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Country-by-Country Blasphemy Laws in the Middle East

December 19, 2012 1 comment

Blasphemy is the perceived reproach, insult, or degradation — whether verbally, written, or through art — of God, or historical religious figures. In the Middle East, a complex legal web exists to prevent individuals from challenging the social, political, and religious status quo, and silence religious and intellectual dissent. These include:

  • Direct laws against religious conversion (apostasy) or insult (blasphemy);
  • National security laws aimed at preventing social “dissension,” or the disruption of national “unity;”
  • Laws that limit the religious worship of minorities to government-approved “houses of worship” (which disenfranchise religious converts who might not be able to gather officially);
  • Laws that prohibit “undermining” the tenets or teachings Islam, or direct proselytization to “entice Muslims away from Islam;”
  • Press laws that criminalize journalism that offends “religious groups” or incites “schism;”
  • And, perhaps most insidiously, the system of Islamic family courts, where the marriages, inheritances, and property of alleged apostates or blasphemers can be nullified, or confiscated (and where civil marriage does not exist, limiting marriage options to within religious communities, and forcing otherwise secular individuals to identify on the basis of religion).

Despite all of these being important, in this post, only direct laws related to blasphemy will be presented. Firstly, because there are more direct laws in the Middle East concerning blasphemy than there are about apostasy — however, blasphemy laws are used against converts from Islam. Therefore, blasphemy laws are indicative of religious freedom in general. Secondly, because blasphemy laws are insidious in that they are often expressions of personal conviction by normal individuals, directed towards intangible entities such as “the Divine Being,” or historical figures like “Prophets” — not entities that exist in reality today, or are above critical inquiry and criticism. Blasphemous actions are not manifested through violence, or have any tangible repercussions in reality, other than the speech, writing, or art that it is conveyed through. Thirdly, given that the laws focus on speech and writing — academic criticism, analysis, and commentary of historical fact can also be construed as blasphemy. Also, blasphemy laws cannot be reinterpreted, as in the case of national security laws. Finally, blasphemy laws are striking in the directness of their wording — literally, in many Middle Eastern countries you cannot “challenge the Divine being.” What impact does this have on things like science education? Necessarily, logical outcomes are ignored. This is not only unhealthy for social affairs, but something which impacts economic outcomes, and innovation potentials.

It is a dilemma that has not been resolved. While the region is no doubt moving towards a greater state of tolerance due to the forces of globalization, knowledge of the Middle East’s blasphemy laws is a necessity. Country-by-country blasphemy laws have not been collected in a single place, and translated with their original text. Some, such as Article 291 — Libya’s blasphemy law — have not been written about or referenced in English ever (and hardly in Arabic). Therefore, while this post will not be comprehensive (because freedom of religion entails much more than just blasphemy, as detailed above), the directness of blasphemy laws compared across countries can be a sobering reality of the progress that still remains.

Presented below are laws relating to blasphemy, from the penal/criminal codes of every Middle Eastern country. These will be followed by a short historical background.

Algeria

Art 144 bis 2: (Loi n 01-09 du 26 Juin 2001) Est puni d’un emprisonnement de trois (3) ans à cinq (5) ans et d’une amende de 50.000 DA à 100.000 DA, ou de l’une de ces deux peines seulement, quiconque offense le prophète (paix et salut soient sur lui) et les envoyés de Dieu ou dénigre le dogme ou les préceptes de l’Islam, que ce soit par voie d’écrit, de dessin, de déclaration ou tout autre moyen.

المادة 144 مكرر 2 : (القانون رقم 09-01 المؤرخ في 26 يونيو 2001) يعاقب بالحبس من ثلاث سنوات (3) إلى خمس سنوات (5) وبغرامة من 50.000 دج إلى 100.000 دج أو باحدى هاتين العقوبتين فقط كل من أساء إلى الرسول (صلى الله عليه وسلم) أو بقية الأنبياء أو استهزأ بالمعلوم من الدين بالضرورة أو بأية شعيرة من شعائر الإسلام سواء عن طريق الكتابة أو الرسم أو التصريح أو أية وسيلة أخرى

Article 144 (ratified June 26, 2001): It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.

Bahrain

مادة 309
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تزيد على سنة أو بالغرامة التي لا تجاوز مائة دينار من تعدى بإحدى طرق العلانية على إحدى الملل المعترف بها أو حقر من شعائرها

Article 309: A punishment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding BD 100 shall be inflicted upon any person who commits an offence by any method of expression against one of the recognized religious communities or ridicules the rituals thereof.

مادة 310
:يعاقب بالعقوبة المنصوص عليها في المادة السابقة
من أهان علنا رمزا أو شخصا يكون موضع تمجيد أو تقديس لدى أهل ملة
من قلد علنا نسكا أو حفلا دينيا بقصد السخرية منه

Article 310: The punishment provided for in the preceding Article shall be inflicted upon any person who commits in public an insult against a symbol or a person that is glorified or considered sacred to members of a particular sect; (or) upon any person who imitates in public a religious ritual or ceremony with the intention of ridiculing it.

Egypt

The Egyptian penal code is also applied in the Gaza Strip.

مادة 98 ( و ) :- يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تقل عن ستة أشهر ولا تجاوز خمس سنوات او بغرامة لا تقل عن خمسمائة جنيه ولا تجاوز الف جنية كل من استغل الدين في الترويج او التحبيذ بالقول او بالكتابة او باية وسيلة اخرى لافكار متطرفة بقصد اثارة الفتنة او تحقير او ازدراء احد الاديان السماوية او الطوائف المنتمية اليها او الاضرار بالوحدة الوطنية او السلام الاجتماعى

Article 98 (f): It is punishable by imprisonment for no less than 6 months, and no more than 5 years — or by a fine of no less than 500 pounds, and no more than 1000 pounds — anyone who makes use of religion in propagating, either by words, in writing, or by any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a divine religion or religious community affiliated with it, or damaging national unity.

Iraq

ﻣﺎدة 372 ﻳﻌﺎﻗﺐ ﺑﺎﻟﺤﺒﺲ ﻣﺪة ﻻ ﺗﺰﻳﺪ ﻋﻠﻰ ﺛﻼث ﺳﻨﻮات أو ﺑﻐﺮاﻣﺔ ﻻ ﺗﺰﻳﺪ ﻋﻠﻰ ﺛﻠﺜﻤﺎﺋﺔ دﻳﻨﺎر ﻣﻦ اﻋﺘﺪى ﺑﺎﺣﺪى طﺮق اﻟﻌﻼﻧﯿﺔ ﻋﻠﻰ ﻣﻌﺘﻘﺪ ﻻﺣﺪى اﻟﻄﻮاﺋﻒ اﻟﺪﻳﻨﯿﺔ أو ﺣﻘﺮ ﻣﻦ ﺷﻌﺎﺋﺮھﺎ ﻣﻦ اھﺎن ﻋﻠﻨﺎ رﻣﺰا أو ﺷﺨﺼﺎ ھﻮ ﻣﻮﺿﻊ ﺗﻘﺪﻳﺲ أو ﺗﻤﺠﯿﺪ أو اﺣﺘﺮام ﻟﺪى طﺎﺋﻔﺔ دﻳﻨﯿﺔ

Article 372: The following persons are punishable by a period of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or by a fine not exceeding 300 dinars:

Anyone who publicly abuses the beliefs of any religious community, or insults any of its rituals…
Anyone who publicly insults a symbol or person who constitutes an object of sanctification, glorification, and respect to a religious community.

Jordan

The Jordanian penal code is also applied in the West Bank.

المادة 273
من ثبتت جرأته على إطالة اللسان علناً على أرباب الشرائع من الأنبياء يحبس من سنة الى ثلاث سنوات

Article 273: Whoever summons the audacity to publicly speak out (lit. “extend his tongue”) against the heads of religion — the Prophets — is imprisoned from 1 to 3 years.

المادة 278
:يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تزيد على ثلاثة أشهر او بغرامة لا تزيد على عشرين ديناراً كل من
1- نشر شيئاً مطبوعاً او مخطوطاً او صورة او رسماً او رمزاً من شأنه أن يؤدي الى إهانة الشعور الديني لأشخاص
آخرين او الى إهانة معتقدهم الديني ، او
2- تفوه في مكان عام وعلى مسمع من شخص آخر بكلمة او بصوت من شأنه ان يؤدي الى إهانة الشعور او المعتقد
الديني لذلك الشخص الآخر

Article 278: It is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 3 months — or by a fine not exceeding 20 dinars — anyone who:

1. Publishes anything — whether it be printed, a manuscript, a picture, a drawing, or a symbol — that results in offending the religious feelings of people, or insult of religious belief.

2. Utters in a public place — that can be heard by others by words or voice — something that would lead to the insult of religious feelings or belief of others.

Kuwait

المادة 111
كل من أذاع، بإحدى الطرق العلنية المبينة في المادة 101 ، آراء تتضمن سخرية أو تحقيرا أو تصغيرا لدين أو مذهب ديني، سواء كان ذلك بالطعن في عقائده أو في شعائره أو في طقوسه أو في تعاليمه، يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز سنة واحدة وبغرامة لا تجاوز ألف دينار أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين

Article 111: Whoever broadcasts (i.e. communicates)…views including ridicule, contempt, or belittlement of religion or religious doctrine — whether it is to challenge beliefs, practices, rituals, or teachings — is punished with imprisonment for a period of time not exceeding 1 year, and a fine not exceeding 1000 dinars, or either of these two punishments.

المادة 112
لا جريمة إذا أذيع بحث في دين أو في مذهب ديني، في محاضرة أو مقال أو كتاب علمي، بإسلوب هادئ متزن خال من الألفاظ المثيرة، وثبت حسن نية الباحث باتجاهه إلى النقد العلمي الخالص

Article 112: There is no crime if this communication constitutes research of religion or religious doctrine, in discussion or for a scientific article or book, in a calm and balanced manner free of exciting words, and the good intention of the researcher is proven for scientific exchange only.

