By Imam Murtadha Gusau.
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation. May the salutations of Allah, His peace and blessings be upon our beloved Prophet, his family, his companions and his true and sincere followers until the Last Day – then to proceed:
Dear brothers and sisters! A female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State was yesterday Thursday burnt alive over comment against our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
The incident, which triggered tension in the school environment and caused the closure of the school occurred on Thursday morning.
The student, identified simply as Deborah Samuel, was, according to reports, beaten to a pulp before she was set ablaze.
In a video trending on social media, some young men were seen hurling stones at the victim.
When the victim fell to the ground unconsciously, the attackers gathered tyres around her before she was set ablaze.
Respected brothers and sisters! It is not permissible for a Muslim without judicial authority to implement Islamic legal punishments on his or her own initiative. Vigilante justice, Jungle justice or “taking the law into your own hands,” is forbidden in Islam because it leads to social chaos and likely causes even greater harm than the original crimes. In the same manner, it is not permissible for a Muslim to declare war or to commit an act of war without lawful authority.
Abu Hurairah (RA) reported that: Sa’ad Ibn Ubadah said, “O Messenger of Allah, if I find another man with my wife, should I leave him alone until I bring four witnesses?” The Prophet said yes. Sa’ad said, “Never! By the one who sent you with the truth, if that happened to me I would quickly grab the sword!” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “Listen to what your leader says. Verily, he has a sense of honour, and I have a greater sense of honour than him, and Allah has a greater sense of honour than me.” [Muslim]
In this example, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) has forbidden a man who witnesses his wife committing adultery from implementing the legal punishment or retaliating against her by his own initiative, that is, without due process. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) also informed the man that his sense of ‘honour’ or jealousy (al-ghirah) is no justification for such vigilantism. Hence, the concept of ‘honour killings,’ or extrajudicial acts of murder motivated by a sense of tribal honour, have absolutely no basis in Islam.
The unanimously established rule in Islam is that legal punishments may only be ordered by properly authorised judges, who must follow due process in the interest of fairness and apply mitigating factors to protect innocent people and prevent judicial abuse. Imam Ibn Muflih said:
“It is forbidden to establish a legal punishment unless it is done by the leader or his deputy.” [See al-Furu wa Tashih al-Furu]
And according to the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Fiqh (al-Mawsu’atu-Fiqhiyyah):
“The jurists (Fuqaha) came to a consensus (Ijma’) that a legal punishment may not be implemented unless by the leader or his deputy. That is in the best interest of people, which is to safeguard their lives, their property, and their reputations.” [See al-Mawsu’atul-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah]
Therefore, a Muslim who witnesses a crime should inform the authorities who can take appropriate action. Muslims do not have the right to commit acts of vigilante justice or jungle justice or to take the law into their own hands without due process.
Dear brothers and sisters! There is a Hadith in which a blind man allegedly kills his concubine for insulting the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and then he was not punished for it. It is often cited by some hard-line Muslims in support of harsh anti-blasphemy laws and, perhaps ironically, by anti-Muslim activists to accuse Islam of being violent and dangerous. Yes, blasphemy is most definitely a tremendous and great sin to Allah, but does it warrant killing without due process?
There are good reasons to question the authenticity of the Hadith based upon both its chain of narrators and its content. But first it should be clearly understood that not every Hadith is authentic, and even Hadith that do come through a sound chain are not always actionable. They might be context-dependent, specific to a certain situation, or legally abrogated. Ibn Wahb, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“Were it not for Imams Malik and Al-Laith, I would have been ruined. I used to believe that everything narrated about the Prophet (Peace be upon him) should be acted upon.” [See Siyaru Aʻalam an-Nubalah]
And Ibn Abi Lailah said:
“A man does not understand the Prophetic traditions unless he knows what to take from them and what to leave.” [See Jamiʻ Bayan al-Ilm wa Fadlihi]
Hadith must be interpreted according to the moral, legal, theological, and methodological principles of Islam. They cannot be acted upon at face-value according to one’s own personal understanding.
