Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Islamic Are ‘Islamic’ Blasphemy Laws?

  • How Islamic Are ‘Islamic’ Blasphemy Laws?
    Sultan Shahin
    Published on January 25, 2017
    January 4 has become an iconic day for moderate Muslims in the Indian subcontinent,
    reminding us every year that the battle for the soul of Islam has not even begun properly.
    Moderate, progressive, liberal Muslims are being killed in the name of blasphemy, but they
    are not able to defend themselves even with a coherent ideological counternarrative.
    On this day in 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistani Punjab, had been murdered by
    his own body guard for having shown compassion for a Christian lady Asia Bibi, falsely
    accused of blasphemy. This despicable murderer Mumtaz Quadri has now been executed on
    orders of Pakistan judiciary, but has acquired the status of a saint and martyr in the eyes of
    millions in South Asia, particularly ulema of most schools of thought.
    Asia Bibi is known to have been falsely implicated, as most victims of Pakistan’s Black
    Blasphemy laws are. Pakistan Press has reported that all cases of blasphemy against Islam are
    actually to settle personal scores or to acquire a non-Muslim’s property. But Pakistan and
    South Asian Muslims are not alone in misusing the concept of blasphemy. A celebrated case
    going on in Indonesia now is against Governor Ahok, a Christian who is supposed to have
    quoted, just quoted, some verses from Quran and thus angered many Muslims enough to slap
    a case of blasphemy against him. How can a Christian quote scripture, the only true
    scripture? (Do Christians represent the Devil for these Indonesian Muslims?)
    Apart from the criminality, and totally anti-Islamic nature of such devious thinking, the
    stupidity of it all takes the breath away. And this in Indonesia which we progressive Muslims
    used to cite as an example of moderation in Islam. Should we be at all discussing such inanity
    in the 21st century? But this is a very popular blasphemy charge and millions of people
    cannot be imprisoned; we can only argue with them hoping to instil some sense in their
    The Holy Quran does not prescribe absolutely any punishment for blasphemy, though
    numerous verses describe in detail how Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was reviled
    and abused by early Meccans in prose and poetry. As Quran exegete and a columnist for, Muhammad Yunus points out: “The Meccan enemies of the Prophet
    called him impostor, a madman (Quran 30:58, 44:14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36) and
    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)9 and legends of the ancients (6:25,
    23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). They accused him 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).”
    He comments: “By definition, all these accusations were blasphemous. Nowhere in its text
    does the Qur’an prescribe any punishment for those who uttered these blasphemies.”
  • Yet ulema quote a consensus of scholarly opinion (ijma) in favour of blasphemy being an
    unpardonable offence. Indeed, if somebody simply questions this ijma, he meets the same
    fate, death. Ijma is an instrument of creative rethinking of Islamic provisions (ijtihad) in the
    absence of any clear guidance in Quran. The idea is to take the religion forward, in the
    absence of a messenger of God, not to regress to Dark Ages, as ulema are using this provision
    to do. Indeed, they have made ijma such a strong instrument that the Qur’anic dictates
    themselves have to be considered abrogated if they contradict the consensus opinion of
    Muslim jurists. “It is better that the verse (from Quran) is interpreted in such a way that it
    conforms to their opinion.” [Doctrine of Ijma in Islam, by Ahmad Hussain, New Delhi, 1992,
    Regardless of any justification for Blasphemy laws in Muslim countries, common sense
    suggests that they can only be applied to Muslims. Otherwise, the term blasphemy can be
    stretched to mean anyone who doesn’t believe Islam to be a true religion. But anti-Blasphemy
    laws are applied to non-Muslims in every Muslim country that has such laws. So ultimately
    the question is related to whether Muslims believe in freedom of religion. Clearly many
    don’t, except when they live in non-Muslim-majority countries.
    Although Quran, Islam’s foundational text, contains hundreds of verses asserting the
    legitimacy of other religions, a consensus in Islamic theology and jurisprudence has
    somehow emerged that other religions cannot be allowed to exist. Theologians cannot
    directly contradict the Quran by saying so, but this is the obvious implication of their
    doctrines of Jihad. Mainstream Islamic Theology and jurisprudence is completely based on a
    dichotomy between Muslim and Kafir. Kafirs have to be eventually eliminated from the
    world, either by persuasion or use of force. The only other option is they accept Muslim
    domination and accept the status of dhimmis (jizya-paying second class citizens).
