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The dilemma of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan

Muslims were still seething in pain over anti-Islam remarks by two politicians in India when yet another case of blasphemy surfaced in Pakistan, this time against a multinational tech company, leading to riots.

While there is no question over sentiments getting hurt, it is the manner in which such cases are reacted to and the impulsiveness with which conclusions are drawn, that has now become questionable.

What happened in May this year was that two members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There was strong backlash not only in India, but also from Muslim countries around the globe. New Delhi faced the return of its envoys and a boycott of its products amongst other protests. Consequently, the two BJP members, namely Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, were suspended but that did not keep them from receiving death threats.

Amid all this, Kanaihya Lal Teli, a Hindu tailor in the Indian state of Rajasthan, was stabbed to death with his body reportedly bearing at least 28 wounds, 10 of them slicing through his neck, for supporting Nupur Sharma on social media. According to Indian media reports, neither did Teli’s killers have any past criminal record nor did they have links to any extremist groups.

READ MORE: 80-year-old ‘beheaded’ for alleged blasphemy in Sargodha

While outrage by Muslims over derogatory remarks against their beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH) is justifiable, no person, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, has the right to hurt the religious sentiments of another, considering how Sharma and Jindal claimed they only made the derogatory remarks after a Muslim leader did the same against a Hindu deity.

Let us look at both instances; insulting another religion and making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), in light of Islamic sources.

If we look at the Holy Quran, the foremost guide in Islamic Shariah, we find that Islam does not only condemn the blaspheming of God but also protects the feelings of polytheists by forbidding Muslims from attacking their deities.

And revile not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance.

[6:108]

It is important to note that although the Holy Quran confirms that all prophets have been subjected to verbal attacks and even physical assaults by non-believers, there is no evidence in the Quran that any of the offenders were ever ordered to be punished unless in instances of war.

Alas for My servants! There comes not a Messenger to them but they mock at him.

[36:30]

If we talk about the Holy Prophet (PBUH), we learn through the Quran that his opponents hurled all sorts of abuses at him…

And they said, “O you who received the message, you are insane.”

[15:6]

We know best how they listen to your recitation and what they say privately—when the wrongdoers say, “You would only be following a bewitched man.”

[17:48]

When We replace a verse with another—and Allah knows best what He reveals—they say, “You ˹Muḥammad˺ are just a fabricator.” In fact, most of them do not know.

[16:101]

In these difficult circumstances, Allah advised Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)…

 DO not yield to the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Overlook their annoyances, and put your trust in Allah. For Allah is sufficient as a Trustee of Affairs.

[33:48]

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was assured that Allah himself would avenge him against those who ridiculed him.

Surely We will be sufficient for you against the mockers…

[15:95]

Furthermore, the Holy Quran guides Muslims to simply leave the company of people committing blasphemy.

when you hear the Signs of Allah being denied and mocked at, sit not with them until they engage in a talk other than that; for in that case you would be like them

[4:140]

The Holy Quran, however, does on certain occasions prescribe prison or mutilation or death as punishment for those “who wage war against Allah and His Messenger”.

The only punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is that they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned. This shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. Except those who repent before you overpower them; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

[5:33-34]

During the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf and Abu Rafi’ were executed for actively propagandising against Muslims. While some have explained that the two men were executed for blaspheming against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), an alternative explanation is that they were executed for treason and causing fasad [disorder].

In later times, all major schools of thought; Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi’I and Jafari viewed blasphemy as punishable by death with exceptions for women and non-Muslims.

READ MORE: Activists join politicians in condemning misuse of blasphemy laws

However, they also accepted repentance.

The interpretation and implementation of the Shariah law are separate topics and debatable only in competent circles. But what we need to understand is that nowhere do we find evidence to consider a common man avenging blasphemy, as legitimate.

Of a person or group to vandalise, cause riots, lynch or attempt murder to avenge an act even as condemnable as blasphemy, whether alleged or proven, are actions with drastic implications on society.

This, we witnessed when Mumtaz Qadri shot dead then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for defending Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy charges eight years later. We also witnessed it when a bright young student, Mashal Khan, was lynched in Mardan over a rumour that he committed blasphemy, only to be proven false after his death; and when Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was beaten to death by a mob in Sialkot over false blasphemy allegations.

I am not at all implying that blasphemy should not be grieved upon. But as a practicing Muslim, I am questioning whether extrajudicially killing a person over a false or unproven allegation of blasphemy is an Islamic way of life? I am asking even if an allegation is proven to be true, is it the responsibility of just any average Muslim to put the blasphemer to justice, or is it the responsibility of the State?

READ MORE: Female madrassa teacher killed over blasphemy allegation

I am also asking if these murders are committed in the name of Islam, are the perpetrators ready to then give up their lives for committing sin themselves? Then, should the State devise a law that says if a person is killed by a mob, whether for blasphemy or any other crime, that entire mob should be arrested and hanged to death? I am also questioning the courage of a person, who with the wicked intention of settling a score or taking revenge over some other worldly matter, makes a false allegation of blasphemy. If the accuser is proven wrong, is he or she ready to face the same punishment prescribed in the law for a blasphemer?

Why these violent reactions may be wrong? Because it is one thing to protest but entirely another to take the law into your own hands. Because these reactions are further distorting Islam’s image in the modern world with Muslims being viewed as bloodthirsty avengers ready to pounce upon just anybody accused to have disrespected Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or Islam. Because these actions tend to confirm the West’s false belief that Islam continues to spread through sword and legitimises violence.

What may be a better option? We can use the power of words to express our anguish. We can be vocal about our feelings though not resort to hate speech. We can respect and urge the law to take its due course. Above all, we can reason and explain to the world that there is a difference between freedom of speech and a deliberate or callous hurting of sentiments. We can live to the true spirit of Islam by manifesting a peaceful way even in times of turmoil.

READ MORE: 42 Muslims accused of blasphemy in Pakistan in 2021

If violence was the way to silence the “enemies” of Islam, there have been enough lynchings, killings and beheadings already. What did they achieve? More hatred and increased distrust for Muslims.

Instead, why don’t we learn from the biggest example set by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), in whose name we commit these acts, who himself conquered Makkah without shedding a single drop of blood and forgiving even his worst enemies. Can you imagine the impact of such a noble act?

On the contrary, what we see today are impulsive and emotional outbursts in grave matters requiring careful handling.

In my humble opinion, instead of biting each other’s heads off or losing our cool, we must bring matters to a head and prevent troublesome situations through mutual conversations and peaceful manners.

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