How Should We Deal With Blasphemy?

The simple answer to the question is this: We should ignore people who are guilty of blasphemy and tell them that the great man whom you are targeting in your acts of blasphemy is the one who has taught us to ignore what you are doing.

There were at least three cases of blasphemy which were committed against the prophet and the message of Islam that have been mentioned in Qur’an. In none of them was there an indication given by God that those who were guilty of the offence ought to be killed. If there was to be a punishment for blasphemy, clearly it was in Qur’an where it should have been mentioned, especially when the book mentioned the possibility of its occurrence during the prophet’s lifetime.

The passages in which cases of blasphemy have been mentioned are found in the Qur’an in the following verses: 2:104; 5:57-58; 63:7-8.

In the first passage, Qur’an informs us that there were some hypocrites who used to come to the prophet’s gatherings with the motive to tease him in a way that their cheap, sinful desire to deride him could be satisfied on the one hand and yet their offence could go unnoticed on the other. For that purpose they used to address the prophet by saying ra‘ina (please say it again) in a way that they would twist their tongue to prolong the vowel ‘i’ so as to give a sound of a word that would mean “our shepherd”. Instead of condemning the perpetrators of this crime to any punishment, however, the Qur’an said this to believers: “Believers, don’t say ra’ina, instead say unzurna and listen carefully (so that you don’t need to ask the prophet to repeat his statements)”. (Qur’an; 2:104) The word unzurna, like ra’ina, served the same purpose. Clearly it was a good occasion for the Almighty to mention and implement the punishment for blasphemy, if there was any.

The second passage that mentions an insulting attitude of the disbelievers towards the prophet was this: “Believers, don’t make such individuals from amongst the people of the book and the disbelievers (of Makkah) your friends who tease and make fun of your religion. And fear Allah if you are true believers. When you are called for prayers, they make it (that call) an object of ridicule. This they do because they were a group of people who don’t know (the truth).” (Qur’an; 5:57-58). Had the intent of the divine law been to kill those who made fun of religion, this was the best occasion to make it unambiguously clear. Instead, believers were asked to ignore and not make such foolish people their friends.

The third passage relevant to the topic appears in the sixty-third chapter of Qur’an titled “Hypocrites”. The chapter talks about the nefarious designs of the leader of the hypocrites and his followers, who, in one of the expeditions of Muslims to outside Madinah, insulted the prophet and his companions in the following words: “They say when we shall return to Madinah the honorable shall expel from there the mean, even though honour is for Allah and His messenger, and believers, but these hypocrites are unaware.” (63:7-8) Indeed what Abdullah Ibn Ubay, the leader of the hypocrites, and his followers said was clear blasphemy. However, the tolerant message of God didn’t demand their head. Instead, the Almighty only clarified the truth in response to the blasphemy the hypocrites had uttered. Abdullah Ibn Ubay later died a natural death in Madinah. Despite the fact that he wasn’t living in a foreign land but in the very city of which the prophet was the ruler, he didn’t face death in retribution for the clear act of blasphemy he and his companions were guilty of committing.

The question that should naturally arise is that if Qur’an was so clearly not requiring any punishment for blasphemy, why were Muslims demanding that those guilty of this offence should face death? The answer to this question is that there were indeed some disbelievers who were killed for being guilty of blaspheming against the prophet during his lifetime. Those who demand capital punishment for the blasphemers believe in the light of those incidents that such was the punishment for all blasphemers.

The fact of the matter is that, as we have clarified above, there was no punishment for blasphemy in Islam. However, those people who directly received the message of God through His messengers were destined to be killed in accordance with the law that was applicable to such people only. It has been clarified in the Qur’an that such people were destined to receive divine punishment, in one form or the other, after a certain God-ordained deadline was reached. That deadline had already reached for the disbelievers of Makkah, thirteen years after the prophetic mission had started, at the time when the prophet and his companions were forced to migrate from the city to Madinah. However, God delayed the time of inflicting the punishment in accordance with the considerations of the circumstances of the believers and the disbelievers. The first phase of that punishment took care of the entire leadership of Quraish, the clan that ruled Makkah, two years after the migration in the Battle of Badr. That process continued for different people on different occasions. When the people of the book, the Jews and the Christians, criminally denied the prophet’s message, they too became eligible for the divine punishment. However, in their case the punishment was relaxed to not necessitate death for them. Instead they were forced to live the life of second-rate citizens in the Muslim society on paying Jizya, the non-Muslim tax.(Qur’an; 9:29) However, because those Jews and Christians who had denied the prophet’s message were guilty of an unpardonable crime, the more blatant criminals amongst them — those who didn’t just deny the messenger’s message but went on to tease, insult, and threaten his life — were considered worthy of being killed like their counterpart polytheist disbelievers of Makkah.

Clearly, such punishments were meant to be applicable to a certain group of people living in a certain era. Their crime and the rationale for their punishment have both been mentioned in the Qur’an. For the rest of the people, the general rule of the Qur’an mentioned above to ignore the foolish blasphemers would continue to remain applicable.

According to the Qur’an, capital punishment can only be given to two categories of criminals: those who are guilty of murder or of creating mischief on earth. Anyone who took the life of another soul for reasons other than these two, according to Qur’an, it would be as if he killed the entire mankind. (Qur’an; 5:32)

9 thoughts on “How Should We Deal With Blasphemy?

  1. Waqas

    Salam o Alaikum. Sir, regarding the last paragraph – could you elaborate what ‘mischief on earth’ can encompass. Isn’t that discretionary upon, say a judiciary grounded in Islamic knowledge, to come to a conclusion regarding blasphemy in this case; whether that constitutes spreading mischief, and consequently a punishment based on such understanding can be the case? Or am I thinking about it the wrong way?

  2. Khalid Zaheer

    Assalamo Alaikum Waqas

    It is an important question. The relevant verse (5:32) mentions several punishments for the perpetrators of the crime of creating mischief on earth. Those punishments are i) killing in a way that makes an example of them for others, ii) crucifying, iii) amputating hands and feet of opposite direction, and iv) banishing. These punishments are options for the judge to choose from. The crimes in the category of mischief can vary in their severity and as such warrant varying levels of punishment. Since some of these punishments are even more severe in nature than the punishment for a murderer, they have to be meant for those who commit crimes which are even more serious. Those who create mischief on earth are the ones who take law and order of the society in their hands and cause threat to the lives, wealth, and honour of the ordinary citizens. Individuals and gangs of people who are icorrigible killers, robbers, and rapists are the kind of criminal who are to be subjected to such crimes. The prophet, alaihissalaam, stoned the criminals of sex-related crimes to stoning to death in the light of this verse, it being one way of making the criminals an example for others to learn from.

    Given what I have mentioned above and the arguments I have given in the blog, the punishments mentioned in verse 5:32 cannot be given to the one who is guilty of blasphemy.

  3. Tariq

    Dear Mr Khalid

    I am a bit confused. If blasphemy is to be ignored than how do we interpret assasination of various people during the life time of our prophet (saw)for this reason. For example assasination of Kaab bin Ashraf, Sallam b. Abul-Huqayq (known as Abu Rafi), Asma Bint Marwan etc. I am sure you are aware that these stories are a favourite topic for Anti Islamic sites and would apprecite your comment on these.

    Also make a comment on what is your view on the Fatwa issued against Salman Rusdie, i know you disagree with it but want to find out the basis used for this Fatwa and how this basis is considred incorrect.

  4. Khalid Saifullah

    I agree that no worldly punishment has been prescribed in Holy Quran for an act of blasphemy, though it has been condemned on moral grounds. Believers are enjoined to avoid committing blasphemy even of the false gods and not to sit in the company of blasphemers until they leave that topic. It deserves to be noted that there is no mention of awarding any punishment to them. Allah says:
    “And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship beside Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully, without knowledge.” (Surah Al-Anaam: Verse 108)The believers are advised to leave the company of such persons who deny and mock at the Signs of Allah, until they engage in talk other than that. (Refer to 4:140 and 6:68 indicating Chapter:Verse)

    it is also very true that no punishment was given by the Holy Prophet to the chief of hypocrites, Abdullah bin Ubaee, whose grievous blasphemy is recorded in the Holy Quran in the following words:
    “They (hypocrites) say: If we return to Al-Madinah, indeed the the more honourable (Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul, the chief of hypocrites at al-Madinah) will expell therefrom the meaner (i.e. Allah’s Messenger Muhammad, Sal-lalla-ho-alai-hi-wa-sallam).” (Surah Al-Munaafqun 63: 8). He called himself ‘honourable’ and the Holy Prophet ‘mean’ (Na-oozo-billah)
    It is reported authentically that tempers were running so high at this incident that the son of Abdullah-bin-Ubai himself approached the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) and sought his permission to kill his father with his own hands. The Holy Prophet refused to grant his request, nor did he permit anyone else from among his companions to punish the hypocrite, in any manner whatsoever. (Narrated by Ibn-e-Ishaq:Al-Seeratun-Nabawiyya by Ibn-e-Hisham Part III, p 155)
    Abdullah-bin-Ubai continued to live in peace in Madinah and when he died a natural death, his funeral prayer was lead by the Holy Prophet himself.
    This is the judgement of the Holy Prophet, which no Muslim individual or authority can dare to overturn. An Act of any Parliament, or a judgement by any Court, or ‘Fatwa’ of any scholar, which is contrary to above will be repugnant to the Holy Quran and Sunnah and will deserve an outright rejection.

