By Raqeeb Akinyemi
Blasphemy is an action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk. This includes the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred objects, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.
Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime. As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group. – Pew Research (21 November 2012)
This piece submits the views of Islam on blasphemy and apostasy and equally presents the sterling qualities in the personality of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as displayed against hypocrites who abused him severally during his lifetime.
Blasphemy in Islam is an impious utterance or action concerning God, Muhammad or anything considered sacred in Islam. The Quran talks about blasphemy but does not specify any worldly punishment for blasphemy. The Sunnah (documented in hadiths), which is another source of Sharia rulings and guidance, has been alleged to contain prescription of various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death. However, it has been argued that the death penalty applies only to cases where a case for treason has been made and which typically exposure of the Muslim community to serious harm, especially during times of war.
The act of blasphemy is condemned in Islam. The position of the Holy Qur’an on blasphemy is to boycott a blasphemer. In the following verse Allah (SWT) says;
“If somebody uses foul language against any holy person or teaching, Islam advises to keep away from such people as The Holy Qur’an says, And when you see those who trifle with our signs then turn thou away from them until then engage in a discourse other than that and if Satan causes thee to forget then sit not, after recollection, with the unjust people.” (Q6 V 69)*
We have evidence in the traditions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) where Abdullah bin Ubayyee (historically known as the Chief of Medinite hypocrites) continuously abused the Prophet (SAW), and opposed him severely in Madinah. When he passed away, the Prophet (SAW) stood to offer his funeral prayers but was asked by one of his companions, “O Allah’s Apostle! Do you offer the prayer for this man although he said so-and-so on such-and-such a day?” and “that he is a hypocrite!”. The Prophet (SAW) ignored his statements and continued to offer the funeral prayers of the dead man. (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 192)
Furthermore, the Holy Quran has provided clear guidance on this matter and states:
“…when you hear the Signs of Allah being denied and mocked at, sit not with them until they engage in a talk other than that; for in that case you would be like them” (Q4 V.141)
The verse explicitly confirms the position of the proponents of “No Capital Punishment” for a blasphemer, as the Quranic verdict is that one should discontinue association with such people or circles. In reality, the response of Muslims should not even be anything close to animosity as the verse purports that they can still interact with the people mocking the sacred names and respected personhood, or religious principles and places of Islam after they have desisted from the unwholesome and disrespectful actions. The words ‘…sit not with them until they engage in a talk other than that…’ lucidly epitomizes the tolerance that Islam expects of Muslims in managing issues around blasphemies. If this is the attitude of Islam towards blasphemers; how does the religion of peace expect its adherents to deal with apostates?
Apostasy, on the other hand, is the formal disaffiliation from, abandonment of, or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion that is contrary to one’s previous religious beliefs. One who undertakes apostasy is known as an apostate.
Any punishment an apostate incurs is a matter between that person and God.
The Qur’an is clear: apostasy is not a worldly crime, it is certainly not the “ultimate” crime, apostates are not to be harmed let alone put to death, and those who choose to leave Islam have every right to do so.
The Holy Quran states: “Verily, those who malign Allah and His Messenger — Allah has cursed them in this world and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them an abasing punishment. And those who malign believing men and believing women for what they have not earned shall bear the guilt of a calumny and a manifest sin.” (Q33:58-59)
One of the great exemplary acts of the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW is the case of the treaty of Hudaibiyyah. Bokhari has related, on the authority of Braa bin Aazib, that in the treaty of Hudaibiyyah, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, agreed with the pagans of Mecca that if anyone of them became a Muslim and came to Medina, he would be returned to the Meccans, but that if a Muslim departed from Medina and joined the Meccans, they would not be under obligation to return him to the Holy Prophet (Bokhari, Egyptians edition, Vol. II, p. 76).
“The obligation is undertaken by the Holy Prophet in the treaty that a Muslim who departed from Medina and joined the Meccans, which means that if he repudiated Islam and went and identified himself with the Meccans, he would not be restored to the Holy Prophet, also establishes that apostasy was not punishable as an offence. Had it been punishable as an offence, the Holy Prophet would not have accepted this term of the treaty. He would have told the Meccan envoy, who represented the Meccans at Hudaibiyyah, that he could not agree to a term which was contrary to the divine command that an apostate was punishable with death. Nor did any of the Companions of the Holy Prophet protest against this term of the treaty that it was inconsistent with a Divine commandment”. – Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
Some hold the belief that if someone speaks against God, the Holy Muhammad (saw), the Holy Quran and Islam he must be punished with death penalty; however, the reality completely differs from such concepts and the Islam taught by our beloved Master Muhammad (SAW) speaks of no worldly punishment whatsoever against blasphemy or apostasy. No question of death or anything else for that matter.
More so, in every matter of faith, Allah (SWT) clearly states that judgement is for Him alone in that which people believe and what believe not in what was sent to the holy Prophet (SAW).
The Qur’an says “And if there should be a group among you who has believed in that with which I have been sent and a group that has not believed, then be patient until Allah judges between us. And He is the best of judges.” (Q7:88)
Islam recognizes the right of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief and that as far as one’s religious belief is concerned one is answerable to God alone. No man has the right to punish another for his choice of belief. There is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever in Islam and no punishment of any kind permitted in the Holy Quran for apostasy and to turn away from the seating where blasphemy is being done.
Our constant prayer is Guide us on the Right Path. (Q1:6) – Amen.
(Note: References to verses of the Holy Quran in this article takes Basmallah as the first verse of all chapters, except Sura At-Taubah; hence, you will notice a variant of +1 in the verses cited as compared with other systems of citation)
Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread Pew Research (21 November 2012)