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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world