Lebanon

المادة 317- معدلة وفقا للقانون تاريخ 1/12/1954 والقانون 239 تاريخ 27/5/1993 كل عمل وكل كتابة وكل خطاب يقصد منها أو ينتج عنها إثارة النعرات المذهبية أو العنصرية أو الحض على النزاع بين الطوائف ومختلف عناصر الأمة يعاقب عليه بالحبس من سنة إلى ثلاث سنوات وبالغرامة من مئة إلى ثمانمائة ألف ليرة وكذلك بالمنع من ممارسة الحقوق المذكورة في الفقرتين الثانية والرابعة من المادة 65 ويمكن للمحكمة أن تقضي بنشر الحكم

Article 317: Every action, writing, and speech intended to produce religious sectarianism, racial strife, or incitement between communities and elements of the nation, shall be punished by imprisonment from 1 to 3 years, and a fine from 100 to 800,000 pounds, as well as prevention to exercise the rights outlined in Article 65 (the right to vote, practice public service, or hold office).

المادة 318- معدلة وفقا للقانون 239 تاريخ 27/5/1993
يتعرض للعقوبات نفسها كل شخص ينتمي إلى جمعية أنشئت للغاية المشار إليها في المادة السابقة

Article 318: The same penalties apply to anyone belonging to an association established for any of the reasons outlined in the previous article.

Libya

مادة ( 291 ) إهانة دين الدولة
كل من اعتدى علانية على الدين الإسلامي الذي هو دين الدولة الرسمي بموجب دستور ليبيا أوفاه بألفاظ لا تليق بالذات الإلهية أو الرسول أو الأنبياء يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تتجاوز السنتين

Article 291 (Insult of the State Religion): Whoever publicly abuses the Islamic religion — that being the official religion of the State under the Libyan constitution — with verbal terms not befitting for the Divine Being, the Messenger, or the Prophets, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

Morocco

While Article 220 of the Moroccan penal code forbids someone to “shake the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” (quiconque emploie des moyens de séduction dans le but d’ébranler la foi d’un musulman ou de le convertir à une autre religion), there is not a direct law concerning blasphemy. However, a 2002 amendment to penal code, concerning press laws, is the closest that exists, and probably reflects broad legal sentiment:

Le dahir n° 1-02-207 du 25 rejeb 1423 (3 octobre 2002) portant promulgation de la loi n° 77-00 modifiant et complétant le dahir n° 1-58-378 du 3 joumada I 1378 (15 novembre 1958) formant code de la presse et de l’édition, Bulletin Officiel n° 5080 du jeudi 6 février 2003 stipule dans l’article 41 ce qui suit :
« Est puni d’un emprisonnement de 3 à 5 ans et d’une amende de 10.000 à 100.000 dirhams toute offense, par l’un des moyens prévus à l’article 38, envers Sa Majesté le Roi, les princes et princesses royaux.
La même peine est applicable lorsque la publication d’un journal ou écrit porte atteinte à la religion islamique, au régime monarchique ou à l’intégrité territoriale.

Law 1-02-207, 25th of Rajab 1423 (October 3, 2002): It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and a fine from 10,000 to 100,000 dirhams for each offense, whoever, (insults) His Royal Majesty, or the royal princes and princesses.

The same penalty is applied to whoever publishes a journal, or writing, that undermines the Islamic religion, the monarchical regime, or the territorial integrity (of the state).

Oman

مادة ١٣٠ مكررا ً : يعاقب بالسجن المؤقت مدة لا تزيد على عشر سنوات كل من روج ما يثير النعرات الدينية أو المذهبية ، أو حرض عليها أو أثار شعور الكراهية أو البغضاء بين سكان البلاد

Article 130: It is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, whoever promotes or instigates religious or doctrinal sectarianism, or induces feelings of hatred between the country’s citizens.

المادة ٢٠٩ : يعاقب بالسجن من عشرة أيام إلى ثلاث سنوات أو بغرامة من خمس ريالات إلى خمسمائة كل من : ١- جدف علانية على العزة الألهية أو على الأنبياء العظام ٢- تطاول بصورة علانية أو بالنشر عن الأديان السماوية والمعتقدات الدينية بقصد تحقيرها

Article 209: It is punishable by imprisonment from 10 days to 3 years — or by a fine from 5 to 500 riyals — whoever:

1. Publicly blasphemes against the glory of God, or the great Prophets.

2. Targets, with public imagery or printing, divine religions and religious sanctities with contempt.

Qatar

مادة 256
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز سبع سنوات، كل من ارتكب فعلاً من الأفعال الآتية: 1- التطاول على الذات الإلهية أو الطعن فيها باللفظ أو الكتابة أو الرسم أو الإيماء أو بأي وسيلة أخرى. 2- الإساءة إلى القرآن الكريم أو تحريفه، أو تدنيسه. 3- الإساءة إلى الدين الإسلامي أو إحدى شعائره. 4- سب أحد الأديان السماوية المصونة، وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية. 5- التطاول على أحد الأنبياء باللفظ، أو الكتابة، أو الرسم، أو الإيماء، أو بأي طريقة أخرى. 6- تخريب أو تكسير أو إتلاف أو تدنيس مبان، أو شيء من محتوياتها، إذا كانت معدة لإقامة شعائر دينية لأحدالأديان السماوية المصونة وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

Article 256: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, anyone who commits the following acts:

1. Insulting or challenging the Supreme Being verbally or in writing, or with drawing or gesturing, or any other means.
2. Abusing, distorting, or desecrating the Holy Koran.
3. Offending the Islamic religion or one of its rituals.
4. Insulting any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.
5. Insolence towards any of the Prophets verbally, or in writing, drawing, gesture, or any other means.
6. Sabotaging, breaking, damaging, or desecrating buildings, or their contents, if they are used for celebrating the rituals of any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.

مادة 257
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز عشر سنوات، كل من أنشأ أو أسس أو نظم أو أدار جمعية أو هيئة منظمة أو فرعاً لإحداها، تهدف إلى مناهضة أو تجريح الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي، أو ما علم منه بالضرورة، أو إلى الدعوة إلى غير هذا الدين أو تدعو إلى مذهب أو فكر ينطوي على شيء مما تقدم، أو إلى تحبيذ ذلك أو الترويج له

Article 257: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, anyone who establishes, organizes, or runs an assembly, association, organization, or a branch thereof, with the aim of opposing or challenging the foundations and teachings underlying the Islamic religion. Or giving dawah (proselytization) to a religion other than Islam, or calling to other schools or ways of thought, concerning the preceding, or favoring or promoting it.

مادة 259
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز خمس سنوات، كل من ناهض أو أثار الشك في أحد الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي، أو ما علم منه بالضرورة، أو نال من هذا الدين، أو دعا إلى غيره، أو إلى مذهب أو فكر ينطوي على شيء مما تقدم، أو حبذ ذلك أو روج له

Article 259: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years anyone who antagonizes, or casts doubt on the foundations or teachings underlying the Islamic religion, or proselytizes to another religion, or to other schools or ways of thought, favoring and promoting it.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has no written penal code, and relies on interpretation of classical Islamic law. Punishment for blasphemy varies according to the four Sunni madhabs — the Maliki and Hanbali schools view it as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory, and repentance is not accepted. The Shafi’i madhab recognizes it as a separate offense, but accepts the repentance of blasphemers. The Hanafi madhab views blasphemy as synonymous with apostasy, and therefore, accepts the repentance of apostates. More can be learned in this post. In the wake of the Hamza Kashgari blasphemy case, it is clear that a more tolerant tone is prevailing in Saudi socio-religious discourse, with calls from many clerics to accept his repentance, and calls for “dialogue.” Shia Islamic views concerning blasphemy are in this post.

Sudan

المادة 125
من يسب علناً أو يهين، بأي طريقة  أياً من الأديان  أو شعائرها  أو معتقداتها أو مقدساتها أو يعمل على إثارة شعور الاحتقار والزراية بمعتنقيها،  يعاقب بالسجن مدة لا تجاوز ستة أشهر أو بالغرامة أو بالجلد بما لا يجاوز أربعين جلدة

Article 125: Whoever publicly insults or humiliates — in any way — any of the religions, their rituals, their beliefs, their sanctities, seeking to raise contempt for them, and antagonize their followers, is sentenced to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months, or a fine, or lashing not exceeding 40 strikes.

المادة 126
(1) يعد مرتكباً جريمة الردة كل مسلم يروج للخروج من ملة الإسلام أو يجاهر بالخروج عنها بقول صريح أو بفعل قاطع الدلالة
(2) يستتاب من يرتكب جريمة الردة ويمهل مدة تقررها المحكمة فإذا أصرعلى ردته ولم يكن حديث عهد بالإسلام، يعاقب بالإعدام
(3) تسقط عقوبة الردة متى عدل المرتد قبل التنفيذ

Article 126: He is guilty of the crime of apostasy, every Muslim who promotes (things) outside the pale of Islam, or professes them — by explicit, verbal expression, or by definitive indication. The offender in the crime of apostasy should have a period of repentance as mandated by the court, and if he insists upon his apostasy and does not accept Islam, he is punished with death. The punishment for apostasy is suspended when the apostate amends himself before the execution of the sentence.

Syria

المادة 307

1 ـ كل عمل وكل كتابة وكل خطاب يقصد منها أو ينتج عنها إثارة النعرات المذهبية أو العنصرية أو الحض على النزاع بين الطوائف ومختلف عناصر الأمة يعاقب عليه بالحبس من ستة أشهر إلى سنتين وبالغرامة من مائة إلى مائتي ليرة وكذلك بالمنع من ممارسة الحقوق المذكورة في الفقرتين الثانية والرابعة من المادة الـ 65.

Article 307: Every action, writing, and speech intended to produce religious sectarianism, racial strife, or incitement between communities and elements of the nation, shall be punished by imprisonment from 6 months to 2 years, and a fine from 100 to 200 lira, as well as prevention to exercise the rights outlined in Article 65 (the right to vote, practice public service, or hold office).

المادة 308

1 ـ يتعرض للعقوبات نفسها كل شخص ينتمي إلى جمعية أنشئت للغاية المشار إليها في المادة السابقة.

Article 308: The same penalties apply to anyone belonging to an association established for any of the reasons outlined in the previous article.

Tunisia

The Tunisian penal code does not appear to contain any reference to blasphemy by ordinary citizens. However, like most countries, Tunisia’s press code does contain prohibition of religious sectarianism.

Article 44: Est puni de deux mois à trois ans d’emprisonnement et d’une amende de 1.000 à 2.000 dinars, celui qui, par les mêmes moyens mentionnés à l’article 42, aura directement, soit incité à la haine entre les races, ou les religions, ou les populations, soit à la propagation d’opinions fondées sur la ségrégation raciale ou sur l’extrémisme religieux, soit provoqué à la commission des délits prévus à l’article 48 du présent code, soit incité la population à enfreindre les lois du pays.

