COME, LET’S TALK ABOUT BLASPHEMY IN ISLAM – ABUBAKAR
On Thursday, Ms Deborah Yakubu Samuel, a student of Sokoto State College of Education was mass-beaten to death and burnt over alleged blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Her murder was not only gruesome but painful to people across the world, especially well-meaning and informed Muslims across the globe, because fellow students who snuffed life out of her, did so in the name of Islam, the most peaceful religion ordained by Allah for mankind.
Condemnations have since trailed the action of the mob, with people calling upon security agencies to fish out the perpetrators, so her murderers could be taken to justice.
Muslim News, Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic Newspaper, also joined those who condemned the mob action and later published a well researched article on the evil of jungle justice. Islam totally frowns against taking laws into one’s hands, especially killing by fire. It is a principle in Islam that no one has the right to burn with fire except Allah (SWT).
However, despite the fact that Muslims have condemned the mob action and distanced Islam from the ignorance of the few who carried out the extrajudicial action, some non-Muslims have judiciously used the incident to attack Islam and the Muslims generally, directly or indirectly committing the same offence allegedly committed by Deborah. They have called Islam and the Muslims so many unprintable names. Even, the Prophet, the best of mankind (PBUH), was not spared of the attacks as they continue to denigrate him on social media.
For instance, a Christian journalist, Fisayo Soyombo, renowned as an investigative reporter threw caution to the wind, and posted a very denigrating tweet on his verified Twitter handle in reaction to the incident. He wrote, “Your Prophet is really that helpless that you had to kill on his behalf because someone said something bad about him? There’s no way this is religion. This is barbarism taken too far!”
That insensitive and inciting post quickly generated more bad comments from self-styled human rights activists, unapologetic anti-Islamic elements, with many of them insulting Islam and the personality of the Prophet (SAW). They described blasphemy law as barbaric and archaic, forgetting that the Bible, also apportioned death as the penalty for blasphemy (See Matthew 15: 4, Leviticus 24: 10-16). In fact, in Mark 3: 29, blaspheming the holy spirit is an unforgiven eternal sin.
Although a handful of Muslim netizens berated him for insulting the symbol of Islam, as he tried to condemn the jungle justice perpetrated by some misguided youths. Muslim News can authoritatively confirm that Muslims are now becoming apologetic to the extent that they do not even see anything wrong in insulting and rubbishing the Prophet.
Our findings revealed that many Muslims platforms on socal media kept mum on discussing the danger of denigrating the personality of the Prophet (SAW), as they strongly condemned the mob attack. Several press releases written by Muslim Organisations only focused attention on the killing of Ms Deborah, but silence on the cause – the alleged insult to the person of their Prophet (SAW). Some commentators ignorantly and outrightly dismissed blasphemy law, saying it wasn’t stated in the Noble Qur’an.
Sadly, the Muslims, themselves, have succeeded in pushing a one-sided narrative of this condemnable incident, which has been painted to be Muslims attack on Christians, as seen in headlines like this “Muslim students burn Christian colleague alive over alleged blasphemy in Sokoto”, in some local and international media,
As a medium, whose sole aim is to project the beauty of Islam and its tenets, it’s therefore necessary for us to address this topic “blasphemy in Islam”, which some Northern Muslims have misunderstood, and abused; and their counterparts in the South are shying away to discuss, even as investigations have commenced into the incident that led to the unjust killing.
Blasphemy law in Sokoto
First, before arriving at the position of Islam on blasphemy, there is the need to assess the influence of religion in the State in question, which is Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, founded in 1804 by the renowned Muslim scholar, Usman Dan Fodio. Is the Shari’ah law in application? Are the Muslims in majority?
Evidently, the present day Sokoto, in northwestern Nigeria, created in 1976, is predominantly a Muslim state and apart from the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, their day to day affairs are guided by the principle of Islamic code, Shari’ah.
