"Kaun munkir-e-zaat hai wahi faisla kare
Ilhaadi se bhi jo na kabhi gila kare"
-Yaas Yagana Changezi
(Let Him decide as to who's an atheist or apostate/The One who has no gripe even against a blasphemer)
A Pakistani court on Saturday, December 21, sentenced a university professor to death for blasphemy under a law that critics say is often used to target minorities and liberal activists.
Junaid Hafeez, 33, was arrested in March 2013 for allegedly posting derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on social media.
But it's interesting to note that blasphemy didn't figure in the religious scheme of early Islam. And Islam was introduced by Muhammad (570 CE-632 CE) in 610 AD.
The only fatwa-decreed death-sentence for blasphemy in the history of Islam was carried out in 922 AD when the Persian mystic Mansoor Hallaj was excoriated for proclaiming An-al-Haq (I'm the god/truth), the Upanishadic equivalent of Aham Brahmasmi. Blasphemy or Tajdeef (Dharmninda in Sanskrit) is a very fluid and broad term in the context of Islam.
It includes kufra (sacrilege), shirk (from Arabic shirkat or inclusion), apostasy, ilhaad (atheism), munkir-e-zaat (naastic/non-believer), murtad (renegade), bifar (from classical Hebrew and Judaism), muneez (Arabic word for complete non-belief) etc. It's interesting to know how Judeo-Christian religious beliefs of Semitic set-up affected and interpolated Islam, the youngest of three Semitic faiths: Judaism/Christianity and Islam.
While studying Islam at Al-Azhar, Cairo, I'd often ask my Muslim professors whether the Blasphemy Act of Pakistan, introduced in 1967, Indonesia and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was just and within the ambit of Islamic theology and Shariah?
They were unanimous that it was not just un-Islamic, it was promulgated to settle the old scores! In other words, it had nothing to do with the pristine Islam propounded by Muhammad.
In fact, the Talmudic and Biblical traditions (Qazir-uft in Hebrew) were punishing apostates and blasphemers en bloc long before and after Islam. Obviously, that punitive spirit of 'senior' Semitic faiths percolated and seeped into the soul of Islam.
The world witnessed 9/11 and after that, the complexion and texture of all faiths (including Hinduism) underwent a sea-change. Muslims became extremely ghettoised following the globe-shattering demolition of twin towers in New York.
"A terrified community and a frightened race will always act in a religiously regressive and ultra-defensive manner, creating and concocting new paradigms which it thinks to be the answers to unprecedented issues threatening to engulf it (community/race).
The reason is to get back the estranged perceived 'glory' of the beleaguered group," observed Edward W Said in an article written for The Spectator, London, that later appeared in The Dawn, Pakistan.
Dr Said further explained this in terms of ultra-religious sensitivity or the proclivity to take umbrage at the slightest provocation because a relatively burgeoning faith is often very protective and also pro-active about its tenets. And Islam is the youngest of three Semitic faiths.
Prior to Islam, Judaism and Christianity also reacted and subsequently underwent a mellowing phase. Islam is still not into that cushioning phase or mellowing process. It, therefore, reacts violently and is often unsparing when anything is said or hurled at its escutcheon.
This is known as 'Cauldron Syndrome’ in the parlance of theological studies. Moreover, Islam's 'Cauldron Syndrome' has been amplified by its detractors to an exasperating limit and this irked the Muslims across the world.
The increasing Islamophobia across the globe further cornered Islam. The Persian maxim tang aamad ba-jang aamad (a cornered individual eventually reacts in a combative manner) applies here.
A threatened religion always acts in a violent manner and finds new and bizarre ways to establish its lost glory. This is a part of psycho-theological growth of a faith.
Moreover, Qur'an and Hadis (not Hadith; compilation of Muhammad's teachings) never mentioned death rap for Blasphemy. There's not a single verse out of 6,236 verses in the entire Al-Furqa'an that endorses death for Blasphemy.
Neither Muhammad's 7,275 teachings (compiled by Sahih Al-Bukhari) even remotely suggest death for Sacrilege or Blasphemy. Even Dawood's collection of 1237 sayings of Muhammad doesn't mention Blasphemy anywhere.
Muhammad himself pardoned 81 neo-Muslims and Jews for blasphemous proclamations. India's great Islamic scholar Maulana Shibli of Azamgarh (UP) categorically stated in Seerat-Un-Nabi (The Persona of the Prophet) that Muhammad and Islam never approved of any kind of punishment for Blasphemy.
Even when Salman Rushdie's blatantly blasphemous book The Satanic Verses hit the stands in 1989, Indian scholar Rafiq Zakaria condemned Rushdie but didn't bay for his blood. He cited verses from Qur'an which state that only Allah has the right to judge a person who has blasphemed.
Remember, the spirit of Islam is Ijtihaad (Arabic for theological inquiry) and as Al-Ghazali says: Sawalaat la-mahdood ast (Questioning is limitless) and only Allah can punish you if you've blasphemed as Ashraf-ul-makhlooqaat (the Supreme Sovereignty).
Today's exegetes and 'scholars' are not aware of the core of Islam (arq-e-Islam). They, therefore, insist on the death of the blasphemer/s, which's not just unfortunate but also an alibi, nay open invitation, for others to castigate Islam in no uncertain terms.
Finally, Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi's words sublimate the very idea of Islam and dilute, nay liquidate, the intensity of blasphemy: I'm able to love my god because he gives me freedom to deny him. I rest my case in favour of Islam and its perceived blasphemous bigotry.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.