Article 44: It is punishable by 2 months to 3 years imprisonment — and a fine from 1,000 to 2,000 dinars — whoever…incites hatred between races, religions, or populations, and spreads ideas based on racial discrimination or religious extremism.

United Arab Emirates

312 المادة
يعاقب بالحبس وبالغرامة أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين كل من ارتكب جريمة من الجرائم الآتية
1:الإساءة إلى أحد المقدسات أو الشعائر الإسلامية
2:سب أحد الأديان السماوية المعترف بها
3:تحسين المعصية أو الحض عليها أو الترويج لها أو إتيان أي أمر من شأنه الإغراء على ارتكابها
4:أكل المسلم لحم الخنزير مع علمه بذلك
فان وقعت إحدى هذه الجرائم علنا كانت العقوبة الحبس الذي لا يقل عن سنة أو الغرامة

Article 312: It is punishable by imprisonment and a fine — or one of these two punishments — whoever commits any of the following offenses:

1. Abuse towards any of the rituals or practices of Islam.

2. Insult of any of the divine, recognized religions.

3. Condoning or encouraging sin, publicizing it, or acting in a way that tempts other to partake in it.

4. A Muslim who knowingly eats pork.

If any of these are committed publicly, the punishment is imprisonment for no less than one year, or a fine.

315 المادة
يعاقب بالحبس وبالغرامة أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين كل من أساء إلى إحدى المقدسات أو الشعائر المقررة في الأديان الأخرى متى كانت هذه المقدسات والشعائر مصونة وفقا لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

Article 315: It is punishable by imprisonment and a fine — or one of these two punishments — whoever insults the rituals and practices of other religions, when they are protected by the rulings of Islamic law.

319 المادة
كل من ناهض أو جرح الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي أو ما علم منه بالضرورة أو نال من هذا الدين أو بشر بغيره أو دعا إلى مذهب أو فكرة تنطوي على شيء مما تقدم أو حبذ ذلك أو روج له يعاقب بالسجن مدة لا تزيد على خمس سنوات

Article 319: Whoever resists or defames the foundations or teachings of the Islamic religion, or what is essentially known of its doctrines, or vilifies it, preaches to other than it, or calls to a doctrine or (school of) thought related to these things, and favors and promotes it, is punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years.

Yemen

المادة(194): يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تزيد على ثلاث سنوات او بالغرامة:ـ
اولا: من اذاع علنا اراء تتضمن سخرية او تحقير الدين في عقائده او شعائره او تعاليمه
ثانيا: من حرض علنا على ازدراء طائفة من الناس او تغليب طائفة وكان من شان ذلك تكدير السلم العام

Article 194: It is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 3 years, and a fine, whoever:

1. Publicly broadcasts (i.e. communicates) views including ridicule and contempt of religion, in its beliefs, practices, or teachings.

2. Whoever publicly incites contempt for people or communities, thus disturbing public peace.

المادة(195): تكون العقوبة الحبس مدة لا تزيد على خمس سنوات او الغرامة اذا كان الدين او المذهب الذي نالته السخرية او التحقير او التصغير هو الدين الاسلامي

Article 195: The punishment shall be imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, or a fine, if the religion or doctrine that is the subject of ridicule, contempt, or belittlement is the Islamic religion.

المادة(196): لا يعد تحريضا او اغراء او تحسينا اذاعة بحث علمي في دين او مذهب في محاضرة او مقال او كتاب باسلوب علمي هادئ متزن خال من الالفاظ المثيرة وثبت اتجاه المؤلف الى النقد العلمي الخالص

Article 196: It is not considered incitement if such broadcasts concern scientific research of religion or doctrine, in the form of lectures, or an article or book, in a scientific manner that is calm, balanced, and free of exciting speech, and the intention of the author is confirmed as being sincere, scientific criticism.

المادة(259): كل من ارتد عن دين الاسلام يعاقب بالاعدام بعد الاستتابة ثلاثا وامهاله ثلاثين يوما ويعتبر ردة الجهر باقوال او افعال تتنافي مع قواعد الاسلام واركانه عن عمد او اصرار فاذا لم يثبت العمد او الاصرار وابدى الجاني التوبة فلا عقاب

Article 259: Anyone who apostatizes from the Islamic religion is punished with death, after a three day period for repentance. It is considered apostasy if statements are pronounced or actions done contrary to the rules of Islam, or its pillars, intentionally and with insistence. If intent or insistence is lacking, or if repentance is expressed by the offender, then there is no punishment.

Historical Background

Many of the blasphemy laws are found in sections of penal codes entitled, “Crimes Against Religion.” These include not just offense of religious sensibilities, but more often injunctions against disruption of religious services, and punishment for desecration of religious property. These can also include injunctions against disrespect for the dead, or graves. This organizational structure seems to have been borrowed from the Ottoman penal code (which influenced several modern Arab states). While the Ottoman code (promulgated in 1840, 1851, and 1858) does not overtly punish blasphemy, Articles 132-133 do cover interference with religious rituals. In this section, commentators on the Ottoman penal code have also included reference to blasphemy — despite the fact that the laws themselves do not reference it. It seems that despite not being in the legal text itself, the Ottomans did in fact punish blasphemy.

The following is a Greek translation of an Ottoman legal “circular” from 1886, instructing that blasphemers be secretly interrogated (rough and incomplete translation).

ottoman

Othōmanikoi kōdikes, ētoi syllogē apantōn tōn nomōn tēs Othōm, Demetrios Nikolaides, vol. 3, pp. 2463-2464

Order from the Ministry of Justice

Because the confidential orders conveyed on 24th Rebi-ul-Akhir 1280 by the High Porte, about the secret conducting of the examinations/inquiries carried out against those who dare utter blasphemy, they are limited to the greatest blasphemy (the Highest/Utmost God preserve) which is rarely uttered except by unclean ones against the glorious Prophet.

It is good and prudent for the interrogation of those unclean ones who dare utter this abhorrent blasphemy to be carried out in secret in the courthouses, and the papers/documents regarding it to be sent to the High Porte.

Because otherwise it is required that the interrogations are carried out secretly by the courts of those despicable ones who, “mutually insulting,” utter insults/hubris against the religion, the faith and the dogma and various other evil/foul expressions, and that they are imprisoned and punished without it being reported to the High Porte, but pertaining to those who dare utter the greatest blasphemy against the Prophet, the hearing alone of the relevant witnesses is not enough for the sentencing.

20 Sefer 1304, 4 November 1302

Conclusion

As detailed in the introduction, a full accounting of laws related to religious freedom entails much more than just laws relating to blasphemy. Nonetheless, blasphemy laws are unique in the fact that they are related to offense against intangible figures. The perceived blasphemy offenses often take the form of speech, writing, or art — and do injury to no one, except perhaps in “hurt feelings” here or there. But hurt feelings — any action that is manifested in speech or writing alone — does not warrant physical punishment. Words can only be met with words, and violence can only be met with violence. Words cannot be met with violence — and that is what blasphemy laws encourage and are all about. They are incongruous punishments that are used to silence intellectual freedom, and as long as they exist in the Middle East, true progress and potential cannot.

Categories: Religious Freedom

A Fiqh of Tolerance? Readings from the Hanafi Madhab

November 19, 2012 1 comment

While the contentions between Islamic law, tolerance and pluralism, and human rights are debated today — these questions have never been absent from Muslim scholarship or consciousness. Indeed, as Islam gradually spread to the East and West throughout its first centuries, and encompassed once diverse peoples and cultures, Islamic scholars were forced to confront the questions of tolerance, plurality, and coexistence. With the Koran, and other Islamic source material as their guides, they sought solutions for how to negotiate the religious, linguistic, ethnic, and intellectual pluralities of the newly-formed Muslim states. Often, the answers they came to had much more direct effect than they do in the world today.

Muslim jurists disagreed severely over how to interpret the diverse and often conflicting injunctions found in the Koran, the ahadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and words and actions transmitted from early Islamic communities. From the conditions of prayer, to criminal punishment, scholars sometimes came to radically different conceptions of issues that are considered important today: Apostasy, blasphemy, sexual impropriety, the limits of social coexistence, among others. This phenomenon, which is the defining feature of classical Islamic law, is termed ikhtilaf (lit. “disagreement”), and has been subject to a wide ranging literature throughout Islamic history.

Within this mix of legal views and reasoning, however, the opinions the Hanafi madhab — the earliest formal school of Sunni Islamic law, founded by Abu Hanifa al-Numan (d. 148 AH/767 CE) — stand out. An ethnic Persian born in modern-day Iraq, Abu Hanifa’s legal opinions (and those of his students) would come to be endorsed by the Abbassid caliph Harun al-Rashid, which served to propel his ideas across much of the eastern Muslim world. Later, Hanafi law was also officially endorsed by the Ottoman Empire. Today, followers of the Hanafi madhab predominate in Central and South Asia (including Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan), Turkey and the Caucuses, the Balkans, and parts of the Arab world.

Although official schools of Islamic law have been endorsed by formal states in Islamic history — more often than not, scholars often operated in a theoretical and educational capacity. Rulers, by and large, did whatever they wanted — regardless of the formalities and minutiae of Islamic law. While the details are different, much is the case today — by and large (though, with notable exceptions), Islamic scholarship operates in a theoretical realm. However, understanding how early Islamic scholars negotiated the topics of tolerance and plurality can help inform individual Muslim opinion today.

Of note, the Hanafi madhab endorsed the following ideas:

While these might seem like strange or trivial details, they have the ability to impact how modern Muslims think about and conceive of tolerance, plurality, and respect in the world today, and the implications of each of these points will be explored.

While the Hanafi madhab does endorse notions such as the stoning to death for adultery, sexual intercourse with slaves, among many other issues that do not accord with modern conceptions of human rights, I believe it is important to highlight some of these notable opinions related to Islam, equality, and social tolerance, as this topic is very much a reality today. While the majority of Muslims do not relate to their faith through the lens of classical Islamic law — and indeed are tolerant individuals in their own right — for a minority, this legal history is an important source of meaning and identity through which they frame their relations to others and society, and the world as a whole.

The Language of Prayer

Hanafi jurists permitted all forms of ritual worship in local languages, if the individual did not have sufficient command of Arabic (or even if he did, according to Abu Hanifa). This included: The call to prayer (adhan); the opening of the prayer (takbir al-ihram); the recitation of the Koran during prayer; the tashahhud at the end of prayer; the khutbah during Friday prayer and on the days of Eid; the testifying to the shahadatayn when converting to Islam; and the talbiya during Hajj.

