Blasphemy and the death penalty: Misconceptions explained


The hypocrites say, ‘If we return to Medina, the one most honorable will surely drive out therefrom the one most mean (Muhammad);’ while true honor belongs to Allah and to His Messenger and the believers; but the hypocrites know not. (Al Quran 63:9)




This is the fourth article in a five-part series on the untold story of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. It is recommended that the previous parts be read in order to understand the context of this article.

Part 1: The untold story of Pakistan’s blasphemy law

Part 2: The fatwas that can change Pakistan’s blasphemy narrative

Part 3: Why blasphemy remains unpardonable in Pakistan

At the beginning of this year, when this series began, Junaid Jamshed had been charged with blasphemy.

Judging from comments across social media and forums, a significant proportion of the online population reacted with a mood of forgiveness.

Some commentators said he was deserving of sympathy and forgiveness because, even though he was accused of blasphemy, he had apologised and was a Muslim. Indeed my first article went to great lengths to establish the acceptability in Islam for pardon of actual blasphemers.

When this same charge is levelled at a non-Muslim, however, the reaction is extremely negative, and often violent.

Such a reaction is contradictory to the Hanafi jurists who have commented on the issue throughout the past 1200 years. Those jurists represent the stance of the Hanafi school of thought, which is one of the four schools of thought in Sunni Islamic Jurisprudence and the one with the largest following in the world, as well as the predominant theological orientation to which an overwhelming majority of Pakistani Sunnis subscribe.

Contrary to popular sentiment and belief, the position on Muslim blasphemers is actually stricter and more severe than on non-Muslims. In fact, throughout the Hanafi tradition, blasphemy by non-Muslims is recognised merely as an extension of their disbelief.

The founder of Hanafi School, Abu Hanifa notes:

‘If a dhimmi (non-Muslim) insults the Holy Prophet, he will not be killed as punishment. A non-Muslim is not killed for his kufr (denying the Prophet) or shirk (polytheistic beliefs). Kufr/Shirk are bigger sins then sabb e rasool. – (Therefore non-Muslims will not be killed for sabb e rasool.)’ [Al Saif al Maslool]

Further, Abu al-Husayn Ahmad al-Quduri:

‘Non-Muslims insult Allah and say that He has a son and the Zoroastrians say He has an “opposite.” This does not break their covenant of security, therefore the same applies to insult of the prophet PBUH.’

Ali ibn Abi Bakr al-Marghinani in Al Hidaya (which is taught all over Pakistan in Hanafi seminaries) states:

‘Insulting the prophet is kufr/disbelief. Since the non-Muslims are not killed for their disbelief, they will not be killed for any addition in their disbelief.’

In fact, Tahawi goes on to prescribe a verbal warning as an appropriate punishment for an offending non-Muslim:

‘If a non-Muslim commits blasphemy, he will be given a verbal warning. If he repeats the offense, he will be punished but not killed.’
[Mukhtasar al Tahawi]

One may be tempted to think that in citing these sources, I am cherry-picking i.e. selectively choosing ones that support this stance. But, in fact, this is not the intent or method of research.

Below is a compiled, annotated timeline of every Hanafi jurisprudence text of significance that has discussed non-Muslim blasphemy.

Read further

Arafat Mazhar is the founder of Engage, an institution for research and reform of religious laws in Pakistan.

He can be reached on Facebook or at and tweets @arafatmazhar.

Suggested Reading

The Muslim Times Leading the Discussion on Free Speech and Its Limitations

Categories: Blasphemy, Free speach, Freedom

13 replies

  1. Blasphemy law and death penalty is the game of power and politics. The ignorant population is incited by mullahs and politicians for their own selfish gains.The Holy Prophet Hazrat Mohammed PBUH conduct was never in the favour of this blasting law.He never punished anyone for insulting him and forbid others.This is also one of the reason for calling him A Role Model PBUH.

  2. Are you sure you know the history of Muhammad or you are playing games with the intelligence of people? If Muhammad tolerated those who ‘insulted’ him, why were K’ab and Asma bint Marwa, among others, killed for ‘insulting the apostle of allah’ and the murderers were rewarded by him?
    If blasphemy law and death penalty are the game of power politics, then Muhammad, who was a political head, effectively played the ‘game of power’ with them.
    He was quite a role model to those who have emulated him and others who justify and adore every crime he committed.

  3. We are sure and not playing with the intelligence of anyone.The true history has been distorted by some people.No religion in its pure form teaches any violence.

  4. Your religion in its truest or purest form teaches violence. It’s all there in the quran and ahadith. Muhammad said he was victorious through terror.
    Neither the quran nor sahih Bukhari, where the quotation is recorded, has been distorted.
    If there is a charge of distortion, then it has to be stated who did that and for what purpose. It is modern scholarship which, out of shame, tries to distort the facts and cover up the crimes Muhammad committed by presenting him as the saint he never was.

  5. Muhammad said he was ‘sent’ to the Arabs who never had a prophet before. If his message had any benefit at all, it is to the Arabs while being catastrophic to the rest of humanity.

  6. There were prophets in Arab before the holy Prophet Muhammad. For example, there was the prophet Salih and there is archaeological evidence of his people:

    Mada’in Saleh (Arabic: مدائن صالح, madāʼin Ṣāliḥ), also called Al-Hijr or Hegra, is a pre-Islamic archaeological site located in the Al-Ula sector, within the Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia.[1] A majority of the vestiges date from the Nabatean kingdom (1st century AD).[2] The site constitutes the kingdom’s southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, its capital.[3][4] Traces of Lihyanite and Roman occupation before and after the Nabatean rule, respectively, can also be found.[4]

    The Qur’an places settlement of the area by the Thamud people after Noah but before Moses. According to the Islamic text, the Thamudis, who carved out homes in the mountains, were punished by Allah for their practice of idol worship, being struck by an earthquake and lightning blasts.[5] Thus, the site has earned a reputation as a cursed place — an image which the national government is attempting to overcome as it seeks to develop Mada’in Saleh for its tourism potential.[1][5]

    In 2008 UNESCO proclaimed Mada’in Saleh as a site of patrimony, becoming Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site.[6] It was chosen for its well-preserved remains from late antiquity, especially the 131 rock-cut monumental tombs, with their elaborately ornamented façades, of the Nabatean kingdom.[7]

  7. How has that disproved the fact that the quran says Muhammad was the prophet sent to the Arabs who never had one before?
    If there was or were prophet(s) in Arabia before Muhammad, it means the author of the quran lied or did not know about that fact. It will not be surprising.

  8. Zia,
    Sura 13: 30 says Muhammad was sent to a nation which others had passed by so that he may recite to them allahs’ (our) revelation.
    13:36 says the quran was revealed a code of judgment in the Arabic tongue, even though it contains many words which are not Arabic.
    Every one of those verses makes it plain that Muhammad was the ‘prophet’ to the Arabs. His ‘message’ was not meant for non-Arabs.

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