معمارِ حرم باز بہ تعمیرِ جہاں خیز
از خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خیز
ادھر آ ستمگر ہنر آزمائیں
تو تیر آزما ہم جِگر آزمائیں

Monday, 17 January 2011

De-constructing Blasphemy

Blasphemy. One of the very hot topics of these days means “sacrilegious act” as per oxford dictionary. In the context of Pakistan Penal Code, it is:


Defiling, etc, of copy of Holy Quran. Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life.


Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. 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 Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.


Use of derogatory remarks, etc..., in respect of holy personages. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles a sacred name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait), of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), or any of the righteous caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of the Holy Prophet description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

As it is clear from above presented references from Pakistan Penal Code, blasphemy is a religious law, specifically pertaining to the religion of Islam. Being an Islamic law it should have some base in Islamic jurisprudence itself, to render it authenticity. The first pillar of Islamic jurisprudence is the Quran. Hence any law which is repugnant to Quranic teachings, can at the very least not be labeled as Islamic law.

In light of the Holy Quran, a person who says anything against God, or the Prophet (SAW) has not not been prescribed with any punishment at all. Rather the Quran takes an altogether different course of action by telling the believers that it is God Himself who will punish such an offence. God has (in the Quran) gone to the extent of telling His followers to leave the company of such people until they change the topic of the conversation. These Quranic views are evident from the following verses:

You [Prophet], enfolded in your cloak! Stay up throughout the night, all but a small part of it, half, or a little less, or a little more; recite the Qur an slowly and distinctly: We shall send a momentous message down to you. Night prayer makes a deeper impression and sharpens words–– you are kept busy for long periods of the day–– so celebrate the name of your Lord and devote yourself wholeheartedly to Him. He is Lord of the east and west, there is no god but Him, so take Him as your Protector, patiently endure what they say, ignore them politely, and leave to Me those who deny the truth and live in luxury. Bear with them for a little while; We have fetters, a blazing fire[1]

Every previous people to whom a messenger was sent also said, ‘A sorcerer, or maybe a madman!’ Did they tell one another to do this? No! They are a people who exceed all bounds, so ignore them [Prophet]– you are not to blame– and go on reminding [people],it is good for those who believe to be reminded.[2]

Those who insult God and His Messenger will be rejected by God in this world and the next– He has prepared a humiliating torment for them and those who undeservedly insult believing men and women will bear the guilt of slander and flagrant sin.[3]

[Prophet], have you not considered how those who were given a share of the Scripture purchase misguidance and want you [believers], too, to lose the right path? God knows your enemies best: God is enough to protect and to help you. Some Jews distort the meaning of [revealed] words: they say, ‘We hear and disobey,’ and ‘Listen,’ [adding the insult] ‘May you not hear,’ and ‘Ra ina [Look at us],’ d twisting it abusively with their tongues so as to disparage religion. If they had said, ‘We hear and obey,’ ‘Listen,’ and ‘Unzurna [Look at us],’ that would have been better and more proper for them. But God has spurned them for their defiance; they believe very little[4]

As He has already revealed to you [believers] in the Scripture, if you hear people denying and ridiculing God’s revelation, do not sit with them unless they start to talk of other things, or else you yourselves will become like them: God will gather all the hypocrites and disbelievers together into Hell.[5]

These are few of the many available Quranic verses. From all these verses one thing is evident; God has taken the matter of punishing anyone who abuses or makes fun of God, his Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or the Quran itself in His own hands, rather than giving it into the hands of his Prophet Muhammad (SAW) let alone the followers of his religion. On the contrary, the Quran clearly enjoins Muslims to ignore such deeds of non-Muslims. It is also worth mentioning that Quran only allows the state to award the death penalty on two occasions. One when murder is committed ,second when somebody spreads mischief in the world.

The second source of Islamic law is hadth (i.e saying and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Unfortunately for us, the most authentic books of hadith have nothing to say in this regard. This list of authentic books includes Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Al-Muslim among others. We have incidents where the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) behaved in a manner which is in total contradiction of these laws. Two very famous incidents i find worth mentioning here (though there are numerous others as well), one is that of an old woman who used to throw garbage at the Prophet (SAW). One day the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) did not have gharbage thrown at him. He became curious and inquired about the old lady and was told that she is sick. Our Holy Prophet(SAW) did not thank God for it rather went to her home, inquired about her health and took care of her. The second incident is when Prophet (SAW) was bombarded with pebbles by the people of Taif, God sent an angel to him asking if the Prophet (pbuh) so ordered these people can be crushed under the mountains. Again our beloved Prophet (pbuh) instead of resorting to revenge, showed magnanimity asking God for their forgiveness.

