July 10, 2024

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The Blasphemy Question: None will reflect except People of Understanding

5 min read

Imam Mustapha Adebayo Bello (PhD)

Islam means peace but its peaceful nature is not perforce accommodative of deliberate personal belligerence intentioned to set people against one another in avoidable conflict which is capable of shattering communal peace.

When someone blasphemes, he sends an unimaginable pain into the hearts of those who hold the object or subject of blasphemy in high esteem. It is not uncommon or unusual to find people getting edged when their sensibility which has to do with ancestry, pedigree, integrity and ideological icons are disparaged.

That is why the worst of any man or woman in the exhibition of anger is usually unleashed when the honour of his or her mother is denigrated in natural deference to the high status of motherhood in virtually all cultures of the world. How many wives have lost their homes just because of insulting their mother in-law?

How many mutually beneficial relationships have collapsed irreparably because of verbal or non-verbal invective poured on mothers? The magnitude of pain inflicted in the scenarios painted above is incomparable to the agony suffered by adherents when their religious personalities are insulted. In the case of Prophets of Allah, it is sinful by all standards.

In Islam it is even considered more grievous considering the enormous love for the Prophet by the Muslims which is much deeper that the love for their own selves or parents.

The Prophet himself was reported to have demanded from them, “None of you have faith until I am more beloved to him than his children, his father and all of the people”. The question then is, who amongst us would feel unperturbed when the honour of any of our parents or both is being insulted? One can then understand the boiling psyche of conscientious Muslims when any word or action is suggestive of either devaluing the status of the Prophet or flagrantly abusing him.

Thus if it is agreeable to us all that to blaspheme is sinful, then it must attract appropriate sanction whether there are explicit Qur’anic verses or Prophetic traditions for it or not. Just like the Prophet did not overtly mark his birthday and Muslims today celebrate him throughout the year (in spite of open reservation by some), the fact that both the Qur’an and the Hadith is silent on the exact punishment for blasphemy does not preclude Muslims from prescribing punishment for renegades amongst themselves who vilify their beloved Prophet. The question then is what is the punishment for blasphemy in Islam?

Many Muslim majority countries have prescribed capital punishment for it even though the crime is outside the Hadd cases adjudged by explicit Qur’anic verse or Prophetic tradition. Yes the Qur’an in different passages declares unequivocally that “those who annoy Allah and His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world, and in the Hereafter and has prepared for them a humiliating torment” yet no explicit provision is in it as punishment in the case of proven case of blasphemy.

However, most jurists of Islam have relied on the understanding of the following verse of Surat-ul-Maidah “The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter” as discretionary (Ta’zir) punishment for such crimes as treason, armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and blasphemy.

Blasphemy is thus classified as being attempt to “spread mischief on the land”. The provision of grades of punishment in this verse gives every judge the latitude to weigh the enormity of the crime, the environment where it is committed and its adverse effect on the society before determining which of them is awarded. For instance the clause “be exiled from the land” has been correctly understood by many jurists as prison term which takes the offender out of circulation and prevents him from further theologically contaminating the society while he is undergoing reeducation in detention.

In essence, while death penalty is the maximum punishment for all crimes classified under this verse, definitely it is not the only punishment for them.

In the case of Kano musician Shariff Yahaya Shariff whose caustic lyrics elevating Shaykh Ahmad Tijaniy above the Prophet in spiritual ranking have earned him a death sentence from the Upper Shari’ah Court, various shades of opinion are in the open space already. From those asking the Governor to give effect to the execution expeditiously to serve as deterrent to others, to those condemning it from the human rights community as well as some concerned Muslims who feel the verdict does not represent true Islam, this piece is not to validate or invalidate any of the positions.

However, what is clear to me is that many of the commentators on this matter are propelled by emotions and sentiments rather than law and reality. No two cases of blasphemy are the same and as such each must be resolved on its individual merit after due diligence, particularly when the maximum punishment is death. Shariff Yahaya Shariff is a Muslim of the Sufi Order extraction and there are established authorities of these mystical orders in Kano to rein on him before being apprehended.

Even at his trial, it is yet to be seen whether these authorities are involved and all other variables such as the plural nature of the environment as well as the readiness of the culprit to recant on his slanderous utterances are considered before pronouncing the verdict. Life is sacrosanct in Islam and if a Muslim must die, the dispensing authority must be sure beyond all doubts that such a judgement is the best for the offender and the society.

It is for this reason that Imam Abu Hanifah was reported to have warned judges to be weary of their judgement particularly in respect of offenders when he said “IT IS BETTER TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF ACQUITTAL THAN TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF CONVICTION”.

For me, a prison sentence would have been enough to re-indoctrinate him and rescue him from the perverted cause. This I hope the State Government would accede to as it considers the judgement of the Upper Shari’ah court.

As for those of us who are pandering to the sentiment of non-Muslims crying more than the bereaved, I entreat us to be careful and circumspect of such unsolicited sympathy and solidarity. The truth is that our collective psyche has been coloured by our westernized environment which promotes licentiousness under the guise of secularism. Secular Humanism the basis of western civilization which preludes God or anything religious from the public space is the reason why everything is Islam is seen as weird, barbaric and uncultured. Whether it is Hijab, Niqab, polygamy or jihad nothing would sooth them except for Muslims to surrender their God given identity and become a version of Islam that they want.

Allah says “O you who believe! If you obey a group of those who were given Scriptures (Jews and Christians), they would (indeed) render you disbelievers after you have believed”. None would reflect over this except those with understanding!

Imam Mustapha Adebayo Bello (PhD)
Director, Center of Theology and Spiritual Intelligence

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