While this likely was driven by practical considerations, a number of theological proofs were also advanced, specifically surrounding the nature of the Koran, and whether its miraculousness lay in its meaning, its composition (in Arabic alone), or both. Hanafi jurists concluded that the miracle of the Koran lay both in its composition, and meaning. While a native Arab would be able to comprehend both miracles, a non-Arab (largely focused on speakers of Persian, as this is where most Hanafi jurists lived and it was the language that a large number of non-Arab Muslims spoke) would still be able to understand the miracle of the Koran’s meaning in his own language.

They argued, even Arabs could not reproduce the Koran — and therefore its miraculousness lay in its meaning as much as its structure. Moreover, during the life of the Prophet, he had allowed non-local Arab tribes to recite the Koran in different ahruf (the seven recitations), as not all could speak in the dialect of the Quraysh. This represented an early concession to recite the Koran in different dialects, if it brings ease. And naturally, the Hanafis assumed, this would come to include other languages in total, as Islam spread.

Once this fact was established, Hanafi jurists also allowed the meaning of phrases to be substituted during worship. For instance, instead of the takbir al-ihram needing to consist of “Allahu Akbar” — any phrase that denotes the meaning of God being great could be used. Some even conceded that this was permitted in the call to prayer (adhan).

Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Shaybani (d. 189 AH/804 CE)Al-Mabsut

وقال أبو حنيفة إن افتتح الصلاة بالفارسية وقرأ بها وهو يحسن العربية أجزاه وقال أبو يوسف ومحمد لا يجزيه إلا أن يكون لا يحسن العربية

Abu Hanifa said: If the opening of the prayer, or recitation, is said in Farsi, and the (person) is proficient in Arabic, then (the prayer) is valid. And Abu Yusuf and Muhammad said: “That is not permissible unless he is not proficient in Arabic.”

Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Sarakhsi (d. 490 AH/1096 CE). Usul al-Sarakhsi

أن النبي عليه السلام بعث إلى الناس كافة (وآية نبوته القرآن الذي هو معجز فلا بد من القول بأنه حجة له على الناس كافة) ومعلوم أن عجز العجمي عن الاتيان بمثل القرآن بلغة العرب لا يكون حجة عليه فإنه يعجز أيضا عن الاتيان بمثل شعر امرئ القيس وغيره بلغة العرب وإنما يتحقق عجزه عن الاتيان بمثل القرآن بلغته، فهذا دليل واضح على أن معنى الاعجاز في المعنى تام، ولهذا جوز أبو حنيفة رحمه الله القراءة بالفارسية في الصلاة، ولكنهما قالا في حق من لا يقدر على القراءة بالعربية الجواب هكذا، وهو دليل على أن المعنى عندهما معجز فإن فرض القراءة ساقط عمن لا يقدر على قراءة المعجز أصلا ولم يسقط عنه الفرض أصلا بل يتأدى بالقراءة بالفارسية، فأما إذا كان قادرا على القراءة بالعربية لم يتأد الفرض في حقه بالقراءة بالفارسية عندهما لا لانه غير معجز ولكن لان متابعة رسول الله (ص) والسلف في أداء هذا الركن فرض في حق من يقدر عليه، وهذه المتابعة في القراءة بالعربية

The Prophet was sent to all of mankind, and a sign of his Prophethood is the Koran, and therefore it must be a proof for all of mankind. It is known that the miracle of the Koran in the Arabic language is not a proof for the non-Arab…and for this reason Abu Hanifa permitted recitation in Farsi during prayer…this is proof that the meaning of the Koran is immutable. The obligation to recite the Koran is not dropped from the one who cannot understand the (original) miracle, as he can recite in Farsi. So, if he is able to recite in Arabic, then (it does not suffice) to recite in Farsi. Not because it is not (also) miraculous, but because he must follow the Prophet and the salaf, and perform this obligatory pillar according to its right, and that is recitation in Arabic.

Another issue that seems to have arisen very early in Islamic history was the question of whether it was permitted to recite the Torah, Pslams (zabur), and Gospel (injeel) during prayer. Although this was rejected by Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Shaybani, the student of Abu Hanifa, it was endorsed by later Hanafi scholars. The mere idea that someone could recite non-Islamic scriptures during prayer shows the degree to which the societies that were absorbed into the Islamic milieu sought to cope with (or maybe subvert?) the demands of Islamic law, language, and worship. The early date at which this was adressed by al-Shaybani is notable.

Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Shaybani (d. 189 AH/804 CE). Al-Mabsut

قلت أرأيت رجلا قرأ بالفارسية في الصلاة وهو يحسن العربية قال تجزيه صلاته قلت وكذلك الدعاء قال نعم وهذا قول أبي حنيفة وقال أبو يوسف ومحمد إذا قرأ الرجل في الصلاة بشيء من التوراة أو الإنجيل أو الزبور وهو يحسن القرآن أو لا يحسن إن هذا لا يجزيه لأن هذا كلام ليس بقرآن ولا تسبيح

I said to Muhammad, “What is your view if a man recites in prayer in Farsi, but he is proficient in Arabic?” He said, “His prayer is valid.” I said, “And supplication (duaa) is like this?” He said, “Yes.” And this is the view of Abu Hanifa.

And Abu Yusuf and Muhammad said, “If a man recites in prayer something from the Torah, Injeel, or Zabur, and he is proficient in the Koran, or even if he is not proficient, this is not permissible. Because it is speech, it is not the Koran, or tasbeeh (remembrance of Allah).”

Masoud ibn Ahmad al-Kasani (d. 587 AH/1191 CE). Badai al-Sanai fi Tartib al-Sharai

و لو قرأ شيئا من التوراة أو الإنجيل أو الزبور في الصلاة إن تيقن أنه غير محرف يجوز عند أبي حنيفة لما قلنا : و إن لم يتيقن لا يجوز لأن الله تعالى أخبر عن تحريفهم بقوله : { يحرفون الكلم عن مواضعه } فيحتمل إن المقروء محرف فيكون من كلام الناس فلا يحكم بالجواز بالشك و الاحتمال
و على هذا الخلاف إذا تشهد أو خطب يوم الجمعة بالفارسية و لو أمن بالفارسية أو سمى عند الذبح بالفارسية أولبى عند الإحرام بالفارسية أو بأي لسان كان يجوز بالإجماع

If (someone) recites something from the Torah, Injeel, or Zabur in prayer, and he is sure that it is not a corrupted (portion), then that is permissible according to Abu Hanifa. And we say, if he is not sure, then it is not permissible, because Allah spoke about their corruption, “They change the words from their places” (4:46). So, there is the chance that these are the words of people (not Divine language), so it is not ruled to be permissible because of doubt and likelihood.

And if (someone) says the tashahhud, or the khutba on the day of jumah in Farsi, or performs a ritual slaughter (dhabiha), or responds (says labbayk) while in ihram in Farsi, or any language, then it is permissible by consensus.

Of course, this brings up the uncomfortable fact that the Koran, in addition to Muslim scholars, misunderstand what the Gospel is: It is the biographical writing of men who recounted the life of Jesus. It is not “divine speech” in any sense of the word. And if the “Gospel” referenced in Islamic sources consists of the words of Jesus that were contained in those biographies, then Muslims must be forced to admit that the early Christian community’s memory of Jesus’ life had not been “corrupted.” And, historically speaking, it is not difficult to prove that early Christians (the generation that wrote and retained the gospels) indeed believed Christ to be the theological son of God, and retained distinctly Christian (non-Muslim, as Muslims claim that Jesus only promoted tawhid) practices from the apostles and their followers. How Muslims are to relate to the earlier Abrahamic revelations is fraught with logical inconsistencies. This dilemma was expressed quite clearly by second-generation Islamic personality and scholar Hassan al-Basri (d. 110 AH/728 CE):

حدثنا يزيد ، عن حماد بن سلمة ، عن حبيب المعلم ، قال : سألت الحسن ، قلت : أعلم أولاد أهل الذمة القرآن ؟ ، فقال : ” نعم ، أو ليس يقرأون التوراة والإنجيل وهما من القرآن ” ، أو قال : ” وهما من كتاب الله عز وجل

Al-Hassan was asked, “Are dhimmi children taught the Koran?” He said, “Yes, do they not recite the Torah and Injeel, and they are part of the Koran?” Or he said, “And they are from the Book of Allah.”

— Al-Qasim ibn Sallam (d. 224 AH/838 CE). Fada’il al-Quran

It is also not realistic to obligate all humans to pray in a single language — this is irrational, and prohibits true communion with God. Memorizing fixed portions of a holy book to recite in a foreign language, multiple times per day does nothing to further one’s spiritual development. Which is why many Muslims memorize the Koran and recite it in prayer without understanding its meaning — which leads to strange social and cultural outcomes. While the Hanafis can be praised for their efforts, it must also be seen that they are only a minority — not only did they disagree with others, but also went to extreme lengths in their legal reasoning that betrays the early spirit of Islamic law and practice. Unfortunately, their reasoning on some issues — despite perhaps being enlightened — does not hold up under independent scrutiny (at least those on prayer). Despite their opinions on prayer, such an opinion, if expressed today, will be met with dissent and discord. And this is one of Islam’s tragedies.

Salvation Within Reach for All: Maturidi Aqeedah

Muslim jurists did consider “the other.” What happened to those who lived in the expanses of time before Islam, and in lands that clearly had no Abrahamic religious influence? Such people were known as ahl al-fatrah (the people of the ‘intermission’), and were usually considered to be those who lived between the time of Jesus and Muhammad, and did not have a Prophet to guide them (as Christ’s message had been distorted and could not be followed). However, by reason, it also has to include people who lived before Islam.

There are two competing views. One — held by the Ashari school of Islamic theology — is that such people will be “tested” on the Day of Judgment by God, and rewarded with heaven or hell accordingly. However, the other — pioneered by Hanafi theologian Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333 AH/944 CE) — holds that even if they had not been sent a Prophet or a religious message has not reached them, humans still have the capacity to contemplate existence, and come to believe in or reject God.

