Blasphemy (isl.)

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(Arab. al‑Tahqir al‑Din wa‑l‑Muqaddas, Kufr, Turk. Kutsala Hakaret)

Blasphemy’ refers to the vituperation of a religion or of religious values. Instances in which blasphemy and defamation were practiced have been described not only in the Qur’an but in the hadiths as well (cf. 4:46; 6:108). In the writings of Islamic theologians and legal scholars, there are three meanings to the vituperation of religion or of religious values: vituperation of time in the sense of a curse of the fate with which God confronts humankind; insult of the Messenger of God; and degradation of the companions of the Prophet. The Qur’an also requires the faithful to refrain from insulting idols as this might otherwise prompt adherents of idolatry to insult God (6:108).

The act of heaping abuse upon or insulting a religion or something holy implies the use of words or actions with an intention of disparaging a particular religion or religious values. To disparage the Qur’an, the Holy Scriptures of the Jews or the Christians, or to disparage any other scripture sent down by God, or to insult the Prophet or to not take him seriously – all these acts are considered signs of a lack of faith. A degradation not linked with an intention to insult, but that is instead part of a philosophical or literary statement, a comparison, a saying or a work of poetry, is not classed as blasphemy. The author is, however, to be reprimanded.

An analysis of the viewpoints of the Islamic schools of legal thought in regard to blasphemy reveals differences based on whether the violator is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Some scholars consider blasphemy on the part of a Muslim as a falling-away from the Islamic faith. Others, however, consider blasphemy to be an offence even greater than a falling-away from the faith. In their view, then, the remorse of someone who has fallen away from the faith is accepted by God, whereas the remorse of a blasphemer is not. For some scholars, though, both are forgiven if they demonstrate remorse. An insult of religious values by a non-Muslim is viewed only as an offence.

The Qur’an contains no provisions for either case. In the view of the Hanafite school of law, then, blasphemy is not an offence for which a clear penalty is specified, and its assessment is left to the judge’s determination. The Hanafites specified the death penalty, however, for cases of repeat offence or refusal to exhibit remorse. According to Hanafite legal scholar al-Bazzazi (d. 1424), for instance, God will accept the remorse of a blasphemer but not that of a person who has insulted the Prophet. One can conclude from this that al-Bazzazi considers blasphemy to be a sin, yet an insult of the Prophet a secular offence. Generally, though, the Hanafite legal school tended to make provision for remorse and atonement for offences and sins of all types. Unfortunately, many thinkers who represented religious viewpoints that were at odds with the norm were condemned as blasphemers based on al-Bazzazi’s legal opinions (fatwa) and were subject to terrible punishments.

Based on the fact that the Qur’an does not spell out a punishment for blasphemy, the Shafiite school of religious law believed that non-Muslims living in an Islamic state were subject to the legal provisions for which they had opted by signing the contract making them protectees of the state.

Today, the topic of insult of religion and religious values must be seen within the framework of human rights. In the modern world, an individual should respect the beliefs of others on principle. People whose religion or religious values are insulted should be permitted to engage in an appropriate expression of their reaction to a circumscription of their human rights, yet without themselves resorting to insults, slander, violence or other forms of aggressive behaviour.

Şaban Ali Düzgün

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