Punishment for Blasphemy
against the Prophet (sws)
The law for punishing blasphemy against the Prophet (sws)
that is invoked in Pakistan has no foundation in the Qur’ān or Hadīth.
Therefore, a pertinent question is: What exactly is the justification for this
law? Some scholars have proffered Q. 5: 33-34 as a possible basis. In their
opinion, God, in these verses of Sūrah Mā’idah, has prescribed the punishment
for muhārabah (rebellion) and fasād fi al-ard (disorder), and they believe that
blasphemy against the Prophet (sws) is also a form of this offence of muhārabah:
The text of the verse with its translation is:
إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ
وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَنْ يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ
تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُمْ مِنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنْ الْأَرْضِ
ذَلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنيَا وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ تَقْدِرُوا عَلَيْهِمْ فَاعْلَمُوا
أَنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ (٥ :٣٣-٣٤)
The punishment of those who fight against God and His
Prophet or create disorder in territory is that they be executed in an exemplary
manner or be crucified or have their hands and feet cut off from opposite sides
or be banished. This disgrace is theirs in the world, and in the Hereafter a
severe retribution shall they have, except those who repent before you overpower
them. So [do not exceed in severity with them and] know well that Allah is
Oft-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful. (5:33-34)
As other viewpoints on foundations for blasphemy laws, this
opinion too needs to be reviewed for the following reasons:
Firstly, the word used in the verse is yuhāribūn (they
fight/rebel against). This word entails that the sentences of punishment
mentioned in the verse be given only if the offender persists in blasphemy
defiantly, resorts to disruption or disorder, refuses to desist even after
repeated exhortation and admonition and, in contrast to an attitude of
consequent submission, actually takes a stance of retaliation. On the other
hand, if the accused pleads that he’s not guilty or gives an excuse to explain
his attitude and shows no volition for persistence, he cannot, in any sense of
the word, be indicted for muhārabah or fasād fi al-ard.
Secondly, the Qur’ān says that the sentence will not be
applicable to those offenders who, despite their prior proclamation and
persistence, submit and repent before the law apprehends them. Therefore, the
directive is that those who have repented shall not be given these sentences.
This aspect also entails that, before any action is taken against such
offenders, they be called to repent and reform and be repeatedly warned that, if
they are believers, they should not destroy their own future in the Hereafter by
their wrong attitude or notions and, if they do not believe in God or the
Prophet (sws), they should show regard for the feelings and sentiments of
Muslims and abstain from this grave violation any further.
Thirdly, the verse does not make capital punishment
obligatory. It gives the court room for a lenient sentence in consideration of
the nature of offence and the state of the offender. The recommendation of
banishment in the verse is for such offenders as deserve leniency.
In the present law, none of the aspects mentioned above
has been considered. For sentencing, this law depends solely on testimony. There
is no consideration whatsoever for confession or denial, which consideration the
verse entails; there is no room for clemency on the repentance and reform shown
in response to exhortation and admonition; and, as such, there is no other
option except capital punishment. It would indeed be commendable even if the
‘ulamā were to accept muhārabah verse as the foundation for blasphemy punishment
and, consequently, show willingness to have amendments made to the existing law.
Even that would end all criticisms on the present law. It is obvious from the
Qur’ān that capital punishment can only be given in two cases: first, if a
person murders another and, second, if he disrupts law and order in a country
and, as such, becomes a threat to the life, property and honour of people. If
the law is amended in accordance with the requirements of the muhārabah verse,
the requirement of confining capital punishment to these two cases will be
fulfilled. Furthermore, the law will also be closer to the views of the highly
venerated scholar of Islamic law, Imām Abū Hanīfah and to those of the great
Hadīth compiler, Imām Bukhārī. In this regard, it is this opinion that seems
more advisable. The Hanafīs have a majority in Pakistan, but, incongruously,
their viewpoint has been completely ignored in enacting this law. Therefore, it
is a fact that the blasphemy law in its present state is against not only the
Qur’ān and Hadīth but also the opinion of Hanafī jurists. It should most
certainly be changed for it has blemished the name of Islam and Muslims
throughout the world.