While this might seem harsh, if conceived of properly, this serves to imbue all humans with dignity and reason. Every human life is valuable, has the intellectual capacity to contemplate God, and the ability to make choices. The world is not simply divided into believers and non-believers, but rather is in a state of flux, and humanity is in a constant and everlasting battle to come to recognize God — even those humans who lived eons ago, and those on small islands or in jungles. Such a belief for the Muslim serves to theoretically connect humans together in new ways. According to al-Maturidi — the role of the Prophets was to work with such innate feelings, and make them externally clear to people.

Muhammad Amin ibn Abidin (d. 1252 AH/1836 CE). Radd al-Muhtar ala Durr al-Mukhtar

أصول الأشاعرة أن من مات ولم تبلغه الدعوى يموت ناجيا ، أما الماتريدية ، فإن مات قبل مضي مدة يمكنه فيها التأمل ولم يعتقد إيمانا ولا كفرا فلا عقاب عليه ، بخلاف ما إذا اعتقد كفرا أو مات بعد المدة غير معتقد شيئا

The foundation of law is that whoever dies, and the message of Islam has not reached him, is saved. However, the Maturidis said, whoever dies before he has time to contemplate, and does not have faith or disbelief, he is not punished. This is different from the person who disbelieves, or dies after sufficient time and (fails to) believe in anything.

Muhammad ibn Muhammad Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333 AH/944 CE)Tawilat Ahl al-Sunnah

وفي الآية دلالة أن حجة التوحيد قد لزمتهم وقامت عليهم بالعقل، حيث قال: { وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولاً }؛ فلو لم تلزمهم لكان الرسل إذا دعوهم إلى ذلك يقولون: من أنتم ومن بعثكم إلينا؟ فإذا لم يكن لهم هذا الاحتجاج دل أن الحجة قد قامت عليهم، لكن الله بفضله أراد أن يدفع الشبه عنهم ويقطع عنهم عذرهم برسول يبعث إليهم لما أن أسباب العلم بالأمور ثلاثة: فمنها ما يعلم بظاهر الحواس بالبديهة، ومنها ما يفهم [ويعلم] بالتأمل والنظر، ومنها ما لا يعلم إلا بالتعليم والتنبيه

As for the verse “We do not punish until we send a Messenger” (17:15), it is proof that tawhid (monotheism) is obligated by reason. If it was not, then when a Prophet was sent to call the people, they would say, “Who are you, who sent you to us?”…but Allah wanted to remove doubts from them, and eliminate any excuses, by sending them a Messenger…this is because some of them understand the apparent meanings of the senses; and some who do not understand through contemplation and reflection; while others do not learn except through education, and warnings.

According to some conceptions of this, not only God’s existence, but also morality could be sensed by humans without divine revelation, leading to the possibility of an Islamic conception of natural law.

The Jizya — Coexistence With All Religions?

There is no doubt that the Koran is a limited book. Largely, it is framed within a Judeo-Christian context (a limited one at that, with fragments of stories that can only be understood by recourse to outside material), and smattered with stories of local, Arab prophets. There is no mention of Hindus, Buddhists, or any other non-Abrahamic religion that pre-dates Islam (the “Sabians” and Zoroastrians are the exception). To some, this is indication that — besides Jews and Christians — the rest of humanity are basically no-good polytheists who the Koran doesn’t deem deserving of mention (as they are lumped together with polytheists in general), and are analogous with the Arab idol worshippers (mushrikeen) who Muhammad (and the Koran according to some interpretations) commanded to be fought with force until eradication. Perhaps they had been sent a prophet at some point, but largely they escape theological and legal codification. While some Muslims today might show tolerance towards these other non-Abrahamic groups, largely this is divorced from theological terms.

The question of “the other” — in realistic, non-theological terms — arose relatively early in Islamic legal discourse. Islam spread by the sword, and offered tribes, villages, and states three options: Accept Islam; retain your religion, and pay a submission tax (jizya); or, fight. While none of these options are good, if entities paid the jizya, they were allowed to live in peace within the Islamic state — with some restrictions on religious and social behavior. However, they would not be killed.

Therefore, what happened when the Muslim armies encountered diverse religious groups that were neither Jewish or Christian, nor Arab polytheists? The question arose as to whether they could pay the jizya, and live in coexistence in Muslim states, or, if they had to be killed, like the Arab polytheists.

The Hanafi and Maliki madhabs took the former opinion: Any non-Abrahamic religion, including non-Arab polytheists (and even those “with no religion”), could be offered the jizya, and live in peace within a Muslim society. The other madhabs, however, disagreed and claimed that only Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians would be eligible for the jizya. Everyone else would be forced to live in a theoretical state of war with the Muslims.

أخبرنا عبد الرزاق قال : أخبرنا ابن جريج قال : حدثنا جعفر بن محمد ، عن أبيه ، أن عمر بن الخطاب ، خرج فمر على ناس من أصحاب النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فيهم عبد الرحمن بن عوف ، فقال : ما أدري ما أصنع في هؤلاء القوم الذين ليسوا من العرب ، ولا من أهل الكتاب ؟ يعني المجوس ، فقال عبد الرحمن بن عوف : أشهد لسمعت رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يقول : سنوا بهم سنة أهل الكتاب

Umar ibn al-Khattab left (his house), and passed by a group of the companions of the Prophet, among them Abd al-Rahman ibn Auf. Umar said, “I do not know what to do with these people — the Magians (Zoroastrians) — who are niether Arabs, nor People of the Book.”

Abd al-Rahman said: “I testify that I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘Do with them what you do with the People of the Book.'”

— Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

According to this account, it was not until well after Muhammad’s death that Umar — the second Muslim caliph — knew how to intellectually relate to people of non-Abrahamic faiths. According to the Hanafis and Malikis, the Zoroastrians do not possess any type of book — therefore, by analogy, any group that does not have a “book” can nonetheless attain their legal status. However, the other madhabs — including the Twelver Shias — believe on the basis of other narrations that the Zoroastrians do have a book. Thus, they are legally protected, while other non-Abrahamic faiths are not. However, the more inclusive view was held by some early Muslims.

أخبرنا عبد الرزاق قال : أخبرنا معمر قال : سألت الزهري : أتؤخذ الجزية ممن ليس من أهل الكتاب ؟ فقال : ” نعم ، أخذها رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – من أهل البحرين ، وعمر من أهل السواد ، وعثمان من بربر

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124 AH/741 CE) was asked, “Is the jizya taken from those who are not People of the Book (ahl al-kitab)? He said, “Yes, the Messenger of Allah took it from the people of Bahrain, and Umar from the people of al-Sawad, and Uthman from the Berbers.

— Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

This historical notion was supported by Abu Yusuf, the student of Abu Hanifa:

Yaqub ibn Ibrahim al-Ansari (Abu Yusuf) (d. 182 AH/798 CE)Kitab al-Kharaj

وأما العجم فتقبل الجزية من أهل الكتاب منهم والمشركين وعبدة الأوثان والنيران من الرجال منهم . وقد أخذ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الجزية من مجوس أهل هجر والمجوس أهل شرك وليسوا بأهل كتاب وهؤلاء عندنا من العجم ولا تنكح نسائهم ولا تؤكل ذبائحهم
ووضع عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه على مشركي العجم بالعراق الجزية على رءوس الرجال على الطبقات المعسر والموسر والوسط
وأهل الردة من العرب والعجم الحكم فيهم كالحكم في عبدة الأوثان من العرب : لا يقبل منهم إلا الإسلام أو القتل , ولا توضع عليهم الجزية

As for the non-Arabs, accept the jizya from the People of the Book, the polytheists, and the idol worshippers among them. Because the Messenger of Allah accepted the jizya from the Zoroastrians of Hijr, and the Zoroastrians are polytheists (ahl al-shirk), and they do not have a book. And their women cannot be married, and their meat cannot be eaten.

And Umar ibn al-Khattab accepted the jizya from the non-Arab polytheists in Iraq…but as for the apostates, whether they be Arab or non-Arab, their ruling is the ruling of Arab idol worshippers: Nothing is accepted from them except Islam, or the sword, and they are not given the (option of) the jizya.

According to the Maliki jurist Ibn Abd al-Barr, this even extended to any type of disbeliever in Islam — even those with “no religion.”

Ibn Abd al-Barr (d. 463 AH/1071 CE). Al-Istidhkar

وقال الأوزاعي ، ومالك ، وسعد بن عبد العزيز إن الفرازنة ومن لا دين له من أجناس الترك والهند ، وعبدة النيران ، والأوثان ، وكل جاحد مكذب بدين الله عز وجل يقاتلون حتى يسلموا ، أو يعطوا الجزية ، فإن بذلوا جزية قبلت منهم ، وكانوا كالمجوس في تحريم مناكحهم وذبائحهم وسائر أمورهم

It was the opinion of Al-Awzai (d. 157 AH/774 CE), Malik (d. 179 AH/795 CE), and Saad ibn Abd al-Aziz…that whoever has no religion, from the races of the Turks (al-Turk) and the Indians (al-Hind) — and the fire worshippers and idol worshippers — and everyone who denies the religion of Allah, must be fought, until they convert, or they pay the jizya. If they offer the jizya, it is accepted from them. And they are like the Zoroastrians, in the prohibition of marrying their women, eating their meat, and other prohibitions.

This really gets to some fundamental questions: Are Muslims and Hindus — or Muslims and atheists — going to be studying together, and working together in mutual tolerance? Or, will they be theoretical enemies that there can be no peace between?

Hanafi jurists also maintained that it was possible to engage with non-Muslims within society, and partake in learning of the Koran, and even Islamic law. This is not only for dhimmis, but also warmakers (al-harbi) — which shows that such labels could be merely legal classifications, not indications of how people acted, or should be treated in reality.

في تعليم الكافر القرآن والسنة ذكر محمد عن أبي حنيفة أنه لا بأس بتعليم الحربي والذمي القرآن والفقه ولم يذكر خلافا

About teaching the non-believer (al-kafir) the Koran and sunnah, Abu Hanifa said, “There is no harm in teaching the harbi and the dhimmi the Koran, and fiqh,” and he did not mention any disagreement.

— Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 321 AH/933 CE). Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama

This also shows the dangers of classical Islamic law, and the phenomenon of ikhtilaf. Very basic theological disagreements — the question as to whether the Zoroastrians possess a “book” — can have an enormous effect on not only how Muslims conceive of “the other,” but how action is manifested towards others. The chasm between these two views is enormous, but rests upon minute theological differences. And that is not fair, and does not vouch for Islam’s truth. There are innumerable similar issues.