As for the problematic Hadith in question, the abridged text is as follows:
“Ibn Abbas reported that: A blind man had a concubine who used to disparage and slander the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The man forbade her and rebuked her, but she did not stop. One night she again slandered and disparaged the Prophet (Peace be upon him), so he stabbed her in the stomach and killed her. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “Bear witness there is no retaliation for her life.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
This Hadith is weak because it comes through a questionable chain of authority and it apparently contradicts well-established moral and legal principles in Islam. The implication some people have wrongly inferred from the narration – that an extrajudicial killing for blasphemy is permissible – is a serious mistake.
As for the chain of authorities, every version of the story originates with Uthman Ibn Muslim al-Shuhham narrating from Ikramah, may Allah have mercy on them. There are no other credible chains to support this story.
Uthman al-Shuhham was considered reliable by some scholars, but plenty of others criticised and rejected his narrations. He narrated very few Hadith as compared to other narrators, whom he usually narrated from Muslim Ibn Abi Bakrah, and even fewer Hadith from Ikramah. He is in no way an agreed upon narrator. Imam Az-Zahabi said:
“Yahya al-Qattan said: His narrations are sometimes acknowledged or rejected. Al-Nasa’i said: He is not strong.” [See Mizanul-I’itidal]
And Al-Mughaltay said:
“Abu Ahmad al-Hakim said Uthman Ibn Muslim, Abu Salamah, is not solid in their view.” [See Ikmal Tahdhib al-Kamal]
And Imam Ibn Hajar said:
“Likewise was said by Abu Ahmad that he is not solid in their view. Imam Al-Daraqutni said he is a Basran in need of further consideration.” [See Tahdhib al-Tahdhib]
And Sheikh Al-Arna’ut said:
“There is a discussion on Uthman about lowering him from the level of soundness.” [See Takhrij al-Musnad]
Imam Ibn Adi also mentioned him in his book of weak narrators, although he did not consider him weak per se, saying:
“Uthman al-Shuhham does not have many traditions, but there is no objection seen in his narrations.” [See al-Kamil fi Duʻafa’ al-Rijal]
However, just because Ibn Adi saw nothing wrong in his narrations does not mean he considered him above scrutiny.
Imam Muslim included only one narration of Uthman al-Shuhham from Muslim Ibn Abi Bakrah in his Sahih collection. This indicates that Imam Muslim considered his chain from Ibn Abi Bakrah to be authentic, but he did not narrate his chain from Ikramah. Thus, the presence of Uthman al-Shuhham in the Sahih does not mean every narration from him was considered authentic by Imam Muslim.
Hence, the problematic Hadith of the blind man is based on the authority of a questionable narrator, who narrated an unusually small number of Hadith, who was criticised and rejected by some scholars, and whose narrations are otherwise not widely-regarded as legal evidence. On this basis alone, Muslims are not required at all to accept the authenticity of the story or the legal ruling it supports.
If, for the sake of argument, Uthman al-Shuhham’s chain from Ikramah is sound and the story is true, there are certainly missing details from the text that are needed to properly contextualise it. An anomalous (Shaz) narration cannot overrule many more verses of the Qur’an and authentic Hadiths.
It is a well-established rule in Islam that legal punishments such as executions, flogging, or imprisonment can only be carried out by executive authorities. Imam Ibn Muflih said:
“It is forbidden to establish a legal punishment unless it is done by the leader or his deputy.” [See al-Furu’ wa Tashih al-Furu’]
And according to the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Fiqh:
“The jurists (Fuqaha) came to a consensus (Ijma’) that a legal punishment may not be implemented unless by the leader or his deputy. That is in the best interest of people, which is to safeguard their lives, their property, and their reputations.” [See al-Mawsu’at al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah]
This principle, known in the West as due process, is essential to civil society. Citing the Hadith of the blind man to circumvent it is a very dangerous proposition.
If the incident did in fact occur, then the slander (waqi’) and disparagement (shatm) committed by the woman must have been done in manner that was aiding or inciting enemy forces, as the Muslims in Madinah at the time were fighting a defensive war against the idolaters of Makkah.
