Sharif, a resident of Sharifai in Kano metropolis, was accused of committing blasphemy against the Holy Prophet of Islam in a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March 2020. Following the incident, protesters burnt down the singer’s family home and led a procession to the Kano Hisbah command’s headquarters. He was subsequently tried and convicted based on Section 382 (b) of Kano Penal Code of 2000. The judge, Aliyu Kani, however gave the convict 30 days to appeal the judgment.
Expectedly, the judgement has sparked and still continues to spark mixed reactions and heated controversy over the issue of Sharia and blasphemy by both Muslims and non-Muslims amidst academic and media circles in the country and world over.
Foremost, the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria unreservedly condemns in strongest terms the blasphemous expressions by the convict, Yahaya Sharif, as a transgressional act of maligning and denigrating by an unguarded tongue against the Noble and Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him), who is most revered by billions of humanity. The Guild strongly maintains that Sharif’s committal of blasphemy evidences a gross abuse of freedom of speech and expression by an unscrupulous, unwitty, uncivil, chaos-trigger, and trouble-peddler riffraff-singer. And for this reason, it is compelling on him to accept the responsibility for hurting the religious sentiments and sensibilities of the over 1.8 billion Muslims across the world; a responsibility that will continue to hang on his neck like the sword of Damocles.
More so, since any blasphemy against one of the divine prophets is a blasphemy against all of the divine prophets, and by extension, against all of the religions and the entire humanity in general, and God in particular, the Guild most appropriately calls upon all adherents of all religions, all well-meaning, peace-loving and civilized Nigerian and world citizens and all civil societies, human rights organizations and governments at all levels to condemn Sharif and his blasphemous act as totally anti-prophethood, anti-Islam, anti-religion, anti-social, anti-human and anti-God.
Be the foregoing as it may, turning to the flip side, the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria considers it equally compelling to denounce the death sentence pronounced by the honourable Upper Sharia Court as not only jurisprudentially un-Islamic, but also fundamentally anti-Islam and anti-Sharia in its implications. This is because the judgement was not based on the Islamic law as entrenched in the Quran and the practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).
Furthermore, it is because, it is only based on, firstly, the Biblical legal sources, as evident in Leviticus 24 verses 10-16, where it is particularly stated in the 16th verse that, “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.” But, for Muslims and entire humanity, it is imperative to appreciate that such a Biblical law – which has limited application in terms of time and clime – is one of those laws which Islam – being the summit of religious evolution– had actually abrogated and replaced with teachings which are far better, more civilized, and of universal and eternal application, as declared in Qur’an 2:107, and as will be mentioned later in this release.
Secondly, this judgment is also merely based on the juristic consensus of the medieval Muslim scholars and jurists, like the Maliki jurist, Qadi ‘Iyad al-Yahsubi [d.544/1149] in his Al-Shifa and also Imam Ibn Taymiyya [d. 728/1328] in his Al-Sarim Al-Maslul ala Shatim Al-Rasul, all of which have been merely ratified and adopted by the modern Muslim states, scholars and jurists. They strongly believed and adduced painstaking evidences from their preceding and contemporary scholars to prove that the punishment for blasphemy is death. For example, Qadi ‘Iyad stated under a sub-chapter titled Ruling on the Blasphemer and Insulter of the Prophet, that, “Anyone who maligns the Prophet or discredit him or attribute degradation to him in his personality or his lineage or his religion or any among his traits or demonstrate with him or exemplified him with anything in a way of insult to him or underrating him or belittling his affairs or disregard him or attribute blemish to him, he is an insulter to him and hence, the ruling for him is the ruling of an insulter and hence he shall be killed.”
The Muslim Writers Guild makes bold to state that, as well-articulated as this legal provision may appear, it is however not based on any Quranic or Prophetic source. Rather, as any scholar of Muslim history would agree, the ruling only reflects and was influenced by the turbulent political situations and judicial exigencies that characterized the medieval period of the Muslim era.
For the avoidance of doubt, we strongly maintain that this position of the Guild is defined and informed by the fact that, while blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds by the Qur’an, however, no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world.
It is undisputed that the Quran – being the first primary source of the Islamic legal system – has very authoritatively and exhaustively dealt with the issue of blasphemy as evident in its numerous pronouncements on the subject. Notwithstanding, never was capital punishment for blasphemy stipulated in its entire 114 chapters, 6,236 verses (Kufic reckoning) and 330,000 letters. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah (Practice), which stands as the second primary source of the Sharia, also does not present any instance of proven and conclusive traditional evidences that the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) – in his capacity as head of the Islamic state and religion – ever practically ordered any of the scores of his blasphemers to be executed.