Narratives related to punishment for blasphemy that are
often cited also need to be understood correctly. Abū Rāfi‘ was one of those
people who were guilty of bringing out the tribes against Madīnah in Ghazwah-e
Khandaq (Battle of the Ditch). In Ibn Ishāq’s words: فِيْمَنْ
حَزَّبَ الأَحْزَابَ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّم.
About Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, the historians write that after Ghazwah-e Badar (Battle
of Badar), he went to Makkah and recited vengeance inspiring elegies for those
of the Quraysh who had fallen in battle, wrote odes (tashbīb) that prefaced the
names of some Muslim women and caused much distress to Muslims, and, while
residing in the domain of the Prophet’s government, endeavoured to incite people
against him. Some narratives describe that he even went to the extent of
devising deception to assassinate the Prophet (sws). ‘Abd Allāh ibn Khatal was
sent for zakāh (obligatory alms) collection by the Prophet (sws). He was
accompanied by a person from amongst the Ansār and a servant. On the way, Ibn
Khatal killed the servant on the pretext of insubordination, became an apostate,
and ran away to Makkah.
Not only this; all three people mentioned here persisted in their denial of the
Prophet (sws) even after the truth of his message had become conclusively
evident to them. And, God Almighty has mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’ān that,
as a Divine principle, the direct addressees of a rasūl
are within the range of Divine punishment. For that reason, if they go on to the
extent of hostility, they can also be killed.
These details show that the wrongdoers in question were not
merely guilty of blasphemy but had also committed all the other crimes mentioned
above. Therefore, they were killed in response to these offences. ‘Abd Allāh ibn
Khatal was a murderous fugitive. It was decreed on these grounds that he be
killed even if he was hiding behind the covers of the Ka‘bah.
It was indeed offenders of this kind to whom Sūrah Ahzāb
refers. In order to sow the seeds of doubt in Muslims, to turn them away from
the Prophet (sws), and to damage their reputation and the moral credibility of
their religion badly, these wrongdoers would engage in many activities as
cooking up stories about personal lives of Muslims, slandering them and carrying
on scandal-mongering, sometimes expressing desire to marry ladies from amongst
the Prophet’s holy wives, and spreading rumours of all kinds to unnerve and
demoralize Muslims. They would sometimes tease Muslim ladies who went out to the
fields at night or before daylight to pay heed to the call of nature. When
reprimanded for this behaviour, these evildoers would come up with lame excuses
as having approached a woman only because they mistook her for the slave-girl of
such and such person and because they needed to ask her about such and such
matter. The Qur’ān alludes to these aspects of their mischief, and narratives in
Muslim tradition record many of the related instances in quite some detail.
Muslim ladies, therefore, were told to put their cloaks over themselves to
appear different from slave-girls so that the mischievous miscreants would not
have pretexts to tease them. Furthermore, the troublemakers were also warned
that if they would not stop and would persist in their evil, they would be
executed in an exemplary manner:
لَمْ يَنْتَهِ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ
مَرَضٌ وَالْمُرْجِفُونَ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ لَنُغْرِيَنَّكَ بِهِمْ ثُمَّ لَا
يُجَاوِرُونَكَ فِيهَا إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مَلْعُونِينَ أَيْنَمَا ثُقِفُوا أُخِذُوا
[Even after this measure] If these hypocrites do not
desist and also those with a disease in their hearts and those too who spread
lies in Medina, we shall make you rise against them; then they shall not be able
to stay amongst you but with difficulty; cursed shall they be; wherever found,
they shall be killed in an exemplary manner. (33: 60-61).