Sokoto re-introduced the Shari’ah legal system in 2001 and interestingly, it came without any crisis. The call for Shari’ah was frenzied and unanimous in all the 23 Local Government Areas in the State following the introduction of Shari’ah in Zamfara State in 1999.
By the end of 2001, the number of Northern states that embraced Shari’ah as civil and criminal laws increased to 12. Apart from Sokoto and Zamfara, the remaining 10 are Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Yobe, and Kano, who have witnessed more crisis over the implementation of the Shari’ah, particularly in respect to the Blasphemy law.
The conviction of a musician, Sharif Yahaya Aminu in 2020 and an atheist, Mubarak Bala in 2020 for blasphemy by the Upper Shari’ah Court and High Court, both in Kano, were indications that insult on the personality of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), among other Islamic values attracts punishment under the law, BUT NOT TO BE CARRIED OUT BY INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPS (with emphasis).
In fact, two of Nigeria’s legal systems, Shari’ah and Customary Laws, spelt out punishment for blasphemy. According to Section 204, chapter 77 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code, under the title; Insult to Religion:
“Any person who does an act which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
The Shari’ah Penal Code Law (2000), Section 382 says, “If blasphemy was against an ordinary person with no wider followership, the punishment is two years imprisonment. But when the blasphemy is against the Prophet (SAW) or his companions, the penalty is death, with appeal within 30 days.”
The law protects not only the personality of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), but all other Prophets and Messengers recognized by the religion of Islam, including Prophet Eesa (Jesus), Prophet Musa (Moses), among others, as further explained in Section 406 (1). The punishment is death.
In similar vein, there are some other States in Nigeria and the western world where Muslims are in the minority, and a non-religious or conventional law is what operates. For instance, there is no way Shari’ah can be implemented in many South-South or South-Eastern states of Nigeria because these regions are predominantly peopled by Christians.
There are states in Nigeria where Muslims are in the majority, and the Shari’ah law is not in application. Lagos is a practical example and it would be recalled that the State Muslim Community in 2018 demanded for the establishment of a Shari’ah court, the request which hasn’t been granted till date.
Evidence in the Qur’an
One of the arguments of Muslim critics is that there is no evidence for blasphemy law in the Qur’an. Muslim News can authoritatively confirm that not all Islamic rulings are expressly stated in the Qur’an.
There are some rulings in the Qur’an that Allah only summarises them and their interpretation can only be found in the Sunnah of the Prophet (traditions) and the ijma (consensus or agreement of Islamic scholars). That’s why Allah says in Surah Nahl (16:44) that, “(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought”.
For instance, Allah only commanded the believers to establish salat (prayers) in Quran 2: 43 but it was the hadith (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad [SAW]) that specified the number of raka’at (movement during prayers) to be observed, it’s modalities, and requirements. Hence, it is not expected of the believers to accept one part of the rulings and reject others including the blasphemy law because they are not specifically mentioned in the Qur’an.
In Islam, respect for the Prophet (SAW) is duly enshrined. Allah abhors all steps that could be taken in bringing disrepute to the Prophet. For instance, in Qur’an 9: 61–66, Allah describes those who insult the Prophet (SAW) as unbelievers. They were Muslims, who were at the Battle of Tabuk, but addressed as unbelievers only for mocking and ridiculing the Prophet (SAW). This is apostasy and according to the Islamic rulings, the penalty is death, WHICH CAN ONLY BE CARRIED OUT BY THE CONSTITUTED AUTHORITIES VIA INSTRUMENTALITY OF THE LAW (with emphasis).
Furthermore, Allah has cursed all those who commit blasphemy against His Messenger and His wrath is upon them in this world and hereafter. And He (Allah) has prepared for them humiliating punishment as firmly established in Qur’an 33: 57.
This is why, in Quran 48: 9, Muslims are commanded to revere and exalt the Prophet (SAW). This connotes that whoever fails to respect the Prophet, according to the sharia, has gone against the commandment of Allah.
