WHAT IS THE EXACT POSITION OF ISLAM ON BLASPHEMY?
Blasphemy laws historically began in Christian Europe as a means to prevent dissent and enforce the church’s authority. They were exported to Muslim majority nations via British imperialism. Today, just about every Muslim majority nation that has blasphemy laws can trace them back to British statute from centuries prior. (Source: This is what the Qur’an actually says about blasphemy, Qasim Rashid, 12 May 2017, The Independent)
Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan too, has pointed out that: “There are more than 200 verses in the Qur’an, which reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now called “blasphemy or abuse of the Prophet” but nowhere does the Qur’an prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment.” (Source: Blasphemy and the law of fanatics by Fareed Zakaria, 8 January 2015, Washington Post)
Yet thousands of misinformed, easily manipulated Muslims sympathise with murderers and mobs who kill or imprison individuals accused of blasphemy when the fact remains that the Qur’an prescribes no punishment for blasphemy. Period.
The misguided idea that Islam requires that insults to Muhammad (PBUH) [or religious edicts] be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda, and ironically, nowhere are these archaic blasphemy laws more abused than some Muslim-majority countries with the worst records for fair governance such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Sudan. (Source: Blasphemy and the law of fanatics by Fareed Zakaria, 8 January 2015, Washington Post)
Yasir Qadhi, an assistant professor of Islamic studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee takes a more nuanced view: “Loving the prophet (PBUH) is a necessary requirement of (faith). Defending his honor is a sign of belief. This is done by following his teachings and practice, not by murdering in his name,” Qadhi wrote in a widely shared Facebook post. “Even for those who believe that the penalty for blasphemy should be death: by unanimous consensus of all the scholars of Islam, this must take place after a legitimate trial, by a qualified judge, appointed by a legitimate Islamic state. Under no circumstances does Islam allow vigilante justice”.
Therefore even if a punishment is to be vetted out for blasphemy, one ought to ask where in the world are you going to find a legitimate Islamic state, not a Muslim-majority country that pretends to be Islamic but a true Islamic state like those during the Islamic renaissance or during and after the advent of Islam?
This is precisely why notable scholars like Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naʿim have written extensively about the place of Shariah (Islamic religious law) in predominantly Muslim societies of the world. In his book, Islam and the secular state, he argues:
The coercive enforcement of Shariʿa by the state betrays the Qurʿan’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shariʿa should be freed from the control of the state. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Naʿim maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shariʿa. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shariʿa or the Islamic tradition, according to an introduction prepared by the Harvard University Press.
Therefore it is easy to blame Islam and ordinary Muslims for transgressions undertaken by politicians (such as in the 2017 case of ethnic Chinese, Christian Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama who was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam in Jakarta, Indonesia), countries with Muslim-majority population (13 of which punish blasphemy by death) and the extrajudicial killings that such laws inspire (such as for example in Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others) or individuals with a Muslim name who commit acts of terror – but is this really fair when the Qur’an and Hadith, read in context and clarity, remains the best form of refutation in terms of what is morally right and wrong, permissible and forbidden. Evidently it therefore appears: “Blasphemy laws don’t exist to protect God: they exist to protect the fragile egos of corrupt clerics”, in the succint words of Qasim Rashid that captures the essence of this entire debate. (Source: This is what the Qur’an actually says about blasphemy, Qasim Rashid, 12 May 2017, The Independent)