Should Blasphemy Lead to Death?

This past November in Pakistan, Aasia Bibi, a Christian, was sentenced to death by hanging. Bibi is accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with co-workers. According to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the punishment for defiling the Qur’an is life imprisonment, but for insulting the Prophet the penalty is death.

President Asif Ali Zardari had initially pledged to pardon Bibi, but was later barred from doing so by a Pakistani court. Even though the punishment of death has never been carried out, the blasphemy laws have resulted in death. Many times, the accused is killed by mobs.

This story troubled me on a number of levels. First, while I find mocking or insulting of any prophet to be irreverent, I find it more reprehensible to punish that kind of action with death. All this does is further the image that Islam is intolerant and violent.

Second, most writing on blasphemy seems to agree that the punishment laid out in the Pakistani blasphemy laws are not in the Qur’an or the Sunna. In other words, it is the result of Muslim jurist’s interpretation. Shouldn’t the difference in context be considered and who these laws apply to?

Third, there are many Qur’anic verses that recognize the fact that a Muslim’s beliefs may be insulted and instructs them how to respond:

“Bear, then, with patience, all that they say, and celebrate the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun and before (its) setting.” (Quran 50:39)

“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: ‘To us our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you: we seek not the ignorant.'” (Quran 28: 55)

“And the servants of Allah … are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace’!” (Quran 25:63)

With these verses in mind and the example of the Prophet Muhammad who patiently endured  ridicule and sometimes persecution, I cannot see that these laws represent the spirit of Islam. I think there should be basic respect of each other’s faiths and prophets and these kinds of actions will not achieve it.

What do you think of the blasphemy laws? Do you think that they represent the spirit of Islam? How can we reconcile them with the example of the Prophet? Should free speech mean insulting others’ sensibilities? Please share your thoughts below.

3 thoughts on “Should Blasphemy Lead to Death?

  1. Bismillah

    If someone speaks ill of the Prophet Muhammad saw, they should he executed. If they speak ill of one of the sahabah, then they should not be executed but something less. Muslims hold their beliefs sacred. Western society may have a belief in satire and ridicule of religions, but Muslims have belief in defending the honour of their Prophet saws.

  2. To Bismillah:

    You state that, “if someone speaks ill of the Prophet Muhammad, they should be executed”. This is a curious statement to say the least. I think you should consider the fact that this is an age of technology and rapid communication. I think you should appreciate that many terabytes of potentially offensive commentary are uploaded onto a vast ocean of information every day… or the fact that people can post almost anything from anywhere in the world for worldwide consumption… under multiple false alias. What do you think is the inevitable endgame to your ideal that all blasphemers should be executed? To achieve such a stated goal one would have to create some of the largest death camps in history, and they would have to run night and day to eliminate all potential offenders. Fear of death over the wrong use of words would only intimidate so many individuals. Please tell me who would decide who lives and who dies, or rather who is pious and who is the destructive heretic? Would you really want such a horrific spectacle in the name of your faith? Because a strict adherence to such a unreasonable goal would reduce the Islamic world to a rather ghastly status… World’s greatest purchaser of body bags.

  3. Ya Abdallah, on what do you base your statements? Bring some evidence to support your side please. I disagree with you wholeheartedly, for the reasons stated in the article, which by the way is the proper way for a Muslim to argue i.e. bring evidence to support his position. All I see in your argument is anger (which I share when I hear someone insult a prophet)