Hadith of the Prophet (SAW)
There are also copious authentic ahadith that encourage death for those who insulted or denigrated Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In Sahih-ul-Bukhari, under the subject ‘Mortgaging’, Book 48, Hadith 3, Jabir bin `Abdullah narrated; Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “Who would kill Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf as he has harmed Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama (got up and) said, “I will kill him.” So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to Ka`b and said, “I want a loan of one or two Wasqs of food grains”. Ka`b said, “Mortgage your women to me”. Muhammad bin Maslama said, “How can we mortgage our women, and you are the most handsome among the Arabs?”. He said, “Then mortgage your sons to me”. Muhammad said, “How can we mortgage our sons, as the people will abuse them for being mortgaged for one or two Wasqs of food grains? It is shameful for us. But we will mortgage our arms to you”. So, Muhammad bin Maslama promised him that he would come to him next time. They (Muhammad bin Maslama and his companions came to him as promised and murdered him. Then they went to the Prophet (SAW) and told him about it.
Also, Ali (R.A) narrates that a Jewish woman used to insult the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and say foul things about him, so a man strangled her until she died, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ruled that no blood money was due in this case.
The Prophet (SAW) sent few Ansaar for the assassination of Abu Rafy, the Jew, and appointed Abdullah bin Atiq as a lead. Abu Rāfy used to tease the Prophet (SAW) and helped the enemies of Muhammad (SAW). So, Kab bin Al-Ashruf, Umm El-Walad, Ibn El-Khatal, AbbuLahub, and number of other examples show that nobody can utter a single word against Prophethood and the Prophet (SAW) and if they were not ready to accept the real personality of Muhammad (SAW) and using irrelevance and abusive language against the last Prophet (SAW), definitely they were given a terrible punishment in form of death sentence.
In Sunan an-Nasa’i, under the subject, The Book of Fighting [The Prohibition of Bloodshed], Book 37, Hadith 105, ‘Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that: “There was a blind man during the time of the Messenger of Allah (SAW) who had an Umm Walad by whom he had two sons. She used to slander and defame the Messenger of Allah (SAW) a great deal, and he would rebuke her, but she would not pay heed, and he would forbid her to do that, but she ignored him.
(The blind man said) One night I mentioned the Prophet (SAW), and she slandered him. I could not bear it so I went and got a dagger which I thrust into her stomach and leaned upon it, and killed her. In the morning she was found slain. Mention of that was made to the Prophet (SAW) and he gathered the people and said: “I adjure by Allah; a man over whom I have the right, that he should obey me, and he did what he did, to stand up.”
The blind man started to tremble and said: “O Messenger of Allah (SAW), I am the one who killed her. She was my Umm Walad and she was kind and gentle toward me, and I have two sons like pearls from her, but she used to slander and defame you a great deal. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not pay heed. Finally, I mentioned your name and she slandered you, so I went and got a dagger which I thrust into her stomach, and leaned on it until I killed her. The Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: “I bear witness that her blood is permissible.” (Sahih).
Consensus of the Scholars
The aforementioned Qur’anic citations and Hadith are the rulings by ijma on blasphemy against the Prophet (SAW). They however came up with sets of rulings, first, to determine, if the blasphemer is a Muslim or not. Some opined to the generalisation of the punishment irrespective of religious affiliation, since they committed the same offence, while others set specific rulings for the accused persons based on their religious inclinations.
On page 54 of his book, entitled, “As-Sarim el Maslum ala Shaatimi r Rasul” meaning, the unsheathed swords against the one who insults the Messenger (SAW) as printed by Daar L Fikr, Imam Ibn Taymeeyah explained that a Muslim that insults the Prophet (SAW) turns an unbeliever, and must be killed (NOT BY INDIVIDUALS BUT THE AUTHORITIES). He concluded that this is the consensus of all the Islamic schools of thought, be it Maliki, Shafii, Hambali or Imam Hanifa, among others.