In the modern day — where there are Muslim-majority states such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, but notable religious minorities — this question has pertinence. While the jizya no longer exists, the example of the Hanafi madhab shows that Muslims, Jews and Christians, and people of all or no faiths, can theoretically live together in coexistence and with social tolerance, and that not only did scholars from the inception of Islam believed this to be possible, but it was the reality for early Muslim communities.

Equality in Qisas (Retribution)

In 1811, Arthur William Hodge — a British slave owner from the Virgin Islands — was hanged for the murder of one of his slaves. He is thought to be one of the only British subjects to have been sentenced for the murder of a slave — something that the law, and society, considered to be his own property. Such legal concerns must have been commonplace in the cultures where slavery was practiced — and this is also the case with Islamic law.

Overwhelmingly, Muslim jurists concluded that if a freeman killed his slave — he might be liable to pay blood money (diyah) in compensation to the next of kin, and (in some limited cases) might even go to jail, but he could never receive qisas (retribution in return). Not only was this inequality present between free men and slaves, but also between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Hanafi madhab, however, served as the sole dissenting voice.

Ahmad ibn Ali al-Jassas (d. 370 AH/981 CE)Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahawi fi al-Fiqh al-Hanafi, vol. 5, p. 360

مسألة : القصاص بين العبيد والأحرار
قال أبو الجعفر : والعبيدُ والأحرار في القصاص في الأنفس سواء
قال أبو بكر : الدليل على ذلك قولُ الله تعالى : يا أيها الذين آمنوا كتب عليكم القصاص في القتلى ، وذلك عموم في الكل

Issue: Retribution (al-qisas) Between Slaves, and Free Persons

Al-Tahawi said: Free and slave men are equal in retribution.

Al-Jassas said: The proof for this is the saying of Allah, “O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder” (2:178). And this is general for everyone.

Ahmad ibn Ali al-Jassas (d. 370 AH/981 CE)Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahawi fi al-Fiqh al-Hanafi, vol. 5, pp. 350-351

مسألة : وجب القصاص بين المسلم والكافر
قال أبو جعفر : والقصاص بين الرجل الأحرار العقلاء البالغين في الأنفس وما دونها، مسلمين كانوا أو كافراً، غير الحربيين
قال أبو بكر : أما الحجة في وجوب القصاص بين المسلم والكفر الذمة، فهو قوله تعالى : يا أيها الذين آمنوا كتب عليكم القصاص في القتلى

Issue: The Obligation of Retribution (al-qisas) Between the Muslim and the Non-Believer (al-kafir)

Al-Tahawi said: (There is) qisas for the taking of a life — between the free, sane man, and a Muslim, or non-believer — as long as they are not warmakers.

Al-Jassas said: The proof for the obligation of qisas between the Muslim and the non-believer who is a dhimmi is the saying of Allah, “O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder” (2:178).

Hanafi scholars relied largely on the general text of the Koran — which they claimed did not differentiate between the free, and slaves. They also relied to a lesser degree on earlier scholarly precedent, largely through the opinions of the Kufan predecessor to Abu Hanifa, Ibrahim al-Nakhai (d. 96 AH/715 CE) — who provides nearly the sole voice of dissent on these issues in early Islamic legal opinion:

عبد الرزاق ، عن أبي حنيفة ، عن حماد ، عن إبراهيم قال يقتل به إذا كان عمدا قال الثوري إن قتل عبده أو عبد غيره قتل به ، وهو قولنا

Ibrahim said: Kill him (the free man) if he intentionally (kills a slave). And Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161 AH/778 CE) said, “If he kills his slave, or another’s, then he is killed.”

— Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

عبد الرزاق ، عن الثوري ، عن منصور ، عن إبراهيم : ” أنه كان يرى قود المسلم بالذمي

Ibrahim believed in the retribution between a Muslim, and a dhimmi.

— Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

This also seems to have been the practice of the Umayyad caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (d. 99 AH/720 CE):

عبد الرزاق ، عن معمر ، عن عمرو بن ميمون بن مهران ، قال : شهدت كتاب عمر بن عبد العزيز قدم إلى أميرالجزيرة أو قال : الحيرة  في رجل مسلم قتل رجلا من أهل الذمة أن ادفعه إلى وليه فإن شاء قتله ، وإن شاء عفا عنه  قال  فدفع إليه فضرب عنقه ، وأنا أنظر

Umar ibn Mihran said: I testify that Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote to his deputy about the Muslim man who kills a man from the people of dhimma, “Give him to his guardian (wali), and if he wants, he can kill him, and if he wants, he can forgive him.” So, he turned him over to them, and they struck his neck, and I was watching.

— Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

While these prior precedents could perhaps serve as proof on their own — despite the more enlightened outlook of Hanafi scholars, their use of the Koranic verse in sanctioning “equality for all” is problematic. Despite this claim, the Hanafis still did not accede to qisas when a father or mother killed their own child. While this might seem obscure, all Islamic schools of law addressed this notion, and agreed upon it. This has pertinence today when we question the phenomenon of honor killings.

While the Hanafi view on these issues can show equality between Muslims and non-believers, there must also be a cognizance that the Hanafi treatment on retribution and murder has fallen short in some ways as well.

Non-Muslims Can Enter Mecca and Medina

Ahmad ibn Ali al-Jassas (d. 370 AH/981 CE)Ahkam al-Quran

وقوله تعالى : فَلا يَقْرَبُوا الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ بَعْدَ عَامِهِمْ هَذَا سورة التوبة آية 28 قد تنازع معناه أهل العلم , فقال مالك ، والشافعي : لا يدخل المشرك المسجد الحرام
وقال أصحابنا : يجوز للذمي دخول سائر المساجد

About the saying of Allah, “O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque” (9:28), there is a conflict between scholars. Malik and Shafi’i said: The polytheist (al-mushrik) does not enter the Masjid al-Haram. However, our companions (the Hanafis) say: It is permissible for a dhimmi to enter any masjid.

This was also the opinion of the Prophetic companion Jabir ibn Abdallah al-Ansari:

أخبرنا عبد الرزاق قال : أخبرنا ابن جريج ، أخبرنا أبو الزبير ، أنه سمع جابر بن عبد الله ، يقول في هذه الآية : إنما المشركون نجس فلا يقربوا المسجد الحرام : ” إلا أن يكون عبدا أو أحدا من أهل الجزية

Jabir said about the verse, “Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not…approach the Sacred Mosque” (9:28): Except if they are a slave, or anyone from the people of jizya.

– Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE). Al-Musannaf

Clearly, this has very little practical application, but it shows that some early Muslims accepted social diversity, even in their holiest cities. Moreover, Jabir’s saying affirms that mushrikeen were afforded dhimmi status and lived within the Muslim state during his lifetime.

Non-Muslim Blasphemers Are Not Liable to Be Killed

I have covered this topic extensively in my post here. Hanafi authorities conceived of blasphemy as a type of unbelief and apostasy. Given that non-Muslims were already unbelievers and could not apostatize from Islam, they therefore could not be punished for the offense of insult or blasphemy. However, according to Hanafi scholars — if the ruler were to make it a condition of their contract of dhimma (aqd al-dhimma), that the Prophet or Islam not be insulted, then that would be valid and a punishable offense. However, in countries where there is equal citizenship (like in Pakistan and Afghanistan today), this notion no longer applies.

Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 321 AH/933 CE)Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama, vol. 3, p. 504, #1652

قال أصحابنا فيمن سب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أو عابه وكان مسلما فقد صار مرتدا ولو كان ذميا عزر ولم يقتل

As for insult or reproach of the Prophet, our companions (the Hanafis) say: If he is a Muslim, then he has become an apostate, and if he is a dhimmi, then he is given a tazir, and not killed.

Female Apostates From Islam Are Not Killed

I have also covered this extensively in the same post. Acting on legal precedent from some early Muslim scholars, the Hanafis did not kill female apostates from Islam. If the reasoning for the death penalty for apostasy was due to merely changing one’s religion — then both men and women would be equally liable for punishment. However, the Hanafis conceived of apostasy as being linked to warfare, which exempted females from being killed.

Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi (d. 373 AH/ 983 CE)Mukhtalaf al-Riwayah, vol. 3, pp. 1298-1299

وعن ابن عباس – رضي الله عنهما – أنه قال : «لا تقتل المرتدة» ، ولأن كفر المرأة لا يساوي كفر الرجل في كونه داعياً مفضياً إلى الخراب فلا يساويه في استحقاق القتل لما عرف

It is narrated from Ibn Abbas that he said, “The female apostate is not killed.” This is because the unbelief of the woman is not equal to the unbelief of the man — which leads to (physical) devastation. So, she is not equal in the liability to be killed, as is known.

While the Hanafis ultimately did not take this reasoning all the way to allowing complete freedom of religion (as detailed in the post) this reasoning can help somewhat contribute to a modern understanding of Islam and freedom of belief.

Conclusion

I have studied Islam for the past 10 years, however, I have effectively stopped studying it. The posts on this website represent what I wanted to contribute to the public, state of knowledge with what I had learned. I felt this information might help people better see not only issues of Islam and tolerance — but also, the real and troubling contentions, shortcomings, and contradictions in Islamic scholarship. There are many more issues and a lot that could be said, but I think this is an effective sampling to communicate that, within a framework that can also advance tolerance.

Libya’s Blasphemy Law

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment

While Libya is in the midst of drafting a new constitution, and therefore the State’s posture towards religion and freedom of belief is not yet known — Libya’s penal code, incepted under King Idris in 1953, and largely retained throughout the Gaddafi era — like many regional penal codes, does punish insult of religion.

Unfortunately, Article 291 of the Libyan penal code does not seem to have been written about before, in any book or website…which is why it is now being written about here. Generally, Libyan penal law seems to be understudied.

So…short, sweet, here it is.

مادة ( 291 ) إهانة دين الدولة
كل من اعتدى علانية على الدين الإسلامي الذي هو دين الدولة الرسمي بموجب دستور ليبيا أوفاه بألفاظ لا تليق بالذات الإلهية أو الرسول أو الأنبياء يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تتجاوز السنتين

Article 291 (Insult of the State Religion): Whoever publicly abuses the Islamic religion — that being the official religion of the State under the Libyan constitution — with verbal terms not befitting for the Divine Being, the Messenger, or the Prophets, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

So, while other Arab constitutions or penal codes absolutely specify Islam as the religion of the state — Libya, to my knowledge, is the only one to so specifically invoke the notion of “state religion” in direct relation to religious insult. In case it was not clear, the “Messenger” (al-rasul) mentioned above refers to the Prophet Muhammad, and the “Prophets” (al-anbiya) refer to Abrahamic prophets held sacred by Islam.