Other narratives of similar nature that are often related
are usually not credible enough in terms of historical authenticity of the sanad
(chain of narrators). However, even if they were to be assumed reliable enough,
the nature of events described would still fall within the scope of same
context: after full manifestation of hostility in their blasphemy and sacrilege,
these people were within the purview of the same law that the Qur’an has
described as a Divine custom pertaining to the denial of a rasūl by his people
and direct addressees. Some murders were also vindicated on these grounds.
ٍلاَ يُقْتَلُ مُسْلِمٍ بِكَافِر is a description of
the same principle.
The ‘ulamā are aware of these aspects, yet they insist on deriving the law for
punishment of blasphemy from these narratives.
Here, someone might also refer to oft-related incident in
which Sayyidunā ‘Umar (rta) is reported to have struck off the head of a man who
refused to accept the Prophet’s legal verdict on a certain occasion. Our ‘ulamā
relate this incident from the pulpits and directly encourage people to show the
same attitude as reflected in the narrative towards those whom they perceive as
blasphemers of the Prophet (sws). However, the fact is that not just the first
and second degree of Hadīth collections (in terms of authenticity) but also the
third degree works are devoid of this narrative. Even Ibn Jarīr Tabarī, who
often relates narratives in all categories, has not regarded it worthy of
consideration. This narrative comes from a gharīb (with isolated chain of
narrators) and mursal (with omissions in the chain) Hadīth that has been cited
by some exegetes in their commentaries; however, those acquainted to some extent
with Hadīth sciences have clarified that, in the chain, its attribution to Ibn
‘Abbās is absolutely implausible. Moreover, in the sanads of Ibn Mardawayh and
Ibn Abī Hātim, the narrator Ibn Lahī‘ah is daī‘if (“weak”).
The view that exegetes relate this very narrative also as shān-e nazūl (an
occasion for the revelation) of Q. 4:65 is also ill-founded. Although this verse
of Sūrah Nisā is not in want of description of any reason of revelation, yet,
quite contrary to this one, the narrative that Imām Bukhārī and other leading
scholars of Hadīth have related as the occasion of revelation for this verse and
which narrative is often cited by exegetes is one that pertains to a water
dispute between the Prophet’s paternal cousin, Zubayr, and a person from the
Ansār. When the matter was presented to the Prophet (sws), he told Zubayr to
irrigate his field and leave the remaining water for the Ansārī. The Ansārī
immediately retorted by saying: “O Prophet of Allāh, is this because Zubayr is
your cousin?” This highly impudent remark was clearly an imputation of injustice
and nepotism. Therefore, it is related that the Prophet’s face changed colour,
but he did not say anything save repeating his statement with more clarity and
decreed that the water be retained up to the edges of the field and the rest be
left for the Ansārī.
One must “commend” the ‘ulamā on their choice in selection
for ignoring this highly credible narrative reported by Bukhārī and Muslim that
reflects the Prophet’s forbearance, forgiveness, compassion and kindness;
instead, they are enthusiastically and zealously relating everywhere a weak and
improbable narrative related to how Sayyidunā ‘Umar (rta) struck off someone’s
On the issue of blasphemy against the Prophet (sws), is the
opinion of majority of jurists based on any directive in the Qur’ān or Hadīth
related specifically to this punishment? The answer to this question is clearly
in the negative. The basis of jurists’ opinion on punishment to a Muslim is
apostasy and, to a dhimmī,
it is violation of pact. The jurists say that a Muslim who blasphemes against
the Prophet (sws) becomes an apostate, and the punishment for apostasy is death.
Similarly, if a non-Muslim dhimmī is guilty of this offence, he loses protection
of the pact with him, and, therefore, he too deserves capital punishment.
According to the jurists, the reason for this inference is that the directive
about non-Muslim Ahl al-Kitāb (People of the Book)
in Verse 29 of Sūrah Tawbah (9th Sūrah of the Qur’ān) entails they be killed if
they refuse to remain subjugated and subservient under Muslim rule. Therefore,
infer the jurists, if a dhimmī shows an attitude of sacrilege and disrespect to
the Prophet, it means that he has rebelled against Muslim sovereignty and does
not accept his subjugation under Muslim rule.