Imam Ibn Taimiyyah considered the possibility of this interpretation, saying:
“A third view is that, if this was a legal punishment, then it was also the killing of a combatant. Thus, she had the status of an enemy combatant who must be killed. This type of killing is permissible for anyone.” [See al-Sarim al-Maslul]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not kill people just for insulting him. Many people insulted him, cursed him, and harmed him, yet he was forgiving, patient, and forbearing. The legal maxim of no-harm requires that one can only harm others if it is necessary to avoid a greater harm.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) also would not have allowed a man to designate himself as judge, jury, and executioner. If the Prophet (Peace be upon him) did in fact pardon the man for killing his concubine, it could only have been in such a case that she was aiding or inciting the enemy. No one needs permission from authorities to fight or kill someone who is waging war against them.
As for the legal implications of the Hadith – the context in which it is usually cited – is it really necessary in Islam to punish blasphemers with death? Imam As-San’ani commented on the Hadith of the blind man specifically, saying:
“If it was a Muslim who cursed the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as an act of apostasy… it has been transmitted by Ibn al-Munzir from Al-Awza’i and Al-Laith that they should be imprisoned until they repent.” [See Subul al-Salam]
Blasphemy committed by a Muslim, in the eyes of the jurists (Fuqaha), was equal to treason or sedition, that is, incitement to violently overthrow the social order established upon Islamic law. However, some scholars, including the Khalifah Umar (RA), lightened the sentence of apostasy in certain situations.
Anas Ibn Malik reported that: I said, “O commander of the faithful, some people have turned renegade against Islam and joined the idolaters. What is to be done to them other than killing?” Umar Ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
“That I take hold of them on peaceful terms is more beloved to me than everything over which the sun rises, from the horizon to the zenith.” I said, “O commander of the faithful, what would you do if you took hold of them?” Umar said: “I would offer them the door through which they exited, that they would enter it again. If they did so, I would accept it from them; otherwise I would keep them in prison.” [See Musannaf of Imam Abdul-Razzaq]
Ma’amar reported that: Some residents of the peninsulah (Hijaz) told me that some people had embraced Islam, but it was not long until they became apostates. Maimun Ibn Mihran wrote to Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz, may Allah have mercy on him, regarding them and Umar wrote back saying: “Let them return to paying tribute and leave them alone.” [See Musannaf of Imam Abdul-Razzaq]
Amr Ibn Qais reported that: Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “The apostate is imprisoned indefinitely until he repents.”
And Imam Sufyan al-Thawri said:
“This is what we adhere to.” [See Musannaf of Imam Abdul-Razzaq]
Imam Abu Razin reported that: Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
“The female apostate is imprisoned and is not killed for her apostasy.” [See Musannaf of Imam Abdul-Razzaq]
Imam Al-Laith reported that: Atah, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“The female apostate is not killed.” [See Musannaf of Imam Ibn Abi Shaibah]
Abu Harrah reported that: Al-Hasan, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“The woman who renegades against Islam is not killed. She is imprisoned.” [See Musannaf of Imam Ibn Abi Shaibah]
There was no absolute consensus that the death penalty was mandated in every case of apostasy or blasphemy, which indicates that it is more likely subject to discretionary punishment (Ta’zir). The authorities can lighten the sentence if this is in the best interests of Muslim society and achieves the objectives of Islamic law, one of which is mercy for the creation.
Ibrahim al-Nakha’i said specifically in the context of apostasy:
“Avoid legal punishments upon the Muslims as much as you can. If you find a way out for a Muslim, leave him to his way. For a Muslim judge to err in pardoning the criminal is better than to err in punishing him.” [See Musannaf of Imam Abdul-Razzaq]
If blasphemy was committed by a non-Muslim, the jurists (Fuqaha) also did not agree that the death penalty was mandatory. Imam As-San’ani continues:
“It is narrated from the Hanafi scholars that the covenanted person is given a discretionary punishment and is not killed. Imam Al-Tahawi cited as evidence that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not kill the Jews who came to him and they said: Death be upon you!” [See Subul al-Salam]
Indeed, one can find many instances in the biography of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) when he was merciful, forgiving, and patient with those who directly insulted him. Aisha reported that:
“A group of Jews asked permission to visit the Prophet and when they were admitted, they said, “Death be upon you!” I said to them, “Rather, death and the curse of Allah be upon you!” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “O Aisha, Allah is gentle and he loves gentleness in all matters.” [al-Bukhari]
In another narration, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“O Aisha, you must be gentle and beware of harsh and profane words.” [al-Bukhari]
Mercy and patience with blasphemy was the general rule applied by the Prophet (Peace be upon him), while legal punishment was the exception only when it was compounded by high crimes of apostasy, treason, warfare, sedition, or incitement.
