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Sharia Punishment: Death for blasphemy

As I mentioned in a previous article, I will be addressing, in a series of articles, different forms of violence that we witness today, and will try to find its roots in the Islamic scriptures and early history of Islam.

You might remember the trailer for the naive and poorly produced movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that was posted on youtube in 2012. This 14 minute trailer caused an outrage and violent protests that injured hundreds and killed dozens across the world. Even the railways minister of Pakistan Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered in an unprecedented $100,000 as a reward for the assassination of the movie maker.

Also, the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammad published in 2005 led to hundreds of deaths,  riots, and death threats to the cartoonists. You might also remember in 2004 the murder of Theo van Gogh, the film director, over his movie ‘Submission’ that portrayed the abuse of women in Islam.

If you are not too young, you might remember the fatwa from Khomeini in 1989 calling for Salman Rushdie’s assassination as a result of his book ‘The Satanic Verses’.

If you had an eye on the news in the Middle East back then, you might also remember the assassination of the Egyptian writer Farag Foda in 1992 over his “accusation of blasphemy” by Al-Azhar (which claims to be a “moderate” Islamic institution), as well as the assassination attempt of the Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz for similar “accusations” in 1994.

These are only few of the most famous; there are countless instances across the world that go unnoticed.

You might be surprised about the hypersensitivity to any form of criticism of Islam or Muhammad that the followers of this faith have shown, everywhere in the world, regardless of their differences in ethnicity, culture or language. Again, the answer lies within the verses of the Quran and Muhammad’s history.

Chapter Al Tawba (9) verse 12 tells Muslims how they should react to criticism of their religion.

“And if they break their pledges after their treaty and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief.  Lo! they have no binding oaths - in order that they may desist”

When one usually quotes from the Quran, the reaction from Islam’s apologists would be typically: “Quran interpretation is not a simple task, it requires knowledge about the context and the circumstances in order to properly understand it”.

I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I rely on the classical interpretations like Tafsir Ibn Kathir, which is considered to be one of the most authentic by Muslim scholars. Here are parts the English translation that he wrote regarding this verse:

“...it is because of this that one who curses the Messenger, peace be upon him, or attacks the religion of Islam by way of criticism and disapproval, they are to be fought”

He elaborated by mentioning Ali bin Abi Talib’s (the closest cousin to Muhammad and the only recognized Caliph by both Sunni and Shia) commentary on this verse:

“...A similar statement was reported from Ali bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him. However, this Ayah is general, even though the specific reason behind revealing it was the idolators of Quraysh. So this Ayah generally applies to them and others as well, Allah knows best”     

I can still imagine that even with such references, we might still get responses from the apologists who will claim that it is meant to be an “intellectual fight”. But again, Muhammad’s history leaves us with no room for such softened interpretations. I chose from the major Sunnah books two instances of many that show Muhammad’s reaction to his critics in action.

According to one of the most trusted sources for Hadith collection, Sahih Al Bukhari, Book 56 - Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihaad) Hadith 238:

“The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "O Allah's Messenger! Do you like me to kill him?" He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka`b) and said, "This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity." Ka`b replied, "By Allah, you will get tired of him." Muhammad said to him, "We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair." Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him”

So not only had Muhammad asked for someone to kill him, but also allowed Muhammad bin Maslama (the killer) to reach to Al-Ashraf deceptively by pretending to be a traitor to the prophet.

From Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 40 Prescribed Punishments Hadith 11:

“A blind man had a slave-mother who used to abuse the Prophet and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet was informed about it. He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up. He sat before the Prophet and said: Messenger of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her. Thereupon the Prophet said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood.”

Next time you hear about a Muslim protesting violently or killing someone for defaming Islam, think again before assuming he has anger management issues. He is paying homage to the man who, according to the Quran, is the best of creation, and who endorsed or even demanded such a reaction.