The Grand Mufti of the Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO), Sheikh Dhikrullah Shafi’i has condemned the gruesome murder of Deborah Yakubu, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, describing it as inhumane and cruel.
Deborah was lynched and burnt over alleged blasphemous comments she made against the Prophet of Islam on a WhatsApp platform. Her killing generated heated and mixed reactions in Nigeria and across the world.
While saying blasphemy is a grievous and condemnable crime in Islam and virtually in all global legislations, Sheikh Shafi’i noted that the manner in which the killing was done is against the principles of Islam and the Shari’ah.
He stressed that Islam is foremost with regards to protecting the sanctity of life and on no account should any soul be taken illegally and extra-judicially. He said even when a person has committed a crime that deserves capital punishment, due process must still be followed.
Sheikh Shafi’i also condemned the manner in which some non-Muslims are hiding under the issue to attack Islam and Muslims.
The revered Islamic scholar who is also the an Imam of The Muslim Congress (TMC) gave his views (on the incident which has raised deep concerns) in a Friday Khutbah of May 13, 2022 at Da’wah Centre, Ijesha, Lagos.
Qur’an 5: 32 explained
Sheikh Shafi’i emphasised that Islam is against violence and wanton destruction of lives and property, saying on no account should any soul be taken unjustly.
“It is clear that Islam is free of violence and destruction of lives and property. It is a religion that does not condone unjust and reckless taking of souls. There is no religion that respects the sanctity of life and humanity than Islam.
When Prophet Adam (AS), the first mankind with his wife Hawwah started giving birth to children, they bore a set of twins (a male and a female) as established by scholars of history. The practice at the time was that the female of the first set of twins will get married to the male of the second set of twins, and vice versa. The twins who came together could not marry each other. That was the Shari’ah (law) then.
“It then happened that one of a set twins killed his counterpart which became a big problem because death had not been witnessed before then. He didn’t know how to deal with the corpse until Allah sent two birds that fought until one killed the other and then buried it with a view to demonstrate to the son of Adam how to go about burying the corpse of his brother. So, he followed the step of the bird and buried the corpse.
“In Suratul Maidah verse 32 where Allah narrated the incident, He said whoever takes the soul, not on the basis of retaliating a murder or a crime punishable by death, such is equivalent to taking the soul of all the people on earth. And whoever saves a soul from death, it is equivalent to saving the soul of all the people on earth. From this, it can be established that Islam respects the sanctity of life,” he said.
“Commenting on this verse, Sheikh Yusuf Al Qardawiyy enjoined people to pay special attention to how Allah mentioned a ‘single soul’. According to him, it means the soul could be that of anybody (male or female, rich or poor, leader or follower, believer or unbeliever). A soul is a soul, and Allah never makes any distinction between the soul of a believer and an unbeliever in the verse. This means that taking any soul in Islam unjustly is Haraam (forbidden).”
Call for investigation, verification
The Grand Mufti urged Muslims to always investigate matters before passing comments, saying verification of facts is a fundamental aspect of Islam.
The scholar noted that what the media reported about the incident was not entirely complete and true. Narrating an account of a Professor resident in Sokoto, he said:
“So many questions have been raised since the unfortunate murder of Deborah by her fellow students of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto. Those of us using social media must have seen the tension the issue generated. The video we saw was where her colleagues were torturing her, hurling stones at her till the point of death. This issue is what I intend to address as my Khutbah,” Sheikh Shafi’i said.
“Many spoke without necessarily investigating the matter. It is a popular saying that there is no smoke without fire, and if there is a fire outbreak, you don’t begin to talk about the outbreak but the cause and the solution to the outbreak. It is very necessary to find out the cause of the issue.
“As Muslims, one of the lessons for us is that whenever anything happens, we must thoroughly investigate it before passing comments. It is very unfortunate that today, many people rely on hearsays without making independent investigations. It is bad. In Suratul Hujuraat verse 6, Allah say, ‘O you who believe, when a faasiq (wicked soul) brings you an information, you should investigate it so that you do not react as uninformed’.
“On that unfortunate incident, many of us did not investigate. We were just passing comments. When people called, it was clear from their submissions that they did not seek proper understanding of the issue. On my part, I called a Professor who resides in Sokoto to provide an understanding of the issue before I made my comments.
“According to him, the lady (Deborah) belonged to a WhatsApp group with her colleagues. You know on WhatsApp, people sometimes carelessly post and share all sorts of messages. From the news flying around, we were made to know that the purpose of creating the group was for academics (to share past exam questions and so on). So, somebody posted something relating to religion to the group. The lady therefore complained about it to the extent of saying something that appeared to be insulting to the Prophet. This is what led to the crisis according to the information in the public domain.
“The Professor, however, said the story was not entirely complete. He said one of the officials in the school had been warning Deborah over her unguarded comments about Islam. She said it was not the first time but the victim remained adamant despite repeated warnings, asking her to be sensitive to her environment.
“The official said on that sad day, Deborah had sought refuge with the school security having realised that her fellow students had wanted to punish her. The security were initially able to protect her at first but were later overpowered when the students invited outsiders to join them. That was how they started beating her, stoning her to the point of death. That is the narrative from an insider.”
Mob action by the students condemnable
Sheikh Shafi’i, while addressing the congregation, said: “If you have paid attention to the development, you would have noticed that people viewed the occurrence from different perspectives. There are people who saw it from the religious angle, accusing Muslims of being violent and intolerant given that those who partook in the murder were Muslim youths. Those in this category are mostly Christians who have been attacking Islam and Muslims. We also saw some ignorant Muslims, especially in this part of our country (Southwest) who reduced the issue to a regional affair. They accused the Northerners of violence and destruction.
