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Unleashing violence in the name of blasphemy un-Islamic, Muslims must reject misinformation

One of the reasons cited for Kamlesh Tiwari’s murder is his alleged blasphemous remarks against the Prophet in 2015.

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The murder of Hindu Samaj Party leader Kamlesh Tiwari has sparked outrage as well as a debate on blasphemy and violence.

Two other recent incidents in the subcontinent have also forced many to ask what constitutes blasphemy and if it’s time to do away with archaic laws that sanction punishment for so-called blasphemous acts.

Last week, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to five-year rigorous imprisonment for posting “blasphemous and derogatory” content on social media. In Bangladesh, at least four people were killed this weekend when a protest erupted over an alleged social media post criticising the Prophet and the police opened fire at the protesters.

An act of violence in response to what one considers blasphemous is not only condemnable, but also un-Islamic.

In Islam, every individual has the freedom to choose and at the same time show tolerance towards others’ choices. Those who wish to curb this freedom for others in the name of blasphemy are acting against the teachings of Islam.

Also read: Umar Khalid: Why I, a Leftist, participated in a Twitter trend praising the Prophet

Divided opinion on blasphemy

The Oxford dictionary defines blasphemy as “behaviour or language that insults or shows lack of respect for God or religion”. The worldview has been divided over whether blasphemy deserves retribution or is it a case of misuse of freedom.

On the one hand, there are several countries across the globe, which have sanctioned punitive measures under state laws against blasphemy.

On the other hand, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have both declared that blasphemy laws violate universal human rights of freedom of speech and expression.

Article 19 of the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ asks signatory countries to guarantee that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”. “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice,” it adds.

The origin of blasphemy can be traced back to the medieval period where punishments were meted out for committing this ‘sin’.

The Old Testament condemns blasphemy: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16).

This concept of blasphemy travelled to several other parts of the world, particularly Asia and Africa, during the colonial rule.

Today, countries like Ireland are working to abolish these archaic laws against blasphemy through constitutional referendums. This is the right approach and it is time for Islamic countries to follow suit.

Also read: The story of how angry karsevak Kamlesh Tiwari rose to become a Hindu leader

What Islam says on blasphemy

It is a fact that Islam does not prescribe capital punishment for blasphemy. As per the teachings of Islam, blasphemy is a misuse of freedom and not a cognisable offence. If a believer comes across an act of blasphemy, the only course of action for him/her is to make peaceful efforts to share the information with the blasphemer and remove the misunderstanding. It is not for the believer to judge the actions of another person.

The Quran asks believers to follow the path of peace and non-confrontation under all circumstances. In case of a violent reaction, Islam will hold the first perpetrator accountable for triggering the chain of events. One of the reasons cited for Kamlesh Tiwari’s murder is his alleged blasphemous remarks against the Prophet in 2015. Tiwari’s remarks were actually in response to what Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan had said about RSS leaders.

So, under Islam, the SP leader is equally at fault for what happened consequently. Islam prohibits believers from engaging in any such act of contempt as it may lead to a negative reaction (Quran, 6:108).

Islam believes in peaceful dialogue. The ideal society as per Islam is Dar-as-Salaam, or the ‘Home of Peace’ (Quran, 10:25). Such a society cannot thrive in an environment of malice and instigation.

Quran is a book of wisdom, not a criminal code for persecution. The law against blasphemy is a later-day innovation, first put into practice during the Abbasid period. The scholars of Islam, however, failed to reject this innovation – going against the teachings of the Prophet.

It is high time for the Muslim community to reject such concocted innovations. Instead of demanding capital punishment for blasphemy, Muslims need to develop tolerance towards other people’s freedom of speech and expression. This is the true teaching of Islam.

Also read: Mian Mithu, the extremist cleric whom Hindu families dread in Pakistan’s Sindh

The author is an Islamic thinker and author of ‘The True Face of Islam’.

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  1. Medieval blasphemy laws are prevalent as well as implemented in Islamic nations. Nowhere else are such laws considered valid and acted upon. If these nations have not repealed such abhorrent practices in the 21st century, we must not hope that they will do so in future. These laws are here to stay and flourish. Right now, in nations like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where there still are minority communities, they are used to terrorize, intimidate and violate them. In nations like Saudi Arabia and others where there are almost no minority community, it is used to settle personal rivalries and disputes.

  2. Muslims wear religion on their sleeves. But their religiosity does not translate into honesty. In every western countries, they do far more crimes than any other community.

  3. Muslims have their God given right to abuse other religions but when others do the same to their religion, it is blasphemy and heaven will fall. Riots start and people die. No wonder Muslims are not welcome in non-Muslim countries.

  4. What is written and what not in you holy book doesn’t matter. This country has secular constitution, it isn’t running by Sharia law.

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