Here it would be imperative to mention that some supporters of this blasphemy law give examples of incidents where Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself ordered alleged blasphemers to be killed. Unfortunately none of these mentioned people were killed for committing the crime of blasphemy. Most famous of these is the case Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul al-`Aufi. Here the supporters of the law fail to see that the person was killed not for committing blasphemy, rather for incessant slandering against the Wife of Prophet (SAW), (i.e spread mischief). Second is the story of Jewish poet Abu Afak who was one of the biggest political rivals of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He allegedly published a poem which was blasphemous to Prophet(SAW) thus was ordered to be killed. Unfortunately this story can not be confirmed by any of the available authorities on Hadith. So much so that Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim did not even consider mentioning it in their respective works. Similarly, many other incidents are mentioned by the proponents of blasphemy law but all of them have similar stories behind them.

After the Quran and Sunnah there is a third source of Islamic law that is more often than not used by Muslims, fiqh. Fiqh is basically an expansion on laws of Quran and Sunnah by people of later period. It is also worth mentioning that fiqh is man-made and like everything that is man-made can not be categorized as perfect. Fiqh has been compiled by many a people over a period almost 1500 years of Islamic history. Some received wide spread approval and others did not. Of all these books of fiqh the one that has a most following in the world of Sunni Islam is the fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifa. On the question of blasphemy it clearly states that Non-Muslims can not be punished for blasphemy for they have already committed a greater crime of not following Islam. When we have been stopped by God from punishing them of this crime who are we to punish them for the crime of blasphemy. A Muslim on the other hand can not commit blasphemy on the faith that he claims to be following. In this case no-body’s allegation is acceptable, but if a person himself admits and further persists on doing so he is considered as “murtid”. He would under the supervision of the court be asked by people three times everyday for three consecutive days to apologise for what he has done. If he submits, he is not to be punished. On the other hand if he refuses to comply, he is to be punished for being a “murtid” and not for committing blasphemy.

Here somebody pointed out that no one would admit his crime and thus would evade punishment. It is submitted that in such crimes no witnesses are admissible as this matter involves the heart and if a person does not admit it himself he is not to be punished. To support this claim I would like to quote a hadith:

It is narrated on the authority of Usama b. Zaid that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent us in a raiding party. We raided Huraqat of Juhaina in the morning. I caught hold of a man and he said: There is no god but Allah, I attacked him with a spear. It once occurred to me and I talked about it to the Apostle (may peace be upon him). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Did he profess" There is no god but Allah," and even then you killed him? I said: Messenger of Allah, he made a profession of it out of the fear of the weapon. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Did you tear his heart in order to find out whether it had professed or not? And he went on repeating it to me till I wished I had embraced Islam that day.[6]

The above mentioned hadith is mentioned many a times in Sahih Al-Muslim as well as Sahih Al-Bukhari, two most authoritative books of hadith.

From the above given narrative, a few things become very evident. Firstly, the law is repugnant to Quran and its injunctions. Secondly, the law is repugnant to Hadith as well. Thirdly, neither it is at the very least in-line with the fiqh.

Many people argue that people have sentiments attached to with this issue, hence, as per the democratic principles, the laws should not be changed. Yet, for the same logical reasoning would you legalize honor killing as well? or hypothetically speaking a certain group of people are considered as outcasts by the rest so much so that they want that group killed. Would genocide be legalized? In short I think that laws should not be subject to whims and desires of people, rather enacted upon principles.

In light of the above given arguments, I most emphatically assert that blasphemy law is a blasphemous law in itself. A sad and unfortunate irony that we are living.

[1]Quran: Al-Muzzammil (Enfolded), 76: 1-12

[2]Quran: Al-Dhariyat (Scattering Wind), 51: 52-55

[3]Quran: Al-Ahzab (The Joint Forces), 33:57-58

[4]Quran: Al-Nisa (Women), 4: 44-46

[5]Quran: Al-Nisa (Women), 4: 140

[6]Sahih Muslim: Book 1, Hadith Number 176

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