‘There are three sides to an argument: your side, the side of your opponent, and the side of truth,’ declares the famous Chinese wise-saying, eliciting for humanity a viable principle of conflict resolution that worth its salt.
In this write-up, we shall leverage on this conflict-resolving principle to delineate the line that marks out the side of truth amidst the pros and cons sides of the argument on the ongoing, critical and burning issue of blasphemy that has continued to rock across Nigeria since last week from Sokoto in the north-west, to the north-eastern States of Borno and Bauchi, and to Osun State in the south-western part of the country.
Out of the plethora of mixed reactions that have trailed the May 12 gruesome killing and burning of Deborah Samuel by a mob of Muslim students of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State of Nigeria for an alleged crime of blasphemy, the “redlines” conversation has emerged.
Perhaps the earliest report of the emergence of the “redlines” conversation which appeared barely twenty-four hours after the infamous gory incident was contained in a Twitter statement (that later went viral) made by Professor Ibrahim Maqari, the Imam of the National Mosque, Abuja. In the statement, the Imam declared:
“It should be known to everyone that we the Muslims have some redlines beyond which must not be crossed. The dignity of the Prophet (PBUH) is at the forefront of the redlines. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticized for addressing them ourselves.” (www.twitter.com/profmaqari)
Observably, this statement has been digested by many as not only contrasting the array of condemnatory statements that have been issued by various leaders, including His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari and His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, but as also implicitly justifying and supporting the brutal murder, with a potential to incite more of such jungle justice from the Muslim public.
Notably, however, the strongest of such criticisms seems to be the latest condemnation issued by the Nobel Laurette, Prof. Wole Soyinka in an address entitled, In Time Of Crisis: Civilian And Soldier, delivered at an Abuja event on Saturday, May 21, 2022. In the address, Prof. Soyinka lamented that, “A glorified cleric, no less than the Grand Vizier of the iconic Mosque of the nation’s capital, Abuja, has inserted a dissenting voice. The young woman, Deborah, he declared, deserved her death. This mullah, allegedly a man of learning, since his name is professorially captioned, says that there is a line, a red line that none of us must cross, no matter who we are, what we think, profess or value.”
Furthermore, while demanding that, “The Grand Seer of Abuja mosque should be hounded from office. He should be tried under any existing laws that approximate hate rhetoric, incitement to murder and abuse of office,” he submitted that, “The nation is confronted with just two propositions: One, that the Sultan of Sokoto is right…The alternative position is that Professor Ibrahim Maqari is the acknowledged Oracle of Islamic Ethics. Between the two, a choice must be made, a choice that is both moral and constitutional. Both the Sultan and Professor Maqafi cannot be right. And that choice does not belong to any esoteric domain. It is not grounded in privileged, hermetic caucuses of religious doctrine and interior revelations. It is not subject to spiritual pietism. It is straightforward: either murder is criminal and abhorrent, or it is a legitimate pastime, to be indulged at whim and by any.” (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/…/531481-deborah-samuel…)
It should be noted that, in the wake of Prof. Maqari’s controversial tweet, a flurry of write-ups that spelt out the details of the redlines in Islam have since been going viral, concomitantly. The stated redlines – which when crossed, or to be explicit, when blasphemed, could or would result into either judicial or extrajudicial killing of the blasphemer – include blasphemy against paramount sacred symbols of Islam, namely, Allah, the Holy Qur’an, and the Holy Prophet, among other symbolic categories.
In short, the pros and cons arguments on the redlines of Islam have continued to trend ever since across all academic and media circles, and in the offline conversations at homes and on the streets, even as tensions have continued to heighten against the backdrop of the increasing report of further cases of blasphemy by Christian extremists and hardliners in a number of States.
Observably, those among Muslim intelligentsia and the common public who are on the side of death penalty for any blasphemer who crosses any or every of these designated redlines are further split into two groups. One tries to pose as law-abiding citizens through their advocacy that those guilty of crossing the redlines are to be reported to the constituted authority responsible for the prosecution of the blasphemer through due judicial process. The other group, however, poses extremely with the stance that, since the constituted authorities at various levels have often failed to ensure proper administration of justice, it is, therefore, justifiable or justified to apply jungle justice to anyone who crosses the redlines of Islam.
In the light of the Chinese proverb with which we opened this write-up, the justification or otherwise of the side of those advocating death penalty for blasphemers (whether judicially or extra judicially) can be exposed through determining the extent of its alignment to the side of substantial truth of Islamic teaching on blasphemy. And this will be done just through answering the following two questions: one, does Islam actually delineate redlines of blasphemy that should not be crossed? This writer can authoritatively answer with a hundred percent affirmative response that Islam, indeed, categorically and unreservedly condemns and prohibits every act of blasphemy not only against every or any of its sacred religious symbols, but even against those of other religions as well (Qur’an, 9:65-66; 6:109; 22:31, 33).
Of course, the rationale behind the condemnation and prohibition of blasphemy should ever be justified and appreciated by every civilized human being imbued with sound human rationality, reason and logic. This is because blasphemy is a sheer misuse or abuse of the freedom of expression which often hurts the sensibilities and sensitivities of those whose sacred symbols have been blasphemed, triggering avoidable havocs in the society. This is why, with the growing phenomena of pluralism and multiculturalism, every member of our global human family must imbibe the core values of mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.
