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The right to blasphemy, the Koran and exegetical jurisprudence

By Sami Bibi, academic and researcher with the international network Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP) at Laval University (Quebec-Canada)

The right to blasphemy, the Koran and exegetical jurisprudence
The savage murder of Professor Samuel Paty is a crime of absolute cruelty. This unspeakable crime has rightly aroused a great deal of indignation, both in France and throughout the world, on the part of all humanists, even when they may not agree with certain manifestations of freedom of expression.

In this regard, the majority of Muslims reject the use of violence, let alone murder, including those who have been deeply hurt by the cartoons of the Prophet. Indeed, many Muslims find the cartoons of the Prophet deeply shocking, including their use as an educational tool in the classroom.
What is more shocking is that some Muslims believe that the victim somehow provoked this despicable crime that cost him his life. The most extreme among them, the most rigorous Muslims, even go so far as to legitimise this despicable act. They see it as a "punishment proportionate to the seriousness of the crime" committed by the victim who, in their eyes, does not even deserve the title of teacher!

The question that legitimately arises in the face of this unspeakable crime is the following: is there an Islamic justification for this crime?
The answer to this thorny question depends on whether one refers to the Koran or to exegetical jurisprudence based on Hadiths attributed to the Prophet and written two centuries after his death.

What does the Koran say?

As surprising as it may seem, the question of blasphemy is dealt with very serenely and peacefully in the Koran. As we will see below, no coercive or violent human response is associated with blasphemy. Terrorists obviously use several Koranic verses to justify their rejection of the right of blasphemy and consider it an act of apostasy. The most commonly used verse in this regard is the following:
(65) Say: "Is it of God, of His verses and of His messenger that you mock?". (66) Do not apologize: you have indeed rejected faith after having believed. If We forgive one part of your people, We shall punish another for being criminals. Qur'an, S9 -V65:66.

Verse S 9-V66 clearly rebukes those who mock God, His message and His messengers. On the other hand, the God of the Qur'an does not exclude the possibility of forgiving some of these mockers, except those who were also criminals. Certainly, the same verse considers blasphemy as an act of apostasy. However, the Qur'an does not give any right to believers to punish apostates or non-believers, and this for a double reason. The first is that the God of the Qur'an has given us the freedom to believe and not to believe. This right is stated unequivocally in several verses in the Qur'an, including this one: And say: "The truth is from your Lord". Whoever wishes to believe, let him believe; whoever wishes to disbelieve, let him disbelieve". The Qur'an. S18 -V29.
The second is that the punishment of mockers or apostates is the exclusive monopoly of the God of the Qur'an :
Well, call back! You are only a reminder, and you are not a dominator over them. Except the one who turns his back and does not believe, then God will punish him with the greatest punishment. To Us is their return. Then it is for Us to call them to account. S88 -V21:26.
Whoever, then, takes the place of God in punishing apostates or blasphemers, thinks himself to be a God, which is true blasphemy!

Punishment is the exclusive responsibility of God

Returning again to verse S9 - V66 presented above, the verse most often invoked by terrorists to justify their infamies, it must also be noted that it does not indicate any coercive measures to be taken by believers against mockers. The only retaliatory measures that believers can take are non-coercive and clearly specified by verse 140 of Sura 4 :
In the Book, He has already revealed to you this: when you hear that people deny God's verses and mock them, do not sit down with them until they begin another conversation. Otherwise you will be like them. God will certainly gather together the hypocrites and the unbelievers, all of them, into Hell. Qur'an, S4 -V140.

The only answer to blasphemous words, writings or caricatures that the faithful must take is not to take part in them. As for the punishment of these acts, it is the exclusive responsibility of God.
Quite paradoxically, the behaviour of the late Samuel Paty was consistent with the spirit of verse S4 -V140. Apart from the fact that he was not the author of the cartoons of the Prophet, he had allowed the Muslim pupils not to take part in the discussion about the cartoons until he had undertaken another discussion .

With his heinous crime, the murderer of Professor Samuel Paty, like all those who have committed heinous crimes in the name of their deviant religion, have betrayed the spirit of the Book to which they claim to refer and the memory of the Prophet whom they believe they are defending. Even worse, the transgression of the injunctions of verse S4 -V140 only encourages blasphemous journalistic and artistic production. The reason is that freedom is a higher value than respect for the sacred: the former is the sole guarantor of the latter. Disproportionate responses to the violation of the sacred can therefore only produce the opposite effect sought by terrorists, while at the same time casting opprobrium on their entire religious community.

What does exegetical jurisprudence say?

Exegetical jurisprudence (the FIQH), based on certain statements abusively attributed to the Prophet (Hadiths) and elements of his conduct (the SIRA) are at the root of the violence of radical Islamists. This jurisprudence was elaborated several decades after the death of the Prophet in a political context dominated by the expansionist will of the Muslim empire, particularly during the period of the Umayyads and Abbasids.

Contrary to Koranic injunctions that guarantee freedom of belief (such as the verse S18 -V29 quoted above and many others), a Hadith attributed to the Prophet states that he was commanded by God to fight the unbelievers until they proclaimed the Muslim profession of faith: "I testify that there is no deity apart from God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God". Of course, this Hadith cannot be the work of the Prophet, unless one believes in a God who is incapable of appointing a Messenger who scrupulously respects his message recorded in his Book! By combining, on the one hand, this Hadith with verses S9 -V65:66 and, on the other hand, by declaring the lapse of verse S4 -V140 (abrogated by this same Hadith), the condemnation to death of apostates and blasphemers acquires the status of a divine injunction!

The failure to undertake a rational re-reading of Muslim law, by rejecting all laws that are not compatible with the spirit of verse S18 -V29, that are neither compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nor consistent with our times, is at the root of all the evils of a certain Islam that has strayed from its humanist values. Salafism is the result of a desire to bring the realities of the 8th and 9th centuries of an expansionist and conquering empire to bear on our contemporary realities.

It is notably this schizophrenia, this reading of the Koran with the glasses of the rigorist exegetical tradition, along with certainly other economic, political and social factors, that leads to today's terrorism. Some weak minds, often marginalised and uncultured, are seduced by these medieval readings presented as "the true religion". As the fourth well-guided Caliph of Islam and the son-in-law of the Prophet said, the Koran is not the problem because it does not "speak by itself". The problem is what the Koran is made to say, through made-up Hadiths, what it does not say. A revision of Muslim jurisprudence, supported by a rereading, a reinterpretation of the Koran consistent with the philosophies of light and of the 21st century, is necessary to recover the humanist message of Islam, of its Book and to honour the memory of its Prophet whose mission was, and still is :
And We sent thee only in mercy for the worlds." Koran. S21 -V107.
This work is the responsibility of every Muslim man and woman with regard to the first word revealed to the Prophet: LIS. Koran, S96 -V1.

Sami Bibi, academic and researcher

Tuesday, October 27th 2020

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