And just so I can stretch out this post a little longer…a bit of historical background.

The original 1953 Libyan penal code addressed blasphemy and religious insult in two places: Articles 291 and 499. At some point (most likely under Gaddafi), Article 499 seems to have been removed, and its provisions combined with Article 291.

Here is how they originally read in the 1953 penal code:

Article 291 (Contempt of the State Religion): Whoever publicly attacks the Mohammedan religion which is the Official Religion of the State in accordance with the Constitution of the United Kingdom of Libya shall be punished by a penalty of detention for a period not exceeding two years.

Article 499 (Blasphemy): Whoever publicly utters unseemly expressions against the Divinity or the Apostle of God or the Prophets or things sacred to the State religion shall be punished by a penalty or fine not exceeding ten pounds.

Blasphemy, and religious contempt, were different offenses. So, it can be seen how these were combined. But a fine of ten pounds for blasphemy…interesting. And, as can be seen, the two years of imprisonment was retained.

Given the ability of penal law to outlast several forms of government, as in the case with Libya — and Libya’s new found religious orientation — it seems doubtful that this provision will change.

Short post, but hope I could be helpful.

Religious Freedom in Qatar

October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

While Qatar made positive headlines in 2008 with the opening of its first officially sanctioned church, freedom of worship for religious minorities, and expatriate or guest worker communities, is generally accepted in most Arab countries (Saudi Arabia being the sole exception). Despite this gesture of openness, however, Qatari law has several shortcomings when it comes to religious freedom. In this post, criminal laws relating to religious freedom will be explored, in addition to the law’s general posture towards Islam as the official religion of the state.

Worryingly, Qatari law prohibits proselytization of faiths other than Islam; punishes “insult” of religion; prohibits that any Muslim Qatari “challenge the Divine Being” verbally or in writing, or through art; and contains a clause to support the punishment of apostates from Islam. With its rising international profile and educated populace, without religious freedom and the ability to freely question and exchange ideas, the true state of Qatar’s development will remain a mirage.

Qatari Constitution (2003)

As with most countries in the region (Lebanon being the exception), the Qatari constitution affirms “Islam as the religion of the state,” and “Islamic sharia as the main source of legislation.” However, like most other regional constitutions, it also gives tacit respect to freedom and equality before the law.

مادة 1
قطر دولة عربية مستقلة ذات سيادة. دينها الإسلام، والشريعة الإسلامية مصدر رئيسي لتشريعاتها، ونظامها ديمقراطي، ولغتها الرسمية هي اللغة العربية وشعب قطر جزء من الأمة العربية

Article 1: Qatar is an independent Arab state, Islam is its religion, and Islamic law is its main source of legislation. It has a democratic political system. Its official language is Arabic. The people of Qatar are part of the Arab nation.

مادة 35
الناس متساوون أمام القانون. لا تمييز بينهم في ذلك بسبب الجنس، أو الأصل، أو اللغة، أو الدين

Article 35: All people are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination between them due to gender, ethnicity, language, or religion.

مادة 50
حرية العبادة مكفولة للجميع، وفقا للقانون، ومقتضيات حماية النظام العام والآداب العامة

Article 50: Freedom of worship is guaranteed for all, in accordance with the maintenance of public order and morality.

Qatari Penal Code (2004)

While most Arab states pay lip service to their cultural history by affirming Islamic law as the “main source of legislation” (when in reality, very little if any criminal law is usually informed by classical Islamic law), the Qatari penal code goes a step beyond this symbolic mention by enumerating the crimes that can be punished under Islamic law.

Article 1 of the penal code stipulates that Islam’s hudud punishments — those of theft, adultery, defamation, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy — are subject to Islamic law. Theoretically, this would mean that any Muslim Qatari convicted of drinking alcohol would be liable for 80 lashes (the Islamic punishment for alcohol consumption); adulters could be lashed, or stoned to death; and that apostates would be liable for the death penalty.

مادة 1
تسري أحكام الشريعة الإسلامية في شأن الجرائم الأتية إذا كان المتهم أو المجني عليه مسلماً:- 1- جرائم الحدود المتعلقة بالسرقة والحرابة والزنا والقذف وشرب الخمر والردة. 2- جرائم القصاص والدية. وفيما عدا ذلك، تحدد الجرائم والعقوبات وفقاً لأحكام هذا القانون، وأي قانون آخر

Article 1: The provisions of Islamic law for the following offenses are applied if the defendant or victim is a Muslim:

1. The hudud offenses related to theft, banditry, adultery, defamation, alcohol consumption, and apostasy.
2. The offenses of retaliation (qisas) and blood money (diyah).

While the specific mention of punishment for apostasy is disconcerting, nonetheless these pronouncements still seem to be largely paying lip service to cultural history. Hudud punishments are part of and parcel of Islamic law, and their mention might simply be an additional symbolic pronouncement. In spite of Article 1, public alcohol consumption is punished in Article 270 of the penal code with 6 months of imprisonment. Moreover, for adultery, Article 281 affirms that consensual intercourse between non-married adults can be punished with “imprisonment for no more than 7 years.”

While these penalties might seem stiff, they nonetheless are not derived from Islamic law, and contradict the notion in Article 1 that Islamic law has a real legal presence. Given this, it is hopeful that cases of apostasy would not be punished directly under Qatari law — as mentioned in Article 1 — although, the law does sanction the possibility of Islamic punishment for religious conversion.

Finally, Articles 256-267 of the penal code — in a section entitled “Crimes Related to Religion and the Inviolability of the Dead” ( الجرائم المتعلقة بالأديان والتعدى على حرمة الموتى ) — punish a wide range of perceived offenses against Islam, including: Proselytization, or association with or material support thereof; “insulting or challenging the Supreme Being;” and offending Islam or insulting Abrahamic prophets.

In much more detail than other regional penal codes, the laws in this section truly limit freedom of religion and speech in a comprehensive manner.

مادة 256
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز سبع سنوات، كل من ارتكب فعلاً من الأفعال الآتية: 1- التطاول على الذات الإلهية أو الطعن فيها باللفظ أو الكتابة أو الرسم أو الإيماء أو بأي وسيلة أخرى. 2- الإساءة إلى القرآن الكريم أو تحريفه، أو تدنيسه. 3- الإساءة إلى الدين الإسلامي أو إحدى شعائره. 4- سب أحد الأديان السماوية المصونة، وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية. 5- التطاول على أحد الأنبياء باللفظ، أو الكتابة، أو الرسم، أو الإيماء، أو بأي طريقة أخرى. 6- تخريب أو تكسير أو إتلاف أو تدنيس مبان، أو شيء من محتوياتها، إذا كانت معدة لإقامة شعائر دينية لأحدالأديان السماوية المصونة وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

Article 256: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, anyone who commits the following acts:

1. Insulting or challenging the Supreme Being verbally or in writing, or with drawing or gesturing, or any other means.
2. Abusing, distorting, or desecrating the Holy Koran.
3. Offending the Islamic religion or one of its rituals.
4. Insulting any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.
5. Insolence towards any of the Prophets verbally, or in writing, drawing, gesture, or any other means.
6. Sabotaging, breaking, damaging, or desecrating buildings, or their contents, if they are used for celebrating the rituals of any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.

مادة 257
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز عشر سنوات، كل من أنشأ أو أسس أو نظم أو أدار جمعية أو هيئة منظمة أو فرعاً لإحداها، تهدف إلى مناهضة أو تجريح الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي، أو ما علم منه بالضرورة، أو إلى الدعوة إلى غير هذا الدين أو تدعو إلى مذهب أو فكر ينطوي على شيء مما تقدم، أو إلى تحبيذ ذلك أو الترويج له

Article 257: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, anyone who establishes, organizes, or runs an assembly, association, organization, or a branch thereof, with the aim of opposing or challenging the foundations and teachings underlying the Islamic religion. Or giving dawah (proselytization) to a religion other than Islam, or calling to other schools or ways of thought, concerning the preceding, or favoring or promoting it.

مادة 258
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز خمس سنوات، كل من انضم إلى إحدى الجهات المنصوص عليها في المادة السابقة، أو اشترك فيها أو أعانها بأي طريقة مع علمه بأغراضها

Article 258: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years anyone who — with knowledge of its purposes — joins one of the parties mentioned in the previous article, or is involved with or helps them.

مادة 259
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز خمس سنوات، كل من ناهض أو أثار الشك في أحد الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي، أو ما علم منه بالضرورة، أو نال من هذا الدين، أو دعا إلى غيره، أو إلى مذهب أو فكر ينطوي على شيء مما تقدم، أو حبذ ذلك أو روج له

Article 259: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years anyone who antagonizes, or casts doubt on the foundations or teachings underlying the Islamic religion, or proselytizes to another religion, or to other schools or ways of thought, favoring and promoting it.

مادة 260
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز خمس سنوات، كل من دعا إلى عقد اجتماع بغرض مناهضة أو تجريح الأسس أو التعاليم التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي، أو ما علم منه بالضرورة، أو إلى الدعوة إلى غير هذا الدين. ويعاقب بذات العقوبة، كل من شارك في الإعداد لهذا الإجتماع أو اشترك فيه مع علمه بالغرض منه

Article 260: Anyone who calls a meeting with the purpose of opposing or challenging the foundations and teachings of Islam, or promoting another religion, is convicted to no more than five years in prison. The same penalty is imposed on anyone who participates in the preparation of the meeting or joins it being aware of its purpose.

مادة 261
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز سنتين، أو بالغرامة التي لا تزيد على عشرة آلاف ريال، أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين، كل من أحرز أو وحاز محررات أو مطبوعات أو تسجيلات، أو أي شيء آخر، يتضمن تحبيذاً أو ترويجاً لشيء مما نص عليه في المادتين ( 256 ) ، ( 259 ) من هذا القانون، بقصد توزيعها أو إطلاع الغير عليها. ويعاقب بذات العقوبة، كل من أحرز أو حاز، أي وسيلة من وسائل الطبع أو التسجيل أو الإذاعة تكون معدة لطبع أو تسجيل أو إذاعة نداءات أو أناشيد أو دعاية لمذهب أو جمعية، أو هيئة، أو منظمة، ترمي إلى غرض من الأغراض المنصوص عليها في الفقرة السابقة مع علمه بذلك

Article 261: Anyone who possesses documents, printed publications, recorded tapes, or any other thing favoring or promoting the stipulations in articles 256 and 259 in order to distribute them or reveal them to others, is punished by no more than two years in prison, to a fine of no more than 10,000 riyals, or to one of these two punishments. The same punishment is imposed on anyone who possesses any means of printing, recording or diffusing made to print, recording or diffusing calls, anthems, propaganda to a school of thought, assembly, association or organization aiming at one of the purposes stipulated in the previous paragraph.