Now, to the second question: does Islam legislate corporal punishment to be meted out (whether judicially by the constituted authority or extra judicially by Muslim mob) against anyone who crosses any line of blasphemy? Here, the writer can absolutely state with a hundred percent negative answer that, as a religion of peace, humanity and civility, beyond condemnation and prohibition, orthodox Islamic law does not prescribe any physical punishment for blasphemy, let alone arrogate the right of meting out the punishment for blasphemy to any Muslim constituted authority or mob. Unambiguously, orthodox Islamic law very categorically stipulates two levels of measures against anyone found guilty of blasphemy: one, human earthly response; the other, divine punishment.
Regarding human earthly response, the Holy Quran teaches that blasphemers should be treated by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his followers with either boycott (6:69; 4:141) and decent avoidance (73:11) or superior intellectual engagement (63:9), or demonstration of higher moral virtues, like patience, forbearance, clemency and forgiveness etc. (73:11; 52:30-32; 3:187; 41:44) which would stimulate introspection within the blasphemers, leading to their self-realization of fault, inner feeling of shame, repentance and possible conversion to the superior religious path of Islam.
Authentic Islamic history bears witness to the fact that, on numerous occasions, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) translated the foregoing Quranic teachings to affirmative action that resulted in, at least silencing of some blasphemers, or at best, in their repentance and even conversion, ultimately. And, in this, is an imperative lesson for the Muslims of our contemporary time to emulate with the required affirmative action.
However, in the case of unrepentant blasphemers, the divine measure becomes inevitable. And this has been unambiguously pronounced in the Quranic verdict thus: “Allah and His Angels send blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! You also should invoke blessings on him and salute him with the salutation of peace. Verily, those who malign Allah and His Messenger – Allah has cursed them in this world and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them an abasing punishment.” (33:57-58).
Having clearly made the side of truth known through the foregoing exposition, this write-up would have been given a full stop mark here, but, alas! That is not made possible by some fanatical elements who have delved further in their desperate effort at sourcing for possible justifying evidences for their advocacy of death penalty for blasphemers who cross the redlines of the Islamic law – a position that is not only jurisprudentially unorthodox to Islam, but also orthopraxically anti-Islam, anti-human and anti-God!
It is important to note that those Muslim holding the rather extremist position in the death penalty for blasphemy have resorted to some Ahadith (Traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [saw]) to weave justification for their indefensible position. They say, agreed that there is no evidence from the Holy Quran, but there are few instances reported in the books of Hadith where the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) had ordered the execution of some blasphemers or had them executed by some of his companions on his behalf.
Summarily, it is imperative to state that, of course, there are hundreds of traditions bearing hundreds of cases of Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) treatment of his blasphemers with forbearance and forgiveness of his blasphemers throughout the period that spanned his 23-year prophetic career.
Sadly, however, some Muslim holders of extreme view on the subject of punishment for blasphemy from among the contemporary Islamic jurists and scholars and who are modern students of some of the medieval Islamic scholars, like Imam Qadi Ayyad al-Yahsubi and Imam Ibn Taimiyya Taqi Ad-Din, have chosen to construct their law of blasphemy (death penalty) on rather extremely few and isolated reports which, majorly, have been proven by eminent Islamic scholars of Hadith as either fabricated (i.e. hadith of the murder of Asmā bint Marwān for blasphemy) or weak (i.e. hadith reported via Uthman Al- Shuhham about a blind man who murdered his concubine for blasphemy) or most of the individuals (i.e. Ka’b bn Ashraf etc) reported to have been executed for their blasphemies have, actually, been found guilty of graver crimes of murder, brigandage, treason and culpable felonies that had warranted and justified their execution.
However, due to the constraint of space, this writer would like to implore esteemed readers to watch out for another upcoming write-up that focuses on a detailed exposition on this particular aspect of the subject, deconstructing every of the weak Hadith evidences that have been advanced by the proponents of death penalty for blasphemers.
Importantly, justice cannot not be said to have been properly done to this write-up without briefly noting that, in joining the bandwagon of the redlines conversation, the Christians, too, are saying they, equally, have their redlines which should not be crossed.
Particularly, they’re saying that when Muslims refer to Jesus as merely a Prophet and not a son of God or as a part of the Godhead of the Trinitarian theology, they’re, in fact, blaspheming the Christian God, and by that, hurting Christians’ religious sensitivities and sensibilities, too. And, notably, in a holier-than-thou sense, such Christians are saying, “however, we peacefully restrain from revenging with killing on behalf of our God, as we are peaceful and believe God is most powerful to fight for Himself!”
With all sense of honesty and objectivity, it should be stated that Muslims cannot be adjudged as guilty of blasphemy, inasmuch as, in Luke 24:19 of the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus’ disciples on their road to Emmaus were reported to have referred to Jesus (as) as a Prophet. More so, it is important to state that there are many places in both the Old and New Testaments where death has been prescribed as punishment for blasphemy. (Leviticus 24:10-16; First King 21:10-13, Second Book of Samuel 16:5-13. More so, In the New Testament, we have in Matthew 12:32 and Luke 19:27, among others, where blasphemers against God, Holy Spirit and divine Prophets and Kings have been dealt with.
Finally, we care to remind our Christian brethren not to forget in a hurry the gory history of Christianity where hundreds of alleged blasphemers were reported to have been brutally and gruesomely murdered, lynched and burnt on the orders of various Christian leaders, ranging from the Papacy in Rome to the Inquisitions in France and that of Queen Isabela of Spain, among others. (http://www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com/…/596-scientists…)
Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is a Missionary and Journalist of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Nigeria and the current National Chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria. Email: email@example.com