THE NEED FOR JURISPRUDENCIAL REVIEW OF BLASPHEMY IN ISLAM

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By Mujib Dada-Qadri Esq

Without doubt, the declarations and justification of the recent ruling of a Kano Upper Sharia Court by some supposed Islamic scholars from parts of the country are enough to mislead non-Muslims that Islam sanction capital punishment for blasphemy. Every conscientious Muslim will ordinarily feel pained that their beloved religion whose very name is Peace is again being soaked in the blood of innocent souls for a pronouncement that is alien to the religion itself. Thus, one feels burdened and duty-bound to engage in some intellectual scrutiny and dialogue with Muslims and non-Muslims.

Recalling that two related cases were brought before the same court at the same time – and the two accused persons got judgements – a cursory look at the rulings would throw up a couple of questions regarding the plausibility of the judgement handed to the young musician. While in the first case a boy accused of blasphemy against God had been given a ten-year imprisonment, another man accused of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (sa) was sentenced to death. These rulings simply defy logic for the Holy Qur’ān, even if it had prescribed punishment for blasphemy, could not have placed a Prophet above God such that blasphemy against God would weigh less than against a mere mortal. This is a case of being more sophisticated to answer more critical questions of 21st-century man and not running away from it in a wolf-like manner very similar to what Medieval papacy did to scientists and philosophers. Frederick Nietzsche, one of most respected German philosophers, would not forgive not just the Catholic papacy but also Christianity due to this “dangerous avoidance” in his book which he titled “Anti-Christ”.

 Interestingly, in my voyage into the most controversial aspects of Islamic jurisprudence in which blasphemy is the most crucial part of it, I discovered that it was never an “Islamic monopoly”. Christianity once exercised it too especially during the papacy rule and it was expectedly “politicized” justifying the actions with verses from the old testament. The validity and application of such theological doctrines in the old testament constitutes another Intellectual venture entirely.

 However, Islamic perspective in respect of Blasphemy is a more liberal one. More than any other religion, Islam grants man the freedom of speech and expression (1). There is no single verse that expressly prescribes any punishment for blasphemy. In fact, the Holy Prophet (sa) was rather enjoined to patiently bear the abuses of all non-Muslims or idolaters with equanimity. The Qur’ān declares: “The servants of [God] the Most Compassionate are those who walk humbly upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them [with words of rebuke and derision], they reply, “Peace.” (Q 25:63).”

Blasphemy has been mentioned five times in the Holy Qur’ān (Q4:157; Q6:69, 109; Q 18:6; Q 63: 9). In all the verses, there is nowhere any punishment is prescribed for blasphemy. Even where it prescribes a walkout from an assembly where the Signs of God are ridiculed, the boycott is only to last for the period of the act. (2). When Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salūl made his defamatory remarks about the Holy Prophet (as) – an incident so grievous that the Qur’ān mentions it – and despite the seething indignation of the companions – the Holy Prophet (as) did not approve of any punishment for him. Rather, he (sa) even led his funeral at death. (3)

Every student of Islamic theology, nay all Muslims, know that the Holy Quran is the foundation and supreme source of Islamic law. Hadith and Sunnah are only complementary sources. This goes to prove, like in the superiority of the judgement of a higher court to the lower court, any ruling or opinion that stands against a clear injunction or directive of the holy Qur’an remains null and void to the extent of its application. The Prophet himself even declared that any statement or action credited to me which contravenes a clear ruling of the Holy Quran should be rejected forthwith.

The case of the “Yahyah Sharif convicted by an upper Shariah Court in Kano State for deriding Prophet Muhammed (SAW) in a song and was sentenced to death”, this case stands more relevant because no death penalty was awarded for such offence in the Quran and the Hadith which should serve as the second source of law is not also definite about punishment for this offence. A sincere researcher of Hadith will admit that there are unintended conflicts in Hadith as far as blasphemy is concerned, we have reports avoiding punishment for abuse of the Prophet (sa) even during his lifetime and not explicitly awarding death despite some traditions confirming his knowledge of such punishment. In essence, there is a conflict as far as such reports/tradition of Hadith are concerned and the Qur’an is naturally expected as the last resort, the Divine source which did not award any punishment for it.

It is true that some respected Medieval Islamic scholars, writers and Jurists coupled with an authority sourced from Ibn Abbas (Qayyim Al Jawziya and Ata 1998, 4:379) and the pioneers of the Conventional four schools of Islamic thoughts on jurisprudence supported death punishment for blasphemy. For example, Ibn Taymiyyah,  a student of  Hanbali school opined in his “Al-Sārim al-Maslūl ‘ala Shātim al-Rasūl” (Translation: A ready sword against those who insult the Messenger, Published in 1297 AD in Arabic). Nevertheless, it will be unintellectual not to acknowledge the socio-political factor of that era on their theological judgments, era where wars were highly enterprising and frequent coupled with the “romance” of blasphemy with apostasy. History reveals to us the usual tactics of “Apostates” switching religion for malicious reasons and political rebellion reasons but with “blasphemy and slander” as complementary tools. Reasons why a good student of Common law jurisprudence will appreciate the evolution of Blasphemy punishments becoming very similar to that of “treason, mutiny etc”.

Thomas Aquinas and other European theological philosophers justified some elements of blasphemy due to the political Influences and not necessarily the Spiritual validity, the similar case with that of pioneer Islamic Jurists. The infallibility of respected Jurists cannot be escaped as only the Divine book which is Qur’an can be regarded as perfect and supreme. The twenty-first century Islamic Jurists and scholars must need for more Intellectual dialogue across different Islamic sects, Influence more reviews on very crucial topics inspiring more controversies in 21st century like their counterparts in the medieval era exercised especially on topics which Quran didn’t award punishments for or emphasize.

In conclusion, it is instructive to note that progressivism is not necessarily liberalism or Westernization; it is the only check against dogmatism and blind application of rules.

References:

  1. Tahir Ahmad, https://www.alislam.org/book/islam-response-contemporary-issues/
  2. Tahir Ahmad, https://www.alislam.org/book/islam-response-contemporary-issues/
  3. Commentary of the Holy Qur’an: https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=3159&region=E55&CR=

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