Therefore, the Hadith of the blind man summarily killing his concubine without due process is a weak narration (Da’if) due to the doubtfulness of Uthman al-Shuhham. If the incident really did take place, then it can only be interpreted in accordance with moral and legal principles established by an enormity of other sound texts. No one may carry out legal punishments without properly constituted authority, and blasphemy by itself is not punishable with death.
Beloved servants of Allah! As some of you know, blasphemy is a very controversial topic in Islam that has taken on new importance due to the proliferation of instant global communication. Some Muslim extremists incorrectly cite a precedent in classical Islamic law to justify gross acts of vigilante violence, jungle justice and murder. Therefore, it is important for us to understand the context of the classical ruling and to view this issue in the larger perspective of the Qur’an and Sunnah as a consistent whole.
The general answer to blasphemy (Sabbullah wa Rasulihi) as commanded in the Qur’an is to respond with patience, beautiful preaching, and graceful avoidance. The Qur’an records the fact that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was called a “sorcerer,” a “madman,” a “magician” a “singer” and a “liar,” yet Allah commanded him to be patient and to increase his acts of worship. Allah Almighty said:
“Be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance.” [Surah al-Muzzamil, 73:10]
And Allah Almighty said:
“So be patient over what they say and exalt with the praises of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting.” [Surah Qaf, 50:39]
And Allah the Most High said:
“So be patient over what they say and exalt with the praises of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting.” [Surah Ta Ha, 20:130]
These insults deeply hurt the feelings of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions, but Allah did not prescribe revenge for them. Allah the Most High said:
“We already know that your heart is constrained by what they say, so glorify the praises of your Lord and be among those who prostrate.” [Surah al-Hijr, 15:97-98]
In fact, Allah told the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions to expect more insults and mockery from the followers of other religions, and that they should remain patient and not let their abuse shake their Iman (faith). Allah Almighty said:
“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves, and you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah, that is of the matters requiring resolve.” [Surah Ali Imran, 3:186]
In other verses, Allah commands the believers to simply avoid those who mock Islam and not to sit with them until they discuss something else. Allah the Most High said:
“When you see those who engage in offensive discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion.” [Surah al-An’am, 6:68]
And Allah Almighty said:
“It has already been revealed to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah, they are denied and ridiculed. So do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Verily, you would then be like them.” [Surah al-Nisa’, 4:140]
Generally, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was commanded to endure any insult or mockery from his enemies which resulted from their bad character. Allah the Most High said:
“Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” [Surah Al-A’raf, 7:199]
Abdullah Ibn Zubair explained this verse, saying:
“The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was commanded to forgive the people’s bad character.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
There are many recorded incidents in the life of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in which he was mocked, defamed, and even physically attacked for his faith in Islam, but despite this abuse the Prophet responded with patience, forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness.
In one incident, a group of Jews insulted the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in his own home. Although the Prophet was the leader of Madinah at the time, he did not order these men to be harmed. Rather, he used the incident to teach his companions an important lesson about kindness.
Imam Al-Bukhari records this narration in his chapter regarding those who curse and abuse the Prophet (Peace be upon him), which strongly implies that he did not believe legal punishment should be applied to every case of blasphemy.
Badr al-Din al-Aini, a scholar of the Hanafi school, comments on this chapter heading:
“Imam Al-Bukhari has adopted the method of the people of Kufah on this issue, that if someone curses or berates the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and he is a non-Muslim citizen, then he is rebuked but he is not killed. This is the opinion of Imam al-Thawri.” [See Umdatul-Qariʼ Sharhu Sahihul-Bukhari]
In another incident, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was defamed and insulted by one of the men of Madinah who was upset with his method of distributing charity. The Prophet did not retaliate against him even though he was very disturbed by it, citing the fact that Prophet Musa (Moses), was harmed by his people with much greater abuse.
