Blasphemy Roots, Punishment & RelevanceAs the world is changing, open to varied unclassified information, how long the Muslim society will continue to harbour the extreme beliefs and outdated concepts? As it happens, the madrasas are the hotbeds of radicalisation. The democratic countries now will have to plan out strategies to show the futility of these dogmas to the Muslim population, either naturalised for generations or influx of refugees. Then only there is hope of keeping away the instances of wanton killings. There is need to openly debate on relevance of some of these dogmas. India too is no exception.
Recent incidents by Islamic terrorists have shaken the world. Gory attack on the Military School campus in Pakistan where more than hundred and thirty students were mercilessly massacred by handful of terrorists in a span of few hours on December 16, 2014 followed by massacre of villagers by Boko Haram-a Nigerian Islamic terrorist outfit. Then came the killing of ten French satirical journalists associated with ‘Charlie Hebdo’ magazine followed by hostage drama and killing of the terrorists; and finally a Saudi Arab young man Raif Badavi flogged on January 9 (Friday) with first lot of 50 lashes out of total sentenced 1000 lashes to be executed over a period of 20 weeks; with lashing to take place on Fridays, a holy day for the Muslims.
The significant fact is that all those indulged in these heinous acts including the Saudi kingdom claim to be followers of Islam. Among these, all satirists of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ were considered apostates in the eyes of millions of Muslims for their satirical pictures who published caricatures of the Islamic symbols and personalities. It intensely angered the killer trioto such an extent they thought it fit to massacre journalists in their office in Paris. These were small outfits, however flogging of young man Raif Badawi has wider connotations. He was having a facebook account. He was running a liberal website proclaiming freedom of expression in the conservative kingdom. He was sentenced in last May to 10 years imprisonment, 1000 lashes and fine of 1 million Saudi riyals for. Raif’s flogging in public exposed the double standards adopted by the Saudi kingdom.
On one side it condemned the killing of French journalists on the other side it made a public show of the cruel sentence. These are the living examples of intolerance both at individual as well as at the organised and official level. While the non-Muslim world has moved away from these types of mediaeval punishment norms, and in almost all the non-Muslim countries including India the punishments of flogging and chopping of limbs are done away with, the Muslim countries have doggedly continued to execute these ruthlessly. These incidents have occurred very often and are executed in full view of public.
It is to be noted that only in the Muslim countries these types of mediaeval punishments are a matter of public show, participation and entertainment. Taliban have done flogging of the female victims very often. In some western countries relatives of the murdered person are allowed to witness the death sentence, but then the mood of the people witnessing it is of revenge, not of rejoice. It is in tune with the biblical dictum of eye for eye and life for life. But in the Islamic countries, these executions are open to public.
Christina Lamb, who spent years in Afghanistan, especially during the Taliban years, gives a very horrendous description of the wanton killings that went on for quite some time in a Kandahar Football Stadium in full view of Public in a Chapter “The Story of Abdullah” in her book “Sewing Circles of Herat” (Perennial, 2004). For the first time when I read the description, I was aghast. She describes that executions were held on the football ground with “baying crowds cheering on an execution”. She happened to come across a boy, Nida Mohammad cycling around.
This boy’s father had disappeared in the jihad. She checked with him, “Did you ever come to an execution?” “I’ve seen more than a hundred” he said proudly. “I used to come because it was entertainment…”. The description goes on. Talibans would announce on Radio the name of the victim and the time of execution. The person could be shot, hanged or sacrificed. Sacrifice meant a person would be laid back and like sheep, his chest would be slit open with long knife so that all the blood and guts spilled out. There are other details, which are not worth quoting here (Lamb pages 247-248).
Latest flogging of Raif was carried out in “a square outside a mosque in Jeddah, watched by several hundred who shouted Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and clapped and whistled after the flogging ended.” (The Hindu, January 13, 2013). For a normal human being say in India, open flogging will be anabominable event; he would leave the place, if not in position to oppose. But a crowd enjoying the hideous lashing really evokes the feeling of disgust in a civilised mind. But that is the way people in those countries enjoy. What can be the reason? In all these cases, the executioners or the witnessing crowd had made their mindset such that those who underwent punishment were ‘kafirs’ or had committed blasphemy and that they deserved the treatment mated out to them.
Roots of extreme punishment
Roots of the killings for blasphemy can be traced back to early years of Islam. After migrating to Madinah, Prophet Mohammad gathered enough followers who were prepared to lay their life for the Prophet. The major decisive victory to Islam, first in the history came after the battle of Badr. It was a landmark victory often eulogised by Muslims all these centuries. Before the battle of Badr, some residents of Madinah were inimical to Prophet. There were literate people who opposed him. The way their elimination was systematically undertaken by the neo-converts is described in biography of the Prophet, “The Life of Muhammad” by Muhammad Husyn Haykal, (pages 800, copyrighted in 1976, 8th edition.)