“So, what’s the Islamic perspective on this issue. First, the action of the students is not in line with the Islamic Shari’ah. They misrepresented Islam. There is no scholar that will okay their action. There is no responsible person that will approve of their action. There is no law that supports their action. So, those who participated in the murder, if caught, should be punished. The manner in which they pounced on her, beat her and burnt her is outrightly unlawful.
“Our country is guided by laws. It is not a lawless society. Islam does not allow taking laws into one’s hands, especially matters relating to life. We take such to the court and the constituted authorities. It is an invitation to chaos for individuals to take laws into their hands.
“However, we must recognise that those in the position of authority are not usually thorough in matters like this. That’s why people resort to self-help when it comes to handling crimes and criminals. Government must address this aspect. Recently, In Ijesha, Lagos, a few days ago, some individuals were also burnt. I didn’t know their offence. Why people take the law into their hands is because they lack trust in government to dispense justice. A situation where a criminal who is taken to the police station returns home before the complainants should be addressed. This is the kind of abnormal system we are operating, and government must address it.
Islam’s position on blasphemy
Sheikh Shafi’i, who spoke to Muslim News, noted that the statement attributed to him on blasphemy by Vanguard Newspaper and some blogs should be ignored, adding that it was not inclusive and thorough, as the media only picked at random what suited their narrative, ignoring his explanation on categorisation and procedures involved in implementing blasphemy law.
The Vanguard Newspaper only wrote that;
“The scholars of Islam differ on the penalties for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Meanwhile, nobody has the right to mete out any death penalty anybody on account of blasphemy in Nigeria, because Nigeria is not a Shari’ah nation.
“Example of countries that can exercise such penalty are Saudi Arabia, Quwait, Sudan and it’s the governments that have the right, not individuals or groups,” he added.
What Sheikh Shafi’i actually said about blasphemy:
“In Islam, there are some redlines that cannot be compromised. The first is Allah. Some years back, somebody wrote a piece titled, ‘Who is this Allah?’ You know the outburst and criticisms that greeted it. The second redline is the Qur’an. When Salman Rushdie wrote a book called ‘The Satanic Verses’, the Muslim world stood against him. I witnessed the sermon of the late scholar, Sheikh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory on Salman Rushdie’s case. He spent enough time to dissect the issue, espousing his views and those of global scholars on the matter.
“The third redline in Islam is Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In 2005 or 2006, there was this ‘humorous’ cartoon, a caricature of the Prophet in Denmark. The Muslim world stood up against it. At that time, Saudi Arabia boycotted Denmark. A Muslim delegation went to Denmark on the matter and Denmark later apologised. When a Pope made demeaning remarks about the Prophet (SAW) in Italy, it also became a major issue across the Muslim world.
“The other redlines are the three holy sanctuaries in Islam and the hijab. All these are highly revered in Islam. You dare not violate any of these without drawing the ire of the Muslims. But there are ways to confront such provocations.
“Nonetheless, Muslims should be aware of the implications of insulting the Prophet. During the time of Ibn Taimiyyah, an incident occurred. There was a Christian man called Assaf who insulted the Prophet. This became a problem and people brought it to the attention of Ibn Taimiyyah and Zaynu Deen. They later converged on a place called Darul Hadith where they agreed to report him to the deputy ruler. On their way, they met the accused person with an Arab and started discussing the matter with him. The Arab then made a statement that the accused person was better than the people which made them aggrieved. So, the crowd pounced on both of them to the extent that they sustained injuries.
“The deputy ruler heard of the case and was rattled by the action of the crowd which was led by Ibn Taymiyyah and Zaynu Deen. He therefore directed the punishment and incarceration of both of them. The accused Christian was later warned to desist from abusing the Prophet, while Ibn Taimiyyah and Zaynu Deen were also released. After his freedom, Ibn Taimiyyah wrote his famous book that analysed insulting the Prophet (SAW). It was not less than 600 pages. Scholars agree that whoever abuses the Prophet (SAW) is to be punished by death. Therefore, the punishment for insulting the Prophet (SAW) in Islam is death on conviction.
“However, there are procedures in carrying out the punishment. The accused person would be taken to the court of law and it is the duty of the authorities or competent court of law to make pronouncement and carry out execution.
“Scholars also established three categories of those who insult the Prophet (SAW). According to them, if the person is a Muslim and does not recant, he becomes a Kaafir and should be executed. If the person is a non-Muslim living in an Islamic state, he would also be executed on conviction, if he/she does not recant. Imam Abu Haneefah, however, differed on the ruling for the non-Muslim, saying he would be given a punishment other than death.
“The third category is a non-Muslim who is at war with Islam. According to scholars, such a rebellious blasphemer will be entitled to capital punishment. All these rulings are, however, applicable only in an Islamic state.
“It is a different case in a non-Islamic state like Nigeria. Nigeria is not a Shari’ah state, therefore, such ruling is not applicable here. We operate Common Law in Nigeria and the law of the land on blasphemy (which prescribed jail terms for blasphemers) must be respected.
“Therefore, the ruling on blasphemy against the Prophet (SAW) in Islam is as I have explained. Perhaps, the irate mob who murdered Deborah were aware of the ruling but were not aware of the procedures. So, they have no right to have summarily executed the lady. Even if we were in a Shari’ah state, she needed to have gone through proper prosecution and procedure; and the learned jury in the court would have to pronounce her guilty or otherwise, depending on many circumstances. And happily, since there are Shari’ah courts in most parts of the North, they could have taken advantage of that”.
Sheikh Shafii’ called on Muslims, especially in Sokoto, to remain calm and allow the authorities to deal with the matter accordingly, just as he tasked Muslim and Christian leaders to warn their followers on the dangers of crossing the redlines of other people’s faith or religion.
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