Blas­phemy laws: what does the Qu­ran say?

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Dr Mo­ham­mad Taqi

It is a travesty of jus­tice that a verse deal­ing with war, sedi­tion and re­bel­lion is in­voked to pun­ish what may not even qual­ify as theo­cratic or re­li­gious dis­sent. In fact, Ar­ti­cle 295 is not just a travesty of jus­tice, it is an iftira (slan­der) against the Almighty and Prophet (PBUH) as it at­tributes to them what they never man­dated "Haq jal­wa­gar ze tarz-e-bayan-e-Mo­ham­mad [PBUH] hast, Aaray kalam-e-Haq ba zuba-e-Mo­ham­mad [PBUH] hast, Ghalib sana-e-Kh­waja ba Yaz­dan guza­sh­taim, K'aan zaat-e-Paak martaba-daan-e-Mo­ham­mad [PBUH] hast" - Ghalib. "The Truth ex­presses its grace through Mo­ham­mad's [PBUH] ex­pres­sion, In­deed the Truth speaks through Mo­ham­mad's [PBUH] word, Ghalib, there­fore, I leave Mo­ham­mad's [PBUH] praise to God, Almighty alone can un­der­stand the ex­alted sta­tus of Mo­ham­mad [PBUH]."

While the La­hore High Court (LHC) is re­strain­ing the pres­i­dent from par­don­ing Aa­sia Bibi in a blas­phemy case and a fed­eral min­is­ter has vowed to not al­low any change in the blas­phemy laws, why do I quote Ghalib's praise for the Holy Prophet Mo­ham­mad (PBUH)? For starters, Ghalib re­mains one of the fore­most sec­u­lar­ists that the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent has ever pro­duced and this na'at (hymn) - per­haps amongst the finest writ­ten in any lan­guage - goes to show that it is per­fectly al­right for the sec­u­lar­ists to oc­ca­sion­ally talk about mat­ters of faith, in­clud­ing their own faith. In fact, it is im­per­a­tive to do so when a fog of con­fu­sion is de­lib­er­ately cre­ated around faith by big­ots of all shades. More­over, the Holy Qu­ran and Sun­nah, os­ten­si­bly, form the premise of Ar­ti­cle 295 of the Pak­istan Pe­nal Code (PPC) and, with­out re­vis­it­ing what they ac­tu­ally say about blas­phemy, the only chal­lenge that might be suc­cess­ful against this law would be to have its pro­ce­dural as­pects mod­i­fied. The Qu­ran and Sun­nah in­deed are the two ma­te­rial sources of the shariah law, but were even­tu­ally sup­ple­mented by a cor­pus of in­ter­pre­ta­tion largely agreed upon by a ma­jor­ity of Mus­lim schol­ars (ijma) and de­duc­tive anal­ogy (qiyas) to form the ba­sis of Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence.

In the first quoted verse, Ghalib is re­fer­ring to the Holy Qu­ran, which states: "That this (Qu­ran) is in­deed the speech of an il­lus­tri­ous mes­sen­ger" (69:40). Ghalib's last verse, of course, is the crux of a Sufi's faith and, once again, al­ludes to the pas­sages in the Qu­ran where the Almighty show­ers praise on Mo­ham­mad (PBUH). I would point to one such verse: " Ver­ily! We have seen the turn­ing of your (Mo­ham­mad's) face to­wards the heaven. Surely, We shall turn you to a Qi­blah (prayer di­rec­tion) that shall please you, so turn your face in the di­rec­tion of Al-Masjid-al-Haram" (2:144). This is a unique verse; while the Qu­ran and other holy books speak to what hu­mans, in­clud­ing the prophets, must do to earn the plea­sure (raza) of the Almighty, here Al­lah is do­ing some­thing purely to earn the plea­sure or raza of His Prophet (PBUH).

So is it pos­si­ble then, that the Almighty, who has thus ex­alted the sta­tus of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), left us with­out any guid­ance on how to deal with speech or ac­tions that at­tempt to dis­par­age him? Could the Qu­ran be silent on a mat­ter of such grave im­por­tance? Have we been left to rely on the ijma and qiyas of the cler­ics who came some two cen­turies af­ter the Prophet (PBUH)? In­deed not, but that is some­thing that the ones af­ter a poor woman's scalp would have us be­lieve. Let us con­sider Su­rah Al-Ahzab, verse 57:

"Lo! those who ma­lign Al­lah and His mes­sen­ger, Al­lah hath cursed them in the world and the Here­after, and hath pre­pared for them the doom of the dis­dained."

The Qu­ran also men­tions the most im­por­tant case of blas­phemy ever com­mit­ted against Mo­ham­mad (PBUH). The Qu­ran says in Su­rah Al-Mas­sad:

"The power of Abu La­hab will per­ish, and he will per­ish. His wealth and gains will not ex­empt him. He will be plunged in flam­ing fire. And his wife, the wood-car­rier, will have upon her neck a hal­ter of palm-fi­bre."

The com­mon theme be­tween the verses noted above is that, while the high­est con­dem­na­tion has been heaped on any­one re­vil­ing or at­tempt­ing to re­vile the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and eter­nal damna­tion promised for the per­pe­tra­tor, nei­ther a di­rect or­der (amr) has been given to im­part a pun­ish­ment nor a set pun­ish­ment pre­scribed - not even for Abu La­hab! Let us also con­sider the Ara­bic terms used to de­scribe blas­phemy against God and the Prophet (PBUH). The Ara­bic words sabba (abuse, in­sult) and shatm (vil­i­fi­ca­tion) de­note blas­phemy and have been adopted in Per­sian and Urdu as well. It must be stated that the word shatm does not oc­cur in the Qu­ran at all while a de­riv­a­tive of sabba is used only in one verse and that too to pro­scribe the Mus­lims from hurl­ing sabba on other peo­ple's gods and deities (Chap­ter 6:108). So where then are pun­ish­ments like death or chop­ping limbs for blas­phemy com­ing from? Usu­ally, anec­do­tal re­ports are cited from the Ha­dith where the Prophet (PBUH) al­legedly con­doned the death or pun­ish­ing of a blas­phe­mer.

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