By Qasim Rashid
Blasphemy laws began in Christian countries, and started appearing in Muslim majority countries after British imperialism. But if we go back to the Quran, we can see that what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan isn’t faithfully Islamic at all
In the 1979 hit British comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an elderly man is charged and convicted for committing blasphemy. His crime? Uttering the name Jehovah. He insists he’s innocent, but an angry crowd is ready to unleash a barrage of stones on him.
It seems life imitates art. Last week Ireland investigated Stephen Fry, an outspoken critic of religion, for allegedly running foul of a 2009 blasphemy law. In the United States this week, a woman was convicted of laughing at Attorney General Sessions, and faces a year in prison.
Blasphemy laws historically began in Christian Europe as a means to prevent dissent and enforce the church’s authority. They were exported to Muslim majority nations via British imperialism. Today, just about every Muslim majority nation that has blasphemy laws can trace them back to British statute from centuries prior.
Nowadays, blasphemy cases are becoming increasingly popular as a means to persecute minorities in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In Pakistan, notable Ahmadi Muslim Tahir Mehdi was finally released after nearly two years in prison for the alleged blasphemy of claiming he is Muslim. Meanwhile another Ahmadi Muslim — 81-year-old Shukoor Ahmad — serves an eight-year prison term for the same alleged crime of blasphemy.
In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi is still in prison for the alleged blasphemy of being an atheist. And this week in Indonesia, courts convicted Jakarta’s Governor Aho of blasphemy: the governor, who is a Christian, faces a two year prison sentence. Ahok’s crime? He rebuked claims by clerics that the Quran mandates Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a non-Muslim.