itself Islamic, and has enacted laws of blasphemy, therefore seriously interferes with God’s plans and is at cross purposes with God and therefore in war with God. The nations that use the laws of blasphemy as a weapon to target and harass the minorities blaspheme Islam in the worst possible manner. May the curse of God and all Muslims be on such nations!
What then, is the basis for the law of blasphemy? When the Muslim armies conquered new lands, they came into contact with new civilizations. The first few centuries were periods of great learning. The Muslim conquerors adopted and assimilated many of the practices of the conquered territories. Muslim jurists found the legislative verses in the Quran far too little in comparison with Jewish and Christian laws. They therefore built an elaborate body of Islamic law using the principles of analogy and legal precedent to meet the requirements of governing vast territories with large non Muslim populations. The Law of apostasy, the law of blasphemy, the law of stoning adulterers to death and the practice of circumcision find no mention in the Quran but are found in Jewish and Christian scriptures. The Muslim jurists appear to have relied on the old and the new Testament for these laws although there is lack of sufficient and direct support from the practice of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for such laws.
Janab Muhammad Yunus has brought out the several glaring incidents of blaspheming that are mentioned in the Quran without a command to punish the blasphemer. I quote him below:
“The Meccan enemies of the Prophet called him impostor, a madman (30:58, 44:14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36). They ridiculed the Qur'anic revelation (18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9), which they declared to be strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), a jumble of dreams(21:5) and legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). They accused the Prophet of forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious witchcraft that was bewildering (10:2, 37:15, 46:7), and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn (17:47, 23:70, 34:8). By definition, all these accusations were blasphemous. Nowhere in its text does the Qur'an prescribe any punishment for those who uttered these blasphemies.”
The precedents that may have been relied upon by the Islamic jurists could be the killing of Asma and Abu Afak. First of all, these two were guilty of far worse crimes than just blaspheming. They were very active and influential instigators of violence against the Muslims who incited their people to kill Muslims. These two threatened the very existence of the small band of Muslims and their killing could be described as killing in self defence. Does anybody question the killing of Osama Bin Laden although OBLhimself may not have directly killed anyone? When there is evidence that there were thousands of blasphemers in the Prophet’s time, who were not harmed or punished for their various acts of blasphemy, how can exceptions which are not even exceptions on close scrutiny, be made the basis of a rule or the law a hundred years later?
There is no evidence however, that the Muslims misused the law of blasphemy to harass the minorities in the first thousand years of Islamic history. This law existed only as an equivalent of the Jewish and Christian law on the same subject and the law was invoked very sparingly for deliberate and very public attempts to malign Islam or its Prophet.
Perfectus, a Christian priest in Muslim-ruled Córdoba, was beheaded (middle of the 9th century) after he refused to retract numerous insults he made about Muhammad (PBUH) publicly and repeatedly. Numerous other priests, monks, and laity followed his example as Christians became caught up in a zest for “martyrdom” and according to an account, about forty such deliberate and determined blasphemers were decapitated over a period of the next ten years after which blaspheming appears to have come to a stop.
The important point to note is that every blasphemer was given an opportunity to retract. A person who had blasphemed and retracted was not punished. If retracting was allowed, there was no question of punishing based on hearsay or innuendo or implied blasphemy.
The same holds good for apostasy as well. There are several cases of apostates in the Prophet’s period who were left alone. The few who were punished were those who were also guilty of high treason endangering the lives of Muslims in a state of war or for apostasy combined with killing. There is no example of punishing anyone for a simple act of apostasy.
Pakistan is the most serious offending nation in regard to the law on blasphemy. In 1986, Section 295-C was added as follows: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Between 1927 (year in which Bristishers introduced section 295-A) and 1986 there had been only seven reported cases of blasphemy. However, 1986 onwards as many as 4,000 cases have been reported. Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with offences under the Blasphemy Laws. See the contrast between the earlier practice of allowing blasphemers to retract and the Pakistan’s newly added subsection 295 C which can be invoked for “imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly”! This allows immense leeway to charge anyone with blasphemy. Going by a simple reading of the section, every non-believer is a blasphemer of Islam and its Prophet and going by the behaviour of the people, they appear to treat every non-Muslim as a blasphemer!
Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy are demonstrably unjust, unislamic and violate the letter and spirit of the Quran and without precedent from the life of the Prophet or as the law was practiced for over the first 1,000 years of Islamic history. The law promotes acts of terror on the minorities, and the practice of the law leaves no room for doubt that these laws seek to legalize acts of terrorism against the minorities. The case of the hapless 11 year old Rimsha Masih underscores the depth to which Pakistan society has descended. Pakistan blasphemes Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (who was sent as a mercy to all nations) by their barbaric laws of blasphemy and the practice which leaves no room for doubt about the intention. It is incumbent on the Muslim citizens of Pakistan to wage jehad on the infidels who defame Islam with acts of terrorism on the minorities and against the State which enact laws that blaspheme Islam and bring disrepute to Islam and its Prophet (PBUH).
(Naseer Ahmed graduated from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the public and private sector in responsible positions for over 3 decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com)