Blasphemy laws in the Qur’an


The Qur’an has issued clear guidelines as to how believers are to respond in the face of insults and ridicule

Blasphemy (Greek blaptein, “to injure”, and pheme, “reputation”) signifies etymologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem.¹ Blasphemy is the use of offensive, and derogatory language and visual representations against personalities revered and held in high esteem in a religion. In the Judeo Christian tradition, blasphemy is a serious sin, which is according to the Hebrew Scriptures a cognizable offense incurring capital punishment. In the book of Leviticus, which is considered an inspired text by both, Jews and Christians it is stated: “Take the blasphemer beyond the confines of the camp; let all those who were listening lay their hands on his head, and let the whole people put him to death by stoning. 15 Tell the Israelites this: The man who curses his God will be held to account for it; 16 he blasphemed the Lord’s name, and he must die. Be he citizen or stranger, he must be stoned by the whole people; death for the blasphemer.” Leviticus 24:14-16 Though very clearly a law enshrined in the Judeo-Christian Scripture, we also see in recent times, that it is the Muslim community which is in the spotlight regarding this subject. Some violent and extreme responses to blasphemy meted out in the name of Islam, make those outside of the faith (as well as many within the faith itself) raise the question, that like the Judeo-Christian Scripture, does the Islamic Scripture too, exhort believers to deliver death to blasphemers?

Blasphemy is not a capital crime in the Qur’an

Without investigating the fact of the matter many make an underlying assumption that whilst responding violently, those who label themselves as Muslims are acting on the tenets of their faith. That what you see on the TV screens and read about in the newspapers concerning so called Islamic acts is the practice of the Qur’an to the last letter. Many are deliberately led to believe as if whatever any individual identifying himself as a Muslim does or believes in, is a result of the religious guidance found in their Book and the authentic teaching of their faith. This actually, is not the case. Behaviour that we witness as “Islamic” behaviour is not necessarily Quranic behaviour. Upon studying the Qur’an we realise that the fringe in the Muslim world that partakes in violent behaviours is neither representative of Qur’anic teachings nor of the vast number of peaceful believers. The Qur’an is not silent about situations when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was insulted and abused by rejecters of his message. It very well does show his behaviour, as to what his response was in such instances. It also gives clear and unambiguous instructions to Muslims as to what their conduct should be when people mock, ridicule or scoff their faith.

God is sufficient against those who mock the Prophet

إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ

“For sufficient are We unto thee against those who scoff.” 15:95

It follows from this verse that if God is indeed sufficient against the scoffers, then there is no room left for believers to respond.

The Prophet [pbuh] never commanded anyone to respond violently in face of insults

The Prophet [pbuh] was commanded by Allah:

وَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَدَعْ أَذَاهُمْ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا

“And obey not [the behests] of the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy Trust in Allah. For enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. ” 33:48

As Allah commanded the Prophet “and heed not their annoyances..” therefore the Prophet and his true followers did not pay any heed to insults and abuses they received from the rejecters.

True believers in Allah bear the hurts of rejecters with patience, not violence

A statement that believers in Allah gave to rejecters is recorded in the Qur’an as:

وَمَا لَنَا أَلَّا نَتَوَكَّلَ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانَا سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَلَنَصْبِرَنَّ عَلَىٰ مَا آذَيْتُمُونَا ۚ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ

“No reason have we why we should not put our trust on Allah. Indeed He Has guided us to the Ways we [follow]. We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us. For those who put their trust should put their trust on Allah.” 14:12

The words “..We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us…” make it absolutely clear that true believers do not respond violently to the hurtful things they hear from rejecters but tolerate them with patience.

Believers commanded to be patient in the face of insults

لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ

“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will hurt you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. ” 3:186

The divine command given to believers as to what to do in the face of abuse as “..if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil…” leaves no room for doubt that true believers do not respond violently when faced with insults and abuse but remain calm and patient.

Believers are forbidden to insult other religions, hence responding violently is ruled out

وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do.” 6:108

If believers are commanded by Allah not to even verbally insult deities, then how can they turn physically violent?

We also see in the Qur’an that blasphemy does not carry a capital punishment. Those who commit blasphemy and even plot sedition are given an opportunity by Allah to repent. If capital punishment were invoked and they were to face the death penalty then they would not be able to avail the opportunity for repentance that Allah mentions in 9:74.

يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللَّهِ مَا قَالُوا وَلَقَدْ قَالُوا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إِسْلَامِهِمْ وَهَمُّوا بِمَا لَمْ يَنَالُوا ۚ وَمَا نَقَمُوا إِلَّا أَنْ أَغْنَاهُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۚ فَإِن يَتُوبُوا يَكُ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللَّهُ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۚ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ

“They swear by God 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 God and His Apostle had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), God 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.” (9:74)

The expression in above verse: “..If they repent, it will be best for them…” is clear evidence in demonstrating that those guilty of blasphemy, apostasy and sedition are not to face the death penalty as Allah has given them a chance for repentance and amendment of their conduct.

If Muslims are to remain peaceful, then who are the people who respond violently?

A question that immediately comes to the mind is that if indeed the Qur’an calls for calm and restraint in the face of insults and abuse, then why do so many people who identify themselves as staunch believers in Islam behave otherwise? Why do people resort to violence, damage property and attempt to riot? The answer to this is also given in the Qur’an. The reality is that the Qur’an categorises two types of believers. Those who are believers in deed, and those who are believers only by name. It is the latter who resort to violence and destruction in the name of religious reform:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

“Of the people there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day;” but they do not [really] believe. ” 2:8

Whilst refuting the claim of such, the Qur’an also exposes them by virtue of their conduct and behaviour in the world:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

“When it is said to them: “Make not Fasaad (disorder) on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to reform!” 2:11

Pinpointing the people who go about flaunting their Imaan (belief) to be in fact fake, the above verses also identify their modus operandi to do Fasad (disorder),  assuming it to be a means to Islah (reform from sin). When we come across individuals who make it their mission to “destroy evil and vice”, we see the truthfulness of the above description. These are the type of people who bomb establishments that appear sinful to them and display violent rage in the name of religion. They style themselves as believers, do Fasaad fil Ard (disorder and mischief in the land), without realising that far from acting on Allah’s laws, they are in fact grossly violating them. Hence there are two types of people in the world who would claim to be within the fold of Imaan. Those whose characters are trained on Quranic guidance, who in the face of insults, invective and abuse act patiently and do not resort to a tit-for-tat or violent response. While others are those who, while claiming to be believers, actually defy the divine injunctions. These are the people who resort to violence and destruction and justify their conduct in the name of religion. The fundamental mistake we would make is to accept people by the labels they carry or the claims they make, instead of identifying them by the behaviours they display. Behaviours that go against the teachings of the Qur’an are never a part of Islam and their actors are never its true representatives. Muslims must not forget that the best defence to any insults is the one contained in the Qur’an. Instead of losing control, Muslims must hold fast to Qur’anic guidance in such matters. The Qur’an is Allah’s word and is not silent. Allah is fully aware of what situations come in the life of a believer and He has given remedies in His word. The only response that a true Muslim is to give is the one which the Prophet gave and which is to abide by the teaching contained in the Qur’an.

REFERENCES

¹ Catholic Encyclopedia

 

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