Ibn Mas’ud reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) was distributing charity among the people when a man from the Ansar said, “By Allah, Muhammad did not intend to please Allah with this distribution!” I came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and informed him about this, then anger could be seen on his face and the Prophet said: “Musa was hurt with more than this, yet he remained patient.” [al-Bukhari]
Indeed, it was the practice of all the Prophets of Allah (AS) to patiently endure the harm they received from their people, even to the point of asking Allah to forgive their oppressors. Allah Almighty said:
“They said: We will surely be patient with whatever harm you cause us, and let them rely who would rely upon Allah.” [Surah Ibrahim, 14:12]
Ibn Mas’ud reported that: I saw the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) tell the story of a Prophet who was beaten by his people and he wiped the blood from his face, saying:
“My Lord, forgive my people for they do not know.” [al-Bukhari]
Imam An-Nawawi comments on this narration, saying:
“In this is what the Prophets (Peace be upon them) were upon of forbearance, patience, forgiveness, and compassion for their people, their supplications for them to receive guidance and to be forgiven, and that they should be excused for their sins because they did not know.” [See Sharh al-Nawawi ala Sahih Muslim]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) continued to set this example throughout his life, even to the point of forgiving several people who tried to kill him.
In one incident, a woman came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and fed him with a poisoned sheep. When the Prophet began to suffer and it was discovered what she had done, the companions asked him if they should kill her. In this case, it would have been a justified retaliation against attempted murder, but the Prophet pardoned her instead.
In another incident, a man from an opposing tribe attempted to kill the Prophet (Peace be upon him) while he was sleeping. Allah miraculously saved the Prophet by causing the man’s hand to slip, after which the Prophet gained power him. Even so, in this position of strength the Prophet continued to show clemency.
The man was impressed by the Prophet’s character (Peace be upon him) so much that he returned to his people and praised him. This is an excellent example of how mercy and forgiveness are among the best deeds for winning the hearts and minds to Islam.
In one of the most famous incidents, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) finally gained power over his enemies after being persecuted for twenty-three years. He could have easily ordered their execution and the companions would have complied. However, the Prophet used this moment to teach the lesson of mercy just as Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) had forgiven his brothers.
All of this evidence indicates the general rule that Muslims should respond to blasphemy with patience, forbearance, graceful discussion and dialogue. We need to behave in the serene manner of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as well as publish articles, set up websites, and otherwise spread authentic information about his life and teachings.
That said, the classical ruling in Islamic law imposes the death penalty upon those who blaspheme against Islam. This ruling is derived from handful of instances in which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) executed some people for treason, not for merely insulting Islam.
For example, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered the execution of Ka’ab Ibn al-Ashraf as he conspired to wage war against Madinah. Ka’ab also wrote poetry satirising the Prophet and his companions, although this was not his only offense. Rather, he posed an imminent danger to the Muslim Ummah due to his support for gathering an army.
Badr al-Din al-Aini comments on the story of Ka’ab and other narrations:
“In these traditions it is shown that they were not killed merely for their insults. Indeed, they were only killed due to their aiding the enemy and preparing for war against him.” [Umdatul-Qariʼ Sharh Sahihul-Bukhari]
This was the general social and political context within which the classical ruling against blasphemy had developed.
Intisar Rabb, director of Harvard University’s Islamic Legal Studies program, explains:
“The rationale underlying this rule was an argument linking several steps. To curse Allah was to blaspheme Him, which was implicitly to signal a departure from the community of Muslims and the laws governing them. The presumption was that a person could not possibly be a Muslim, fitting squarely within its system of laws and confessing to the oneness and supremacy of Allah, if he or she at the same time cursed Allah. The same applied to cursing the Prophet, the family of the Prophet, and the revered companions of the Prophet. For [the jurists], if religious speech acts akin to confessing the Muslim creed reflected societal commitments to uphold the law, much as an oath of citizenship might in the contemporary world, then renouncing such an oath would conceptually signal a threat or possibility of treason, combat against the state, and opposition to the social order itself. In other words, members of the Muslim community under Muslim rule were expected to play by its rules, including its call to honour reputation, lineage, and religious status. For the jurists, signaling absolution from those expectations could very well pose a threat of violence against the state and its public order or rule of law.” [See Ellis, Mark S. 2012. Islamic law and international human rights law: searching for common ground? Page158/164]
Therefore, it is not mere blasphemy that warrants the death penalty, but rather only when it is combined with acts of treason and sedition.