    Most Ulema do not even accept the religious freedom of those whom Quran gives the status
    of ahl-e-kitab, by virtue of their belief in previous prophets of God. Some of these have been
    mentioned in the Quran and many are not as they are too numerous (124,000, according to
    one Prophetic tradition). They were sent to all nations with revelations. Quran asks Muslims
    to have the best of and the most intimate including marital relations with all ahl-e-kitab. Iman
    or Faith is defined in Islam as, among other things, having faith in all previous prophets of
    God and considering them of the same status as Prophet Mohammad.’ (Quran 4:164; 2.21;
    35:24; 10:47; 21:7).
    To illustrate the point about Islamic theologians circumventing clear, unequivocal Quranic
    dictates about freedom of religions, I quote the following passage from the writings of
    Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi, an influential cleric of Hyderabad. No Indian Alim (scholar, pl.
    ulema) has disputed this widely-circulated narration so far.
    Discussing the oft-quoted Quranic verse 2: 256 “La Ikraha fid Deen” (meaning, let there be
    no compulsion in religion), the Maulana writes in his booklet, ‘Use of Force in Quran’: This
    is an established fact (that Quran gives religious freedom to all). But it is related only with
    accepting or not accepting the belief. This does not mean that ahl-e-Kufr, (infidels) should be
    left totally free on earth with their un-belief and should not be made accountable. If this were
    true, what do we mean when we say that the religion (Deen) of God has been revealed to
    dominate the world?
  • "It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Prophet Mohammad pbuh) with guidance and the
    religion of truth (Islam) to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikoon
    (polytheists, idolaters, etc.) hate it." Surah at-Tawbah 9: 33. What will this verse mean then
    and what relevance will the obligation of jihad have (if we accept the Quranic decree of no
    compulsion in religion)?
    “--- It is the duty (of Muslims) to struggle for the domination of Islam over false religions and
    subdue and subjugate ahl-e-kufr-o-shirk (infidels and polytheists) in the same way as it is the
    duty of the Muslims to proselytise and invite people to Islam. The responsibility to testify to
    the Truth and pronounce the religion God has entrusted with the Muslims cannot be fulfilled
    merely by preaching and proselytising. If it were so there would be no need for the battles
    that were fought. "And fight them until there is no fitnah (mischief) and [until] the religion,
    all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease - then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do." Surah
    Anfal 8:39)
    “Jihad has been made obligatory to make the Deen (religion) dominate and to stop the centres
    of evil. Keeping in view the importance of this task, the significance of Jihad in the name of
    God has been stressed in the Quran and Hadith. That’s why clear ordainments have been
    revealed to Muslims about fighting all the Kuffar (infidels). “United, fight the polytheists as
    they fight against you.” (Surah Tauba:36)”
    There is a consensus of ulema’s opinion (ijma) around such views. Peaceful, pluralistic, early
    verses revealed in Makkah are supposed to have been abrogated by aggressive war-time
    verses that came later in Madina. Guided by ulema as they are, Muslims have come to believe
    that ijma is more important than Quran, indeed Quranic commandments of peace and
    pluralism, co-existence with other religions, patience in times of adversity, not rushing to war
    on the slightest pretext, etc., have been abrogated for over a millennium. Ulema keep quoting
    these verses to non-Muslim audiences as part of their taqaiyya (a religious instrument to
    deceive the enemy), but Muslims are supposed to know that these verses are abrogated and
    are being quoted only as a strategy of deception.
    Progressive Muslims keep quoting these peaceful verses as they are not well-versed in
    theology and jurisprudence. They still believe in Quran. Largely living in their own world,
    they have no idea what is going on in the community. They do not understand why pluralistic
    Quranic verses do not have any impact on the Muslim masses any more. No wonder they
    have not been able to come up with a cogent theological counter narrative.
    Sultan Shahin is the founder-editor of a Delhi-based progressive Islamic website This article appeared first in The Sunday Guardian, New Delhi on 15
    January 2017.

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