The outstanding scholar of the 13th Century, Ibn Taimiyyah’s book, which has been summarized into English, is the most comprehensive masterpiece that addresses different types of punishment for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was a single volume with about 500 pages.
So many other scholars of the old such as Ibn Mundhir, Imam Khataabi, Imam Muhammad Sannun, and the generality of Muslim Ulamah believe that a Muslim who insults the Prophet (SAW) has committed kufr (disbelief) and must be killed by the authorities under the Islamic law.
Scholars are however divided on the fate of a non-Muslim who has been found guilty of blasphemy. Imam Maalik, Imam Hambal and other scholars said he should be killed by the authorities (not individuals) while other scholars posited that he wouldn’t be killed, but punished based on Sharia. Those who said he should be killed are in the majority. Allah knows best.
Calling for review of Allah’s law?
There have been calls from some human right activists that the blasphemy law, and other Muslim penal codes including death by stoning for rapists should be reviewed or abrogated with claims they are archaic and not suitable and sensible in the 21st Century.
Several European countries have different kinds of laws that address heinous crimes – such as sedition, defamation, invasion of privacy, blasphemy, the holocaust etc, that place limitations on freedom of speech, expression, in either written or audio formats.
Many of them, as originally stood, recommend the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy, to be precise, especially against God (gods) before the laws went through different kind of amendments, which are either, based on prison terms, fines, community services or suspended sentences.
In Great Britain, for instance, punishment for Blasphemy against Christ was death by hanging. It was later abolished and in new England of today, blasphemy is under common law and has been reviewed to either fine, imprisonment or corporal punishment.
India has a penal code that prescribes jail terms or fines for blasphemers and it has been used on several occasions including a man, Sanal Edamaruku, who was charged in 2012, for saying “The water dripping from a statue of Christ in Mumbai was not miraculous but the result of a badly plumbed toilet”.
There is also blasphemy law against holocaust denial in all European countries which was designed to protect inciting hatred against the Jews. In April 2019, Alain Soral, a prominent French anti-establishment activist who has promoted both far-right and far-left ideologies, was sentenced to one year imprisonment for publishing a cartoon that implied that the Holocaust did not take place.
Unfortunately there is always no expression of outrage in the media when the judgment the prosecution got were being executed in those countries but it becomes a big deal when the same law is to be applied in Arab or Muslim majority countries.
People of hate or without knowledge take advantage to lash out at Islam. Or; is it because, unlike in other places, blasphemers are condemned to death based on Islamic rulings? Is that the same reason some Muslims are disowning the law, and some calling for it to be reviewed? Would hatred against Islam be halted, if the Muslims decide to go the way of the West? Absolutely Not! Every religion has codes of conduct. Whoever wants to breach these codes, he/she must be ready to face the consequences.
In Islam, the law protecting the personality of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is among the permanent laws that cannot be changed with civilisation and modernisation. This law has always existed and it will continue to exist since Allah, the One who sent His Messenger has perfected His Deen (Islam) as firmly established in Qur’an 5: 3.
This law, and others are meant to allow man irrespective of their religion, race, complexion or tribe, must live and co-exist together peacefully. Of course, religion is very sensitive in Nigeria, hence, there is the need for laws and orders that will coordinate the affairs of the people. In fact, the law must also protect the idols and deities of the traditional worshippers from blasphemy as firmly established in Qur’an 6: 108.
It is therefore important for the world to know that Muslims surely have some redlines. It is forbidden to abuse Allah, the Prophet or descrate the identities of Islam like the Qur’an, Hijab and so on. Yet, the decision to judge and punish blasphemers including Ms Deborah as alleged, if she hadn’t been unjustly killed, is rested in the hands of the government, NOT INDIVIDUALS, either in a democratic state or an Islamic state. It’s high time Muslims scholars continued to sensitise their members against extremism, jungle justice and blind followership. Ms. Deborah should have been given fair hearing, just like other accused persons mentioned in this article.
Rasheed Abubakar is the CEO, Rawshield PR & Publisher, Muslim News Nigeria