Faith and Reason: Blasphemy laws have no basis in the Koran

The writer and journalist Ziauddin Sardar argues that there are better ways than demanding death sentences to show love and respect for the Prophet.

On 20 February, Joe Shea, an American journalist, issued a press release threatening to burn the Koran if Pakistan went ahead and executed a teenage Christian boy accused of blasphemy. On the Internet, the world- wide computer network, he asked other Americans to follow his example. He wanted, he said, to "give Islam the choice of a dead boy or . . . hundreds of thousands of Americans burning copies of the Koran".

This week, however, Shea apologised for "giving offence to Islam". Shea's apology is only partly due to the fact that the boy was acquitted and is now safely in Germany. What surprised Shea was the vast quantity of post he received through the Internet and the intensive discussions that followed his press release in such "newsgroups" as "soc.religion.islam", "alt.religion.islam" and "soc. culture.pakistan". Not a single correspondent supported the decision of the Pakistani courts. Condemnation of the blasphemy law was unanimous. Shea was overwhelmed by "the spirit of compassion, the love of peace, the desire for justice and the commitment to faith" he found in his Muslim correspondents.

It is hardly surprising that most Muslims reject Pakistan's blasphemy law. Indeed, many had not even heard of the term before the Rushdie affair. Blasphemy is largely a product of Christian theology where the person of Jesus is an extension of God. It has no direct counterpart in Islam.

The blasphemy law of Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code is a relatively recent invention ushered in, under pressure from puritan mullahs, by the late President Zia ul-Haq. The original law, enacted in 1986, stipulated "death, or imprisonment for life and fine" for "words, either spoken or written" intended to "defile the sacred name of the Prophet". However, in October 1990, the Federal Shariah Court declared that the "penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet . . . is death and nothing else".

The legitimacy for such a law of blasphemy, that demands a mandatory death sentence, can only come from two sources: the Koran and the directive of the Prophet himself. Far from prescribing a punishment, the Koran does not even raise the issue of blasphemy. But it does declare that a "corrupt word" uttered against God or His Prophet is like a tree torn up from its roots - ephemeral in its effect, however strong its original impact on the minds of the people who fall prey to it.

The Prophet himself gave no direction that blasphemy against him should be punished. On the contrary, his examples demonstrate that the norm is forgiveness. Nothing illustrates his example better than the story of the old woman Makkah who used to throw filth on the Prophet and abuse him whenever he passed under her dwelling.

The Prophet always responded to her insults with kind words and forgiveness. One day when the Prophet passed under her house and was not greeted by the usual insults, he was disturbed and enquired about the woman. On hearing that she had become ill, he prayed for her health and showered her with blessings. So impressed was the old woman with his action, that she renounced her hostility and converted to Islam.

So why is a blasphemy law that has no basis in Islamic sources on the statute-book? Pakistan appears to be in the grip of religious paranoia. This law and much of what else is going on in Pakistan, is a panic reaction to the determination of the post-modern world to undermine every notion of the sacred. In an atmosphere of panic and paranoia, the more humane and enlightened segments of the Islamic movement have been totally marginalised.

Many Muslims are right in feeling that the honour of the Prophet is being systematically compromised. But our options in handling the tide of post- modern abuse are not limited to death sentences or doing nothing. If Pakistan abandons the present law it would not mean an open licence to defile the name of the Prophet, as some of the more paranoid mullahs have suggested. A more humane and just law, one that reflects the true spirit of Islam, would be more than adequate to tackle the problem.

Those who demanded the death sentence for the Christian teenager wore a green band on their shoulders with the words "Ashiq -e- Rasool" ("Lovers of the Prophet"). They certainly love something but it is not the Prophet. The only way to show love and respect towards him is to reflect his tolerance, kindness and concern for justice. His example can melt the heart of even the most aggressive sceptic. Joe Shea provides us with a living illustration.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee