Mixed reactions have continued to trail the judgement of the Upper Shariah Court sitting at Hausawa in Kano State where a musician, Sharif Yahaya Aminu, was convicted for blasphemy.
Sharif, 30, who insulted the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) through audio statements as ”atheist, mushrik, who propagates shirk and whose position is lower than that of Inyass in the hereafter,” was on Monday, August 10, sentenced to death by hanging.
Expectedly, many netizens who barely understand the issues, context and implications of the case, have also taken to social media to vent their anger against the judgement. They are scattered around the new media throwing caution to the winds as they exert pretence to scholarly influence.
Accordingly, a flurry of reactions have been generated from this development, leading to three major divisions among observers, Muslim News findings have revealed.
The first division which consists of self-styled human rights activists, who are mostly Christians, dismissed the judgement as barbaric and archaic, forgetting that their Holy Book, the Bible, also apportioned death as the penalty for blasphemy (See Matthew 15: 4, Leviticus 24: 10-16). In fact, in Mark 3: 29, blaspheming the holy spirit is an unforgiven eternal sin.
The second division is made up of Muslims, who oppose the judgement, stating that the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition did not expressly accord a punishment for blasphemers, let alone death sentence.
In the third category are Muslims who strongly support the blasphemy law, saying that it is a verdict well established in the Islamic law. They also insisted that modernization should not stand in the way of religion as Allah’s divine law cannot be amended or reviewed.
Blasphemy law in Kano
First, before arriving at the position of Islam on blasphemy, there is the need to assess the influence of religion in the State in question, which is Kano. Is the Shariah law in application? Are the Muslims in majority?
Evidently, Islam is the main religion in Kano, the most populous state in Nigeria with the population of about 13.4 million people; mainly the Hausa/Fulani Muslims.
It is equally important to note that the Shariah (Islam law) is valid in the entire 44 local government areas even though it is neither applicable to nor affects the Christian minority from practising their religion as entrenched in section 38 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
Interestingly, the Kano blasphemy law is only applied by Muslims and the accused admitted before the Khadi (Judge) to have committed the offence. Where there is no law, there is no sin.
Apart from Kano, there are about 11 other northern Nigeria states that also use Shariah as a main body of civil and criminal law since 1999, because they are predominantly Muslims and their religion is Islam. They have Shariah courts in different parts of the States that adjudicate cases concerning the Muslim faithful.
In similar vein, there are some other States in Nigeria and the western world where Muslims are in the minority, and a non-religious or conventional law is what operates. For instance, there is no way Shariah law can be implemented in many South-South or South-Eastern states of Nigeria because these regions are predominantly peopled by Christians.
There are states in Nigeria where Muslims are in the majority, and the Shariah law is not in application. Lagos is a practical example and it would be recalled that the State Muslim Community in 2018 demanded for the establishment of a Shariah court, the request which hasn’t been granted till date.
Having established the aforementioned divisions and peculiarities, two of Nigeria’s legal systems, Shariah and Customary Laws, spelt out punishment for blasphemy.
According to Section 204, chapter 77 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code, under the title; Insult to Religion: “Any person who does an act which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
The Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law (2000), Section 382 says, “If blasphemy was against an ordinary person with no wider followership, the punishment is two years imprisonment. But when the blasphemy is against the Prophet (SAW) or his companions, the penalty is death, with appeal within 30-day.”
The law protects not only Prophet Muhammad (SAW), but all other Prophets and Messengers recognised by the religion of Islam, including Prophet Eesa (Jesus), Prophet Musa (Moses), among others, as further explained in Section 406 (1). The punishment is death.
The Supreme court also decided in the case of Abubakar Shalla Vs State (2007) 12 MJSC at page 52-53 paragraph G-B that the position of the Law under Shariah is that any sane and adult Muslim, who insult, defames, or utter words or acts which are capable of bringing into disrepute, odium, contempt of the holy prophet (peace be upon him) such a person has committed a serious crime which is punishable by death.
Evidence in the Qur’an
One of the arguments of Muslim critics is that there is no evidence for blasphemy law in the Qur’an. Muslim News can authoritatively confirm that not all Islamic rulings are expressly stated in the Qur’an. There are some rulings in the Qur’an that Allah only summarises them and their interpretation can only be found in the Sunnah of the Prophet (traditions) and the ijma (consensus or agreement of Islamic scholars). That’s why Allah says in Surah Nahl (16:44) that, “(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought”.
For instance, Allah only commanded the believers to establish salat (prayers) in Quran 2: 43 but it was the hadith (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad [SAW]) that specified the number of raka’at (movement during prayers) to be observed, it’s modalities, and requirements. Hence, it is not expected of the believers to accept one part of the rulings and reject others including the blasphemy law because they are not specifically mentioned in the Qur’an.
In Islam, respect for the Prophet (SAW) is duly enshrined. Allah abhors all steps that could be taken in bringing disrepute to the Prophet. For instance, in Qur’an 9: 61–66, Allah describes those who insult the Prophet (SAW) as unbelievers. They were Muslims, who were at the Battle of Tabuk, but addressed unbelievers only for mockkmg and ridiculing the Prophet. This is apostasy and according to the Ialamic rulings, the penalty is death .
Furthermore, Allah has cursed all those who commit blasphemy against His Messenger and His wrath is upon them in this world and hereafter. And He (Allah) has prepared for them humiliating punishment as firmly established in Qur’an 33: 57.
This is why, in Quran 48: 9, Muslims are commanded to revere and exalt the Prophet (SAW). This connotes that whoever fails to respect the Prophet, according to the shariah, has gone against the commandment of Allah.
Hadith of the Prophet (SAW)
There are also copious authentic ahadith that encourage death for those who insulted or denigrated Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In Sahih-ul-Bukhari, under the subject ‘Mortgaging’, Book 48, Hadith 3, Jabir bin `Abdullah narrated; Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “Who would kill Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf as he has harmed Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama (got up and) said, “I will kill him.” So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to Ka`b and said, “I want a loan of one or two Wasqs of food grains”. Ka`b said, “Mortgage your women to me”. Muhammad bin Maslama said, “How can we mortgage our women, and you are the most handsome among the Arabs?”. He said, “Then mortgage your sons to me”. Muhammad said, “How can we mortgage our sons, as the people will abuse them for being mortgaged for one or two Wasqs of food grains? It is shameful for us. But we will mortgage our arms to you”. So, Muhammad bin Maslama promised him that he would come to him next time. They (Muhammad bin Maslama and his companions came to him as promised and murdered him. Then they went to the Prophet (pbuh) and told him about it.
Also, Ali (R.A) narrates that a Jewish woman used to insult the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and say foul things about him, so a man strangled her until she died, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ruled that no blood money was due in this case.
The Prophet (SAW) sent few Ansaar for the assassination of Abu Rafy, the Jew, and appointed Abdullah bin Atiq as a lead. Abu Rāfy used to tease the Prophet (SAW) and helped the enemies of Muhammad (SAW). So, Kab bin Al-Ashruf, Umm El-Walad, Ibn El-Khatal, AbbuLahub, and number of other examples show that nobody can utter a single word against Prophethood and the Prophet (SAW) and if they were not ready to accept the real personality of Muhammad (SAW) and using irrelevance and abusive language against the last Prophet (SAW), definitely they were given a terrible punishment in form of death sentence.
In Sunan an-Nasa’i, under the subject, The Book of Fighting [The Prohibition of Bloodshed], Book 37, Hadith 105, ‘Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that: “There was a blind man during the time of the Messenger of Allah (SAW) who had an Umm Walad by whom he had two sons. She used to slander and defame the Messenger of Allah (SAW) a great deal, and he would rebuke her, but she would not pay heed, and he would forbid her to do that, but she ignored him.
(The blind man said) One night I mentioned the Prophet (SAW), and she slandered him. I could not bear it so I went and got a dagger which I thrust into her stomach and leaned upon it, and killed her. In the morning she was found slain. Mention of that was made to the Prophet (SAW) and he gathered the people and said: “I adjure by Allah; a man over whom I have the right, that he should obey me, and he did what he did, to stand up.”
The blind man started to tremble and said: “O Messenger of Allah (SAW), I am the one who killed her. She was my Umm Walad and she was kind and gentle toward me, and I have two sons like pearls from her, but she used to slander and defame you a great deal. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not pay heed. Finally, I mentioned your name and she slandered you, so I went and got a dagger which I thrust into her stomach, and leaned on it until I killed her. The Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: “I bear witness that her blood is permissible.” (Sahih).