As our study of both the Qur’an and historical events in the Prophetic era shows, there were both non-Muslims and hypocrite Muslims who habitually committed blasphemy against Allah, the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). Yet, none of them was sentenced to death on the pronouncement of the Quran or by the order of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). Even when some hypocrite Muslims, particularly as mentioned in the Quran 9:65:66 were clearly adjudged disbelievers for their mockery of Allah, His Signs and His Noble Messenger, yet, we found that none was sentenced to death. Rather, while some of them were promised forgiveness, others were threatened with divine punishment.
The cases of Ka’b bin Zuhayr and Ibn Zaba’ra are good examples. Both of them were gifted poets who composed satires against the Holy Prophet. Similarly, the case of blasphemy committed by Abdullah bin Ubayy has been mentioned in the Quran [63:9]. In all the above cases, however, no physical punishment have been recorded against them, rather, they were all forgiven by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). In fact, history recorded that the Holy Prophet (saw) even led the funeral prayer of Abdullah bin Ubayy. It is recorded in Sahih Bukhari (one of the accepted authentic book of ahaadith) that whenever people sought his permission to kill the blasphemers, he would object, saying that “people after me would remark that even Muhammad used to kill his companions.”
Muslim Writers Guild contends that if truly death was the prescribed punishment in Islam, the Prophet would have applied the law, without fear or fervor. This is corroborated by his popular saying that, “If Fatima, daughter of Muhammad committed theft, I would have her hand cut off,” according to the law, without favour!
Instead of killing blasphemers, the Holy Prophet and his faithful companions practised the true Islamic teachings and commandments on blasphemy as enjoined by the Qur’an. And what are those teachings and commandments? For example, Quran commands that, “Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! You also should invoke blessings on him and salute him with the salutation of peace eternally. 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. (Q. 33:57-58) Thus, Allah has, in this verse, reserved the prerogative right to punish the blasphemers neither to the Prophet nor to the Muslim government and public, but to Himself exclusively.
Quran therefore enjoins on the Prophet to bear with patience all the blasphemies of the blasphemers and part with them in a decent manner (Q. 73:11). This is because, as it declares, nothing is said to him but what was said to the previous Messengers before him (Q. 41:44). At another place, Qur’an commands the Prophet (peace be on him) and Muslims to adopt boycott as a protest against any blasphemer or a gathering of persons where blasphemy is being committed, including the blasphemous contents or messages (4:141; 6:69).
Again, Allah instructs Muslims never to blaspheme the idols of the idolaters, lest they would, out of spite, blaspheme Allah in their ignorance. He says that, in such manner He has caused every people’s doing to seem fair to them. But He will surely inform them about the consequences of all what they used to do (Q. 6:109).
Thus, Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) exemplified all this commandments by bearing all their insults with patience or with superior moral values that eventually even compelled some of the blasphemers to repent and become adorers of Muhammad (peace be on him). Sometimes when their insults became too much, he would allow his celebrated poet, Hasan bin Thabit, to compose eulogy in reply to the blasphemers.
In the light of all that has been said, it is clear that the issue of the legal ruling on blasphemy does not come under what Muslim jurists would need to use their human legal reasoning (Ijtihād) to promulgate or hide under the permission of Ta’zir (discretional punishment by a judge) to punish. This is so because, the commandments on them have already been appropriately given as evidenced by the various Qur’anic pronouncements on blasphemy and Prophetic practical attitude toward the blasphemers. Therefore, we are to go by what the Qur’an has enjoined upon us to do. We are to exemplify the Prophet’s Practice (Sunnah) in response to the blasphemers.
So, today’s Muslim authority and public should learn to react like the Prophet (peace be on him). They should not behave like a person whose cloth a madman has removed while in the bathroom naked, and he ran out pursuing the madman nakedly. The world would see both of them as mad. Unfortunately, that has been how the world has often been seeing Muslims and Islam each time blasphemers are being sentenced to the death. Rather, Muslims have been enjoined to engage the blasphemers in academic or intellectual discussions and prove to them where they are wrong; and use every civil and humane approach to show the world how uncouth and insane the blasphemers are.
Conclusively, the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria solemnly appeal to the entire Muslim states, jurists, scholars, and public to realise that, notwithstanding all the ills of blasphemy, modern day blasphemy does not in any way threaten the existence, continuity and dynamism of Islam as a great religion, legal system and civilisation. Thus, although it should not pass without protest from the Muslims, the protests must be academic, philosophical, dialectical and must be grounded in the common and shared values of dignity and respect for humanity as exemplified by the holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him).
Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo
Ambassador Agbaje Abbas
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