Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
An antiterrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a Shiite man to death for committing blasphemy in posts on social media, in June of 2017. The man, Taimoor Raza, 30, was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and others on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Mr. Raza was sentenced to death on Saturday by Judge Bashir Ahmed in Punjab Province. It was the first time anyone has been given the death penalty for blasphemy on social media in Pakistan. Mr. Raza can appeal the sentence.
In May of 2017, according to the Guardian newspaper: Jakarta’s Christian governor has been sentenced to two years in prison after a trial that was widely seen as a measure of religious pluralism in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”, the head judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, told the court.
“As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions, including the religion of the defendant himself.”
After the verdict was read out, Ahok was taken in an armoured police van to a prison in Cipinang, East Jakarta.
But, is it religion or politics that is underlying these tragic events in Pakistan and Indonesia? The answer may lie in what else is going on in the world.
Time magazine reported about Thailand this very month and it holds the key for our understanding.
A military court in Thailand has sentenced a 34-year-old man to 35 years in prison for violating the country’s draconian lèse-majesté law, which criminalizes all perceived insult toward the nation’s monarchy.
Agence France-Presse reports that Wichai, whose last name has been withheld for the safety of his family, faced ten counts of lèse-majesté for photos and videos of the royal family that he allegedly shared on Facebook. His sentence is believed to be the harshest handed down to date of more than 100 cases of alleged royal defamation since the country’s military seized power in a 2014 coup.
A Thai legal watchdog group, iLaw, told AFP that Wichai was originally facing a 70 year sentence — ten years for each count — but his sentence was halved because he confessed to the crimes after spending a year in jail waiting for his trial.
Blasphemy Laws were invented to put the Muslim monarchy and religious elite on a pedestal in medieval ages. There were no such thing as blasphemy laws in the early Islam, during the time of the holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, and the early caliphs that followed him.
The fact of the matter is that the word blaspheme does not occur in the holy Quran, even though it has more than 20 mentions in the Bible.
So, blasphemy had nothing to do with religion of Islam and every thing to do with politics every where, Muslim or non-Muslim.
There are numerous verses in the holy Quran talking about freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I have previously written on these subjects: Freedom of Speech: A Core Islamic Value!; Is There Freedom of Thought or Coercion in the Holy Quran? And Is There Coercion in Islam and Christianity?
Today I want to quote 5 verses from the holy Quran about freedom of religion:
There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Al Quran 2:256/257)
We have shown him the Way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful. (Al Quran 76:3/4)
And say, ‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.’ Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose flaming canopy shall enclose them. And if they cry for help, they will be helped with water like molten lead which will burn the faces. How dreadful the drink, and how evil is the Fire as a resting place! (Al Quran 18:29/30)
There may be punishment for disbelief or blasphemy in the hereafter depending on the balance of individual’s deeds, but no worldly punishment is suggested in the verse above or any where in the Quran.
Additionally, the Quran says about religious freedom:
Proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever becomes blind, it is to his own harm. And I am not a guardian over you. (Al Quran 6:104/105)
Now, if you do well, you will do well for your own souls; and if you do evil, it will only go against them. (Al Quran 17:7/8)
If you ask any Christian about Jesus Christ, he or she will call him son of God and divine, which according to the Muslim clerics in Pakistan and Indonesia will be a blasphemy. In other words these laws are nothing but taking away religious freedom and free speech of everyone except for the majority Muslim sect in the specific country. Because the views of others if freely expressed, under one or the other guise, will rise to the blasphemy charge.
Take another scenario, ask any non-Muslim about the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him and record it on video. If they honestly answer the question they are likely to say that he was misguided if not an impostor. An honest answer by any non-Muslim in the eyes of these same clerics would even justify mob action and lynching.
But, why do I say that believing in blasphemy laws is ‘the real blasphemy?’
This is because the Quran declares that taking away the religious rights of others is the worst crime for which even Jihad or warfare is prescribed, which can certainly lead to loss of life. This the Quran allows despite declaring every human life sacred and precious. Such is the premium the Quranic teachings put on religious freedom. For example we read:
And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down. (Al Quran 22:39/40)
The holy Quran uses the word (فِتْنَةٌ) for coercion or compulsion in religion and wants to obliterate it even at the cost of war and calls and justifies it as a defensive war, if we read the whole verse and the context:
And fight them until there is no (فِتْنَةٌ) compulsion in religion, and religion is freely professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors. (Al Quran 2:193/194)
And ﬁght them until there is no (فِتْنَةٌ) compulsion in religion, and all religions are for Allah. (8:39/40)
They ask thee about fighting in the Sacred Month. Say: ‘Fighting therein is a great transgression, but to hinder men from the way of Allah, and to be ungrateful to Him and to hinder men from the Sacred Mosque, and to turn out its people therefrom, is a greater sin with Allah; and (فِتْنَةٌ) compulsion in religion is worse than killing.’ And they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can. (Al Quran 2:217/218)
So, blasphemy laws take away religious freedom of many and are (فِتْنَةٌ) compulsion in religion and they are the real blasphemy.
The prophet Muhammad, brought a message of love and compassion for the humanity; let us talk about human values and human rights rather than take a false pretense of defending Islam or honor of God or the prophet.
Let us begin to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that prescribe religious freedom for every religion in every country. This will bring human equality and bring monarchs and the masses closer in brotherhood rather than the artificial stratification of the ruler and the ruled.