    Similarly, the Quran records many blasphemic utterances of non-Muslims, but none of them was punished just for it, unless it was associated with other crimes, such as committing of murder or rebellion etc. A few of blasphemic utterances are stated in the following verses:

    Blasphemy of the Holy Prophet: “He is (lending his) ear (to every news). (Surah Taubah 9:61).
    He was mocked at (15:11, 21:36); he was called ‘a sorcerer or a mad man’ (51:52, 23:70, 15:6); he was called ‘a bewiched man’ (17:47); he was ‘belied’ (35:25); he was called a ‘Muftari’ (forger, liar) (16:101); he was called ‘a poet’ (21:5) etc. The Quresh of Macca committed worst type of blasphemy of the Holy Prophen for about 13 years, but all of them were pardoned by the ‘Rahnatul-lil-Aalameen’

    Blasphemy of the Holy Quran: The Holy Quran was called a collection of ‘mixed up false dreams’, an ‘invention’ (21:5); ” the tales of the men of old’ (16:24). “It is only a human being who teaches him (Muhammad) (14:103).

    In response to such blasphemic utterances against the Holy Prophet and the Holy Quran, Allah advised the Muslims to bear them with patience and be tolerant. Allah took upon Himself to punish the blasphemers, as commanded in the following verses:
    “So bear patiently (O Muhammad) what they say…” (Surah Taha 20:130). “And obey not the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and harm them not (in revenge for their harming you, till you are ordered).” (Al-Ahzaab 33:48). “Truly! We will suffice you against the scoffers.” (Al-Hijr 15:95)

    Allah clearly took it upon Himself to punish them who malign Allah and the Holy Prophet, as He says: “Verily 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.” (Al-Ahzaab 33:57) As such, Allah has not delegated any authority to anyone – not even the Holy Prophet – to punish anyone for the act of blasphemy. Had it been so, the 75% non-Muslim population of the world would be regarded as committing blasphemy for not accepting the truth of the Holy Prophet and the Holy Quran. It would be depriving mankind of the freedom of expression and religion, and would be inconsistent with the whole plan of God and reduces the human being to the level of animals who are deprived of volition.

    Khalid Saifullah, Sept 13,2009

  5. Khalid Zaheer

    Assalamo Alaikum Khalid Saifullah Sahib

    Thank you very much for an excellent presentation on Islam’s correct approach on the question of blasphemy. You have indeed added many points which I had missed to mention. Yours is indeed a very effective presentation on the subject in its own right. May the Almighty reward you for writing it. May your knowledge of Islam and your efforts to serve its cause grow still further.

    Khalid Zaheer

  6. Khalid Zaheer

    Dear Tariq Sahib

    The incidents of killing mentioned in the books of history can be explained in two ways: They were either a punishment for those who denied Rasul (the messenger of) Allah, as I have pleaded, or they were guilty of committing some other crimes for which the punishment was death, as Khalid Saifullah has mentioned.

    However, given the overwhelming evidence of Qur’an to the contrary there is no possibility of believing that there is punishment for blasphemy in Islam.

    I like Khalid Saifullah’s argument that if we were to claim punishment of death for blasphemy, we would end up declaring all non-Muslims guilty of it because they all deny the truthfulness of Islam, otherwise they would have been Muslims.

    Khalid Zaheer

  7. readinglord

    @Khalid Zaheer

    You have referred only to Quran in coming to the conclusion that there is no punshment in Islam for blasphemy, but what about Hadees, which perhaps provides the very basis on which the Pakistan’s Law of Blasphemy is based.

    What do you say about the following Hadees:

    “Sunnan Abu-Dawud
    Book 38, Number 4348:
    Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:
    A blind man had a slave-mother (A slave-woman bearing children but not treated as a wife?) who used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) was informed about it.
    He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up.
    He sat before the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her.
    Thereupon the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood.”

    For your information the LT quotes this very Hadees to justify lynching of the blasphemers. In fact they also quote another Edict attributed to Abuhanifah which says,”A ‘Zindeeq’ aught to be killed quitely as his ‘Toubah’ is not acceptable”.

  8. Omer Iqbal

    Readinglord, three things immediately standout about the tradition you noted, without understanding it in detail:

    1) The Prophet (pbuh) did not commit that act, in fact, someone else committed it out of their own thought. In other words, therefore, we cannot use this tradition to talk about anything related to punishment in Islam about blasphemy.

    2) If the man was sure he had done the right thing, the man would not be ‘trembling’. The fact that the prophet (pbuh) had to adjure people, and the state that the man was in, clearly indicate that the man also knew he had done something wrong. The explanation that he provides in fact adds to that – he is justifying his crime using the reasoning.

    3) I read the last part of this translated tradition ‘no retaliation is payable for her blood’ as that no matter what he does, he cannot pay for taking her life, which indicates the high value of her blood money.

    I tried to look up the tradition in Sunan Abu Dawood, but I was not able to find it. I am sure it is in there, but sometimes there is a difference in numbering between different editions.

    By looking up this tradition, it seems if anything, blasphemy should not be punished as evident from the prophet (pbuh)’s remarks (assuming that I have understood the translation correctly.)

    As for the comment attributed to Abu Hanifah, until the source is known, we cannot find out if that was indeed his comment or in what context did it appear.

    Best Wishes

  9. Muhammad Usman

    Very thought provoking!
    thanks for enlightening us on this critical issue.
    can you please tell us that why is it so that islam’s true teachings are always misunderstood and instead of it, wrong perceptions are created? and most importantly,how they are collectively accepted by the whole muslim world?

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