In Islamic law, this argumentation probably began with this statement of ‘Abd
Allāh bin ‘Abbās’:
أيما مسلم سب الله ورسوله أو سب أحدا من الأنبياء فقد كذب برسول
الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وهي ردة يستتاب فإن رجع وإلا قتل وأيما معاهد عاند فسب
الله أو سب أحدا من الأنبياء أو جهر به فقد نقض العهد فاقتلوه
A Muslim who blasphemes against God or the Prophet or
any of God’s messengers is guilty of denying the Prophet (sws). This is
apostasy, which entails that repentance be demanded of the offender. If he
repents, he shall be released; if not, he shall be killed. Similarly, if anyone
from amongst non-Muslims protected under pact becomes hostile by openly
blaspheming against God or the Prophet (sws) or any of God’s messengers, he is
guilty of violating the pact; you shall kill him too.
It is this argumentation which, according to the jurists,
is the foundation of the punishment for blasphemy. However, deliberation on the
Qur’ān and the Hadīth clearly shows that, after the age of the Prophet’s
Companions, this basis has become ineffective forever. In my works, Mīzān and
Burhān, I have argued at length that the punishment for apostasy was specific to
the peoples who had been afforded conclusive evidence of truth by the Prophet (sws)
himself but reverted to their denial after having accepted faith. The Prophet’s
statement: مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِيْنَهُ فَاقْتُلُوْهُ (Kill
the one who changes his religion)
relates to the same peoples. The decree of the punishment for them was in
accordance with the sunnat-e ilāhī (the Divine way and principle) that has been
described in the Qur’ān in relation to the direct addresses of the rusul. It has
no relation to Muslims in times after the Prophetic age.
The issue of violation of pact is also similar in nature.
No one now is dhimmī in the world and no one can be subjugated as such now.
Verse 29 of Sūrah Tawbah is an offshoot of the same Divine principle mentioned
above. Therefore, the right to wage war against any peoples perceived as deniers
of the truth has ended forever the right to keep them subjugated and subservient
by imposing jizyah (tribute) on them. Until the end of the world, no one now has
any right whatsoever to wage a war against any people for this particular
purpose or any right to impose jizyah to keep the vanquished subjugated.
Non-Muslim citizens of Muslim States are not dhimmīs or condemned to death in
any principle or living under any grant of “protection” lifting which would
entail their death. This diction and these notions belong to the past. They
cannot, in any way, form the foundation for argumentation now.
Now, therefore, only two possibilities remain: First, that,
in consideration of Islam and the interests of Muslims, laws [based without
foundational religious texts] be enacted and a punishment be prescribed as
Second, Verses 33-34 of Sūrah Mā’idah be used as foundation for the enactment.
It is this second possibility about which this article has already emphasized
that, if these verses of Sūrah Mā’idah are used as a foundation, three aspects
must be kept in mind as the words of the Qur’ān necessitate their inclusion:
1. A person regarded as guilty of blasphemy be invited to
repent and reform and be repeatedly warned that, if he is a believer, he should
not destroy his own fate in the Hereafter and should submit to God and the
Prophet (sws), and, if he does not believe in God or the Prophet (sws), he
should show regard for the feelings and sentiments of Muslims and abstain from
persisting in this grave offence.
2. His case be filed in the court only if he refuses to
change or repent, persists in his blasphemy with defiance, causes disruption,
pushes away all efforts to convince him and, instead of showing remorse,
actually resorts to belligerence and hostility.
3. Instead of having the option of capital punishment only,
room for lighter sentences be left in consideration of any extenuating
circumstances related to the actual nature and circumstance of offence and the
capacity and state of the offender.
(Translated into English by Asif