Consensus of the Scholars
The aforementioned Qur’anic citations and Hadith are the rulings by ijma on blasphemy against the Prophet (SAW). They however came up with sets of rulings, first, to determine, if the blasphemer is a Muslim or not. Some opined to the generalisation of the punishment irrespective of religious affiliation, since they committed the same offence, while others set specific rulings for the accused persons based on their religious inclinations.
On page 54 of his book, entitled, “As-Sarim el Maslum ala Shaatimi r Rasul” meaning, the unsheathed swords against the one who insults the Messenger (SAW) as printed by Daar L Fikr, Imam Ibn Taymeeyah explained that a Muslim that insults the Prophet (SAW) turns an unbeliever, and must be killed. He concluded that this is the consensus of all the Islamic schools of thought, be it Maliki, Shafii, Hambali or Imam Hanifa, among others.
The outstanding scholar of the 13th Century, Ibn Taimiyyah’s book, which has been summarized into English, is the most comprehensive masterpiece that addresses different types of punishment for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was a single volume with about 500 pages.
So many other scholars of the old such as Ibn Mundhir, Imam Khataabi, Imam Muhammad Sannun, and the generality of Muslim Ulamah believe that a Muslim who insults the Prophet (SAW) has committed kufr (disbelief) and must be killed by the authorities under the Islamic law.
Scholars are however divided on the fate of a non-Muslim who has been found guilty of blasphemy. Imam Maalik, Imam Hambal and other scholars said he should be killed while other scholars posited that he wouldn’t be killed, but punished based on Shariah. Those who said he should be killed are in the majority.
Calling for review of Allah’s law?
There have been calls from some human right activists that the blasphemy law, and other Muslim penal codes including death by stoning for rapists should be reviewed or abrogated with claims they are archaic and not suitable and sensible in the 21st Century.
Several European countries have different kinds of laws that address heinous crimes
– such as sedition, defamation, invasion of privacy, blasphemy, the holocaust etc, that place limitations on freedom of speech, expression, in either written or audio formats.
Many of them, as originally stood, recommend the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy, to be precise, especially against God (gods) before the laws went through different kind of amendments, which are either, based on prison terms, fines, community services or suspended sentences.
In Great Britain, for instance, punishment for Blasphemy against Christ was death by hanging. It was later abolished and in new England of today, blasphemy is under common law and has been reviewed to either fine, imprisonment or corporal punishment.
India has a penal code that prescribes jail terms or fines for blasphemers and it has been used on several occasions including a man, Sanal Edamaruku, who was charged in 2012, for saying “The water dripping from a statue of Christ in Mumbai was not miraculous but the result of a badly plumbed toilet”.
There is also blasphemy law against holocaust denial in all European countries which was designed to protect inciting hatred against the Jews. In April 2019, Alain Soral, a prominent French anti-establishment activist who has promoted both far-right and far-left ideologies, was sentenced to one year imprisonment for publishing a cartoon that implied that the Holocaust did not take place.
Unfortunately there is always no expression of outrage in the media when the judgment the prosecution got were being executed in those countries but it becomes a big deal when the same law is to be applied in Arab or Muslim majority countries.
People of hate or without knowledge take advantage to lash out at Islam. Or; is it because, unlike in other places, blasphemers are condemned to death based on Islamic rulings? Is that the same reason some Muslims are disowning the law, and some calling for it to be reviewed? Would hatred against Islam be halted, if the Muslims decide to go the way of the West? Absolutely Not! Every religion has codes of conduct. Whoever wants to breach these codes, he/she must be ready to face the consequences.
In Islam, the law protecting the personality of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is among the permanent laws that cannot be changed with civilisation and modernisation, whether Muslims or non Muslims hate it. This law has always existed and it will continue to exist since Allah, the One who sent His Messenger has perfected His Deen (Islam) as firmly established in Qur’an 5: 3.
This law, and others are meant to allow man irrespective of their religion, race, complexion or tribe, must live and co-exist together peacefully. Of course, religion is very sensitive in Nigeria, hence, there is the need for laws and orders that will coordinate the affairs of the people. In fact, the law must also protect the idols and dieties of the traditional worshippers from blasphemy as firmly established in Qur’an 6: 108
“Individuals and groups including the media should be free to express their opinions without fear but that freedom should be limited because when it is uncontrollable, it may lead to chaos.” – Rasheed Abubakar, publisher Muslim News Nigeria
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