“When they (Muslims) returned victorious from Badr, Salimibn ‘Umayr took upon himself the job of getting rid of Abu ‘Afk, a tribes man of Banu ‘Amribn ‘Awf. The latter was a poet who composed verses disparaging Muhammad and the Muslims and inciting his own tribe to rise against them. Even after Badr, Abu ‘Afk still composed and disseminated abusive verse. Salim attacked Abu ‘Afk in his sleep in his own courtyard and killed him. Likewise, ‘Asma, daughter of Marwan, of tribe of Banu Umayyahibn Zayd, used to insult Islam and Prophet by encouraging bad feeling against the Muslims. The battle of Badr did not make her reconsider. One day, ‘Umayribn ‘Awf attacked her during the night while she was surrounded by her children, one of whom she was nursing. ‘Umayr was weak of sight and had to grope for her. After removing child from his victim, he killed her; then he proceeded to the Prophet and informed him of what he had done. When her relatives returned from the funeral, they asked him whether he had killed her, “Indeed so,” said ‘Umayr, “You may fight me if you wish. By Him Who dominates my soul, if you deny that she composed abusive poetry, I would fight you until you or I fall.” (Haykal page 243). No regrets have ever been expressed for killing a suckling mother.
After the battle of Badr, Prophet took over Makkah. The seventeen Makkans were exempted from general amnesty. “One of these men was ‘Abdullah ibn Abu al Sarh who once converted to Islam and wrote down the revelation for Mohammad, but then apostatised, returned to Quraysh (tribe in Makkah), and there spread tales about his falsification of the revelation. Another convict was ‘Abdullah ibn Khatal who converted to Islam, killed one of his clients, apostatised, commanded his two slave women, one of whom was called Fartana, to castigate Muhammad in song. Both the salve women were indicted and ordered executed with their master. …One of the slave women of ibn Khatal who used to castigate the Prophet in song (was executed). The other slave woman ran away, but was brought back and later forgiven (Haykal pg 411).
ISIS jihadists publicly executed 13 teenage boys for watching a soccer match, Asian Cup match, between Iraq and Jordan on TV.
ISIS threatens to kill two Japanese hostages unless Tokyo pays $200 million.
Islamic Sharia law in Somalia supports stoning to death, cross amputation, killing converts to Christianity and other barbaric ways.
The reality of Islam in all its hatred can be seen in Afghanistan, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and a few other nations, where converts from Islam face the death penalty. In January 2011 the Sunni Islamic fanatics killed a convert to Christianity and in true style the soldiers of Islam held down a Christian lady and slit her throat in front of many villagers.
It will appear that the Prophet brooked no dissent or entertained any type of criticism. It was the accepted norms not only in those days but till recently when Kings and the local chieftains ruled. Any type of dissent was considered to be act of reneging, leading to revolt and assassinations. The bloody feuds were common occurrences. Dissent meant precursor to bloody revolt. When these occurred in connection either with Prophet or denial of the Holy Quran, it acquired a darker colour. It became an act of apostasy or blasphemy. Precedence of capital punishment, killing was set for blasphemy right from the times of Holy Prophet. Anybody who indulged in the act of denial or raised criticism was considered apostate, labelled ‘kafir’ and came to deserve only one punishment of being eliminated, be it a man or a woman. Many Muslim countries including Pakistan have passed laws to treat acts of blasphemy.
In his article, Pakistani columnist Khaled Ahmad writes: “Article 295C, passed in 1986, is about insulting the Holy prophet (PUBH), and it hands down death as minimum punishment. For other offences, like the burning of the Holy Quran, you go in for life. Article 295C is anathema even to medieval jurisprudence, but Pakistani Parliament passed giving explanation: “Because if we didn’t legislate, pious people would kill without recourse to law,” which they do anyway”. Khaled Ahmad quoted two incidents where a pious bodyguard of Pak Minister Salmaan Taseer killed him point blank and “a Christian couple was burned to death in a Kasur town near Lahore on November 4 because a 50-strong mob of pious Muslims thought he had blasphemed under the Article 295C of the penal code” (Ahmad in ‘Indian Express’ dated November 26, 2014). The act of killing and burning then becomes act of holiness and piety.
Irrelevance of blasphemy punishments
In the 21st century that we live, there has evolved a socio-political system of democracy where there are supposed to be no royals, no family succession to the post of power, criticism as part of opposition, both political and social; common people, artists and gifted individuals can differ, criticise and demonstrate in open defiance of the authority. It is to be noted that open social systems, where even common man can seek redressal of the injustice made to him in the court of law. It is observed that these countries have made progress and achieved higher standard of living. As against these, the counties ruled by authoritarian system have lagged behind. As the world is changing, open to varied unclassified information, how long these Muslim societies will continue to harbour these extreme beliefs and outdated concepts? As it happens, the madrassas are the hotbeds of radicalisation. The democratic countries now will have to plan out strategies to show the futility of these dogmas to the Muslim population, either naturalised for generations or influx of refugees. Then only there is hope of keeping away the instances of wanton killings. There is need to openly debate on relevance of some of these dogmas. India too is no exception.
-Dr Pramod Pathak, (The writer is a Vedic Scholar based in Goa and a freelancer)