Shaykh Daoud’s Blog


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By Daoud Rosser-Owen

“There is no compulsion in religion…” [Q2:256]

Blasphemy as a religious crime is not recognised by Islamic Law, and those communities which claim it is and have enacted legislation to enforce it are on unsafe legal ground. Whereas through positive law they may adopt what laws they choose, they should not justify the criminalisation of blasphemy by reference to Islam.

In the United Kingdom there was a Blasphemy Act, passed in 1698, that operated in England but only covered the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel against the beliefs of the Church of England. But these were abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. It had been long assumed that the 1698 Act had fallen into disuse until it was attempted to be used to proceed against the author Salman Rushie in 1988-9 over the publication of his book The Satanic Verses. In the Republic of Ireland, the beliefs of the Church of Rome still enjoy certain protections under the law.

Those Muslim countries which would indicate the conduct of the Abbasids as authority are on shaky ground as their imperial practices were often of dubious legality under the Shari’ah.

There was, however, the famous case in Umayyad Spain of the Cordovan Martyrs of 850AD. These people wanted to be martyred for their Christian faith and set about reviling the Prophet in public, causing a public disorder. They were arrested and brought before the judge who dismissed the case on the grounds that they were probably affected by the hot sun. This happened three times in all. They were finally executed, but not for their “blasphemy” but because they had actively involved themselves with one of the Christian petty kingdoms that was at war with the Caliphate and were punished for treason.

Where the law does have an involvement it is only when a breach of the peace takes place as a consequence of the “blasphemy”. In this case it is likely that the “blasphemer” was reacting to provocation, and it is the duty of the authorities to investigate just what this provocation was.

The word blasphemy comes ultimately from the Classical Greek βλασφημέω (“blasphime-o”), from βλάπτω (“blapto”), I injure, and φήμη (“phimi”), reputation, and was bound up with pagan Greek and Roman views on the gods and religion and avoiding spiteful retributions on humanity. In Christian times it came to mean in English Common Law the offence of speaking disparaging words about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer with the intent to undermine religious beliefs and promote contempt and hatred for the Church as well as general immorality. The common Arabic translation is tajdeef or sabb, ‘imprecation’ or ‘cursing’.

Those who would import this concept into Islam use it supposedly to defend the name of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and that of the Almighty.

God Himself has given them clear guidance in the Quran as to how they should conduct themselves where the Divine Name is being reviled: “…when you hear the Signs of God held in defiance and ridicule, you are not to sit with them…” [Q4:140]; “when you see those who vainly discuss Our Signs turn away from them…” [Q6:68]; “leave alone those who take their religion as play and amusement…” [Q6:70].

It is not even allowed to respond in kind, where the offender is reviling the Almighty: “and do not revile those whom they call on besides God lest they revile God out of spite in their ignorance…” [Q6:108].

There is no compulsion or sanction revealed here. The believer is simply told to go away and leave them to it.

There was a number of occasions during the life of the Prophet peace be upon him when he was abused and reviled, even to the extent of inflaming the passions of his Companions. He never allowed any retribution legal or otherwise against the revilers. He would simply direct the person to the Companion Hasan bin Thabit who would respond to him with discussion and debate.

A particularly well-known incident involved the leader of the Hypocrites (munafiqoun) in Medina, Abdullah bin Ubayy, calling for the expulsion of “the worst of the city” (meaning the Prophet). When his words were reported to the Prophet a number of the Companions wanted to punish him. The Prophet forbade it. Abdullah’s son even wanted to kill his father. The Prophet forbade it. And when Abdullah eventually died it was the Prophet who led his funeral prayer.

“Blasphemy” is simply a misuse of freedom of expression and speech. This is not a cognisable offence, and there is no legal punishment for it. Clearly, from the Quran and the example of the Prophet peace be upon him, which are normative for Muslims, the only permissible response is reasoning and rational argument. And, if that is getting nowhere, to leave.

© D Rosser-Owen 2011 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

February 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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