Now, does this mean that blasphemy should be tolerated in every case? Free speech is not merely a human right, but rather it is a responsibility. The purpose of free speech is to facilitate discussion in search of truth and justice. Consequently, the general rule is that people are free to speak their minds respectfully, but speech that serves no purpose other than to slander, provoke, defame, offend, or incite to violence is not worthy of protection. Indeed, the Muslims have been prohibited from cursing other religions and even idols. Allah Almighty said:
“Do not insult those they invoke besides Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge.” [Surah al-An’am, 6:108]
For this reason, many Muslim countries have statutes against defaming Islam as well as Judaism, Christianity, and other religions, as this harms the cohesion of peaceful communities. Most countries in the world impose legal or at least social restraints on free speech with laws against slander and defamation, as well as what they consider “blasphemy,” such as the many European countries that prohibit profaning the memory of the Holocaust. Muslims and all people should respect such limits as it is the responsibility of good citizens to refrain from harming social order and peace.
However, the best way to counter false speech is by speaking the truth. The problem of blasphemy can usually be remedied by a number of peaceful solutions such as publishing articles, setting up websites, holding conferences, and arguing with good manners. Every non-violent means should be used to counter blasphemous speech before resorting to legal action and especially the death penalty. No doubt, the least likely to resort to killing are the true believers.
Ibn Mas’ud reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“The most restrained of the people regarding killing are the people of faith.” [Musnad of Imam Ahmad]
Muslims must avoid calling for the death penalty whenever possible, because indulgence in this matter indicates a lack of strong faith.
We also need to view this matter from the legal principle of public welfare (Maslahah Mursalah). Ibn Taimiyyah defines this principle as follows:
“The principle of public welfare is the case when a distinguished jurist (Faqih) views another action as more likely to bring benefit and there is nothing in the law to negate it.” [Majmu’ al-Fatawa]
In so many cases, we see that the prosecution of blasphemy can cause greater harm to the community and the image of Islam than the blasphemy itself. We have a precedent in the practice of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to withhold such punishments when they might cause greater harm. Jabir Ibn Abdullah reported that:
“A man came to the Messenger of Allah on his way back from Hunain while there was some silver in the backpack of Bilal. The Messenger of Allah took a handful from it and distributed it among the people. The man said to him, “O Muhammad! Be just!” Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said, “O Messenger of Allah, allow me to kill this hypocrite!” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “I seek refuge in Allah that the people will say I am killing my companions.” [Muslim]
In another narration, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Leave him alone, lest people say Muhammad is killing his companions.” [Muslim]
In this case, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) refused to punish a dangerous man, a hypocrite who was pretending to be a Muslim in order to attack the community from within, on the grounds that it would have harmed the image of Islam in the eyes of the people.
Likewise, the age of instant communication ensures that cases of blasphemy are no longer confined to local areas, but instead they have global implications. Prosecution for mere childish insults and thoughtless, impromptu remarks, without evidence of treasonous intent, only project an image of Islam as intolerant and draconian. Rather, judges need to carefully consider the unintended consequences and they must justify any prosecution in terms greater than mere insults and hurt feelings.
Furthermore, we have the lessons of history which compel us to seek mitigation and restriction of the classical blasphemy law. Numerous Muslim scholars were imprisoned and persecuted because their views were considered “blasphemy” by the ruling regime. Most notably is the case of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal who was imprisoned and tortured by the ruling Mu’tazilite regime for his alleged blasphemy of affirming the Qur’an was uncreated. An uncompromising and loosely interpreted blasphemy statute increases the possibility of it being misused by a corrupt regime to victimise callers to truth.
In sum, numerous verses and traditions in Islam demonstrate that the general rule for responding to blasphemy is to counter it with patience, forbearance, and speaking the truth in a beautiful manner. Muslims ought to behave this way in the overwhelming majority of cases. The only exception to this rule is derived from the specific cases in which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) punished some people for treason in addition to their harmful utterances. We must not expand this specific rule to all cases, thereby negating the general teachings of mercy, patience, and tolerance.
And all praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected] or +2348038289761.