مادة 262
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز ثلاث سنوات، وبالغرامة التي لا تزيد على عشرة آلاف ريال، كل من حصل أو تسلم أموالاً بطريق غير مباشر من شخص أو هيئة، داخل الدولة أو خارجها متى كان ذلك بقصد ارتكاب فعل من الأفعال المنصوص عليها في المادة ( 260 ) من هذا القانون

Article 262: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, and a fine not exceeding 10,000 riyals, anyone who receives money directly or indirectly from a person or an association inside or outside the state with the purpose of committing one of the actions stipulated in article 260.

مادة 263
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز سنة، وبالغرامة التي لا تزيد على ألف ريال، أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين، كل من أنتج، أو صنع، أو باع، أو عرض للبيع أو التداول، أو أحرز، أو حاز منتجات، أو بضائع أو مطبوعات، أو أشرطة تحمل رسوماً، أو شعارات، أو كلمات أو رموزاً، أو أي إشارات، أو أي شيء آخر، يسيء إلى الدين الإسلامي أو الأديان السماوية المصونة وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية، أو أعلن عنها. ويعاقب بذات العقوبة، كل من استخدم إسطوانات، أو برامج الحاسب الآلي أو شرائطه الممغنطة في الإساءة إلى الدين الإسلامي، أو الأديان السماوية المصونة، وفقاً لأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

Article 263: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, and a fine not exceeding 1,000 riyals or to one of these two penalties, anyone who produces or sells, or exposes for sale or circulation, or possesses products, merchandise, prints, or tapes including drawings, slogans, words, symbols, signals or anything else that might offend the Islamic religion or other divine religions protected under Islamic law. The same penalty is imposed on everyone who uses disks, computer programs, or magnetized tapes to offend Islam or other divine religions protected by Islamic law.

مادة 267
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تجاوز ثلاثة أشهر، و بالغرامة التي لا تزيد على ثلاثة آلاف ريال، أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين، كل من جاهر في مكان عام بتناول الأطعمة أو المشروبات أو غير ذلك من المواد المفطرة في نهار رمضان

Article 267: It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, and a fine not exceeding 3,000 riyals, or one of these two penalties, anyone who eats or drinks in a public place during daytime in Ramadan.

Qatari Press Code (1979)

المادة 47
:لا يجوز نشر ما يلي
و) كل رأي يتضمن سخرية أو تحقيراً لإِحدى الديانات السماوية أو أحد مذاهبها ، أو يساعد على إثارة النعرات الطائفية أو العنصرية أو الدينية)

Article 47 (f): It is not permissible to print any opinion that includes ridicule or contempt for any divine religion or doctrine, or that helps to incite community, racial, or religious sectarianism.

المادة 55
يحظر على البائعين المتجولين الترويج لبيع المطبوعات الصحفية عن طريق المناداة بأنباء كاذبة ، أو غير واردة في المطبوعة ، أو بما يخدش الأخلاق ، أو يتنافي مع الآداب العامة ، أو يمس الشعور القومي أو الديني

Article 55: Street vendors are prohibited from selling publications that carry false news, or promote coarse ethics, contrary to public morals that affect national or religious sentiment.

المادة 64
يجوز لإِدارة المطبوعات والنشر إصدار توجيهات للجهة أو الجهات التي تقوم باستيراد وتوزيع المصنفات الفنية في دولة قطر بقصد انتقاء المصنفات ذات المستوى الجيد فنياً واجتماعياً ودينياً وخلقياً وثقافياً ، وذلك حفاظاً على التقاليد والآداب العامة المرعية في دولة قطر وللاسهام في رفع المستوى الثقافي العام

Article 64: It is permissible for the Ministry of Press and Publication to issue directives to the parties that import and distribute artistic works in the State of Qatar that they select works with a “good level” artistically and socially; religiously, morally, and culturally; and that preserve the traditions and morals established in the State of Qatar, and contribute to raising the general cultural level.

Conclusion

Qatar seeks to play a larger regional and global role through education, sports, and politics. However, a cognizance of Qatari laws regarding religious freedom should be known by those in the West who seek to engage with it. Hopefully further global interconnection and engagement can catalyze a push for change.

Google Translate’s Khomeini Problem

September 13, 2012 1 comment

Although tagged under “religious freedom,” this post more aptly applies to freedom from religion.

Launched in Summer 2009, in the midst of the protests in Iran, Google Translate’s Persian service — as Farsi speakers can testify — leaves a lot to be desired. However, it is enough to roughly translate social media or blog posts, which is why it was rolled out when it was.

Strangely, however, it contains some quirks. While it is unbeknownst to me whether this is the product of human provenance, or a machine error, since discovering it last year it has continued to bother me more and more.

The problem? Google Translate Persian adds Islamic religious honorifics after the names of not only Khomeini, but also a host of Shi’ite religious figures.

Read more…

Categories: Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom in Bahrain

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

أن حرية الرأي والبحث العلمي والصحافة والطباعة والنشر وتكوين الجمعيات والنقابات لا يجوز أن تتضمن مساسا بأسس العقيدة الإسلامية، فالالتزام بأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية والأسس التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي الحنيف هو القيد الأساسي على ممارسة هذه الحريات والحقوق جميعها

It is not permissible for freedom — of opinion, scientific research, press, printing and publishing, and the association of groups and trade unions — to undermine the foundations of Islamic doctrine. Commitment to the provisions of Islamic law, and those foundations upon which the natural religion of Islam (are built), are the primary constraints on the exercise of these freedoms and rights.

Bahrain Shura Council, 2002

This post represents an effort to explore the state of religious freedom in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

While ample information exists concerning freedom of worship and the peaceful coexistence enjoyed by Bahrain’s immigrant and expatriate communities — for instance freedom of assembly at approved churches, and other houses of worship, in contradistinction to neighboring Saudi Arabia — little information seems to exist concerning the degree of religious freedom allowed to native Bahraini citizens. Specifically, the State’s legal posture towards Bahrainis of Muslim background who wish to convert to another religion, or leave religion altogether.

Does Bahraini law punish “apostasy?” Can Bahrainis who leave Islam voice their opinions in the public domain without fear of legal repercussion? Do Bahraini converts from Islam face imminent danger from local law, or their communities, justifying asylum in Western countries?

Cases

Given the dearth of information concerning cases of apostasy, the above questions seem difficult to answer. The sole exception I could find is the case of Maryam Yusuf, who eloped and married an Indian nearly 20 years ago (#2). According to the Times of India story, the Bahraini embassy confiscated her passport (effectively considering her an apostate for marrying a non-Muslim), leaving her in legal limbo in India. However, given the time that has passed since the alleged incident, and although worrying, it is difficult to know if this case represents how a Muslim apostate would be treated under Bahraini law.

Bahraini Constitution (2002)

While the Bahraini Constitution does have strong language supporting freedom of conscience, it is also infused with religious sentiments. While Article 2 stipulates that Islam is the religion of the State, the preamble goes beyond to assert, “The noble people of Bahrain believe that Islam brings salvation in this world and the next.”

Moreover, while freedom of speech is protected, it is under the condition that, “The foundations of Islamic doctrine and the unity of the people are not infringed, and schism or sectarianism are not aroused” (Article 23). Unfortunately, these overtures to religious discord and national unity usually point to possible restrictions on true religious freedom.

مقدمة دستور مملكة البحرين
ولقد انبثقت تعديلات الدستور من أن شعب البحرين العريق مؤمن بأن الإسلام فيه صلاح الدنيا والآخرة، وأنه لا يعني الجمود ولا التعصب، وإنما يقرر في صراحة تامة أن الحكمة ضالة المؤمن أينما وجدها أخذها، وأن القرآن الكريم لم يفرط في شيء

Preamble: The amendments to the Constitution proceed from the premise that the noble people of Bahrain believe that Islam brings salvation in this world and the next, and that Islam means neither inertness nor fanaticism but explicitly states that wisdom is the goal of the believer, wherever he finds it he should take it, and that the Qur’an has been remiss in nothing.

مادة 1
مملكة البحرين عربية إسلامية مستقلة ذات سيادة تامة، شعبها جزء من الأمة العربية، وإقليمها جزء من الوطن العربي الكبير، ولا يجوز التنازل عن سيادتها أو التخلي عن شيء من إقليمها

Article 1: The Kingdom of Bahrain is a fully sovereign, independent Arab, Islamic State whose population is part of the Arab nation and whose territory is part of the greater Arab homeland. Its sovereignty may not be assigned or any of its territory abandoned.

مادة 2
دين الدولة الإسلام، والشريعة الإسلامية مصدر رئيسي للتشريع، ولغتها الرسمية هي اللغة العربية

Article 2: The religion of the State is Islam. The Islamic Shari’a is the primary source of law. The official language is Arabic.

مادة 5
تكفل الدولة التوفيق بين واجبات المرأة نحو الأسرة وعملها في المجتمع، ومساواتها بالرجال في ميادين الحياة السياسية والاجتماعية والثقافية والاقتصادية دون إخلال بأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

Article 5: The State guarantees reconciling the duties of women towards the family with their work in society, and their equality with men in political, social, cultural, and economic spheres without breaching the provisions of Islamic law (Shari’a).

مادة 6
تصون الدولة التراث العربي والإسلامي، وتسهم في ركب الحضارة الإنسانية، وتعمل على تقوية الروابط بين البلاد الإسلامية، وتحقيق آمال الأمة العربية في الوحدة والتقدم

Article 6: The State safeguards the Arab and Islamic heritage. It contributes to the advancement of human civilization and strives to strengthen the bonds between the Islamic countries, and to achieve the aspirations of the Arab nation for unity and progress.

مادة 18
الناس سواسية في الكرامة الإنسانية، ويتساوى المواطنون لدى القانون في الحقوق والواجبات العامة، لا تمييز بينهم في ذلك بسبب الجنس أو الأصