Blasphemy in the Light of the Qur'an

by Brigadier (Retd.) Nazir Ahmad

Reprinted from Vol. XXII, No. 1 Hamdard Islamicus, Karachi, Pakistan © 1998

In his recent statements, Religious and Minorities Affairs Minister, Raja Zafarul Haq has defended the anti-blasphemy law. He was the opening batsman of General Zia ul Haq when the anti-blasphemy law was promulgated as a part of his determined efforts for Islamisation during 1977-88. And again, at the moment, both as Minister in charge and man of religion, he happens to be one of its most articulate defenders.

The Constitution of Pakistan specifies the Qur'an and Sunnah to be the two equally valid sources of Islam. Sunnah according to the ulema, is what is embodied in the six blocks of ahadith called 'the correct six.' I shall refer primarily to the Qur'an in this article. The Qur'an in its own words, was revealed to '. . . the ulettered Prophet, who believeth in a law and His word' [Qur'an 7:258]. Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) thus bears witness to, accepts and 'believeth' in every word of the Quranic teachings, its themes, and precepts. The following verses elucidate this point:

We sent not and Apostle but to be obeyed in accordance with the Will of Allah [Qur'an 4:64]

Say: I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine . . . I follow but that which is revealed to me. [Qur'an, 56:9]

Obey Allah and obey the Apostle. [Qur'an 5: 95]

Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those charged with authority among you. [Qur'an 4: 59]

The Prophet's Sunnah as defined by the Qur'an, is located strictly within the parameters of the Qur'an. Therefore, there is no divergence between the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Obedience to the holy Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h. or any other authority, is obtained strictly within the Quranic text and its teachings, Sunnah has no independent identity; the two merge into one. [It is a blasphemy against the holy Prophet p.b.u.h. to ascribe to him any word or deed which in any way is discordant with the Qur'an.]

We may now proceed to the point at issue. Blasphemy is defined in section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code in the following words: "Use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the holy Prophet p.b.u.h. by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by importation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet p.b.u.h. and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to find . . ."

This concept of blasphemy and the prescribed punishment are both contradictory to the Qur'an and the Prophet's conduct. The Qur'an prescribes restraint, and distancing from the blasphemous persons or situations. The emphasis is on restraint and forgiveness. A study of the following verses should bear this out:

"When ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme." [Qur'an 4:140]

"And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: "to us our deeds and to you yours; peace be to you." [Qur'an 28: 55]

"Hold to forgiveness, command what is right; but turn away from the ignorant." [Qur'an 7:199]

"Have patience with what they say, and leaves them with noble (dignity)." [Qur'an 73:10]

"And the servants of Allah . . . are those who walked on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say 'Peace'" [Qur'an 25:63]

"Allah is with those who restrain themselves." [Qur'an 16: 128]

". . . But they uttered blasphemy . . . if they repent, it will be best for them, but if they turn back, Allah will punish them." [Qur'an 9:47]

I have been able to identify fifty-seven more verses having a direct bearing on the subject and more than 250 others which emphasize forgiveness, forbearance and compassion.

In his lifetime, the Holy Prophet p.b.u.h. was subjected to verbal and physical humiliation. He narrowly escaped assassination by migrating to Medina. He was accused of forgery " . . . nay, he forged it." [Qur'an 21:5], was stigmatized as a man 'possessed' [Qur'an 23:70] and 'mad' [Qur'an 68:2]. His personal reaction, as also the reaction of all his devoted Companions, while both in and out of power, was impeccable adherence to the Quranic teachings. One of his regular tormentors, a woman (wife of Abu Lahab) once had to break the daily ritual on account of ill health. In obedience to the Quranic injunctions, he called on her to offer his services in her household chores.

The Qur'an set strict limits on punishment for any and every crime. The honourable minister being a lawyer by profession must have knowledge of the Quranic position on crime and punishment. Here are just a few verses for his consideration:

"And if you punished, let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you; but if you show patience, that is indeed the best course. [Qur'an 16:126]

"The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto: but if a person forgets and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah." [Qur'an 62:40]

"Twice will they be given their reward, for that they have persevered, (and) they avert evil with good." [Qur'an 28:54]

The emphasis in all cases, including murder, is on forgiveness and reform. Does our blasphemy law touch even the outer fringes of the letter and the spirit of the Quranic position on the subject? I'm afraid the answer is in the negative. "My Lord has indeed forbidden trespasses against truth and reason" [Qur'an 7:33] says the Qur'an, while the law as presently formulated is a naked and blatant transgression against the Qur'an. It trespasses Hadood Allah- the limits set by Allah and the Prophet's conduct. Allah forbid, we have no authority to consider Allah and the Last of His Messengers in any way deficient or inadequate in dealing with blasphemy or to take it upon ourselves to try to outdo them. This approach is uncalled for, indeed, blasphemous. Pakistan happens to be a so-called Islamic state, yet there is no law to take cognizance of such trespasses.

The law in its present form goes against the criterion of reason as enjoined by the Qur'an [7:33 preceding paragraph]. Would the minister permit me a few questions: Why is it that all the countless millions of the prophets of Allah and other saintly and noble souls, the noble list of them all alone needs such questionable enactments to shield his name against defilement? How is it that no other Muslim country has ever felt the need for such an enactment? How did the Muslims of the world, for fourteen centuries, save the Holy Prophet's name from blasphemy before Gen. Ziaul Haq and Raja Zafarul Haq appeared on the scene?

Since 1952 the religious factor, in one form or another, has been used as a very effective tool for pressuring the government, settling old scores, or advancing political or financial interests. The game shall continue indefinitely as long as human formulations continue to dominate, indeed trample down, the Divine teachings embodied in the Qur'an which constitute Prophet Muhammad's mission and mandate. No government, including the one Raja Zafarul Haq is now a part of, has so far shown either the will or the wisdom to face this problem with determination. Almost all have preferred to run with the hounds. As a result, the religious minorities and the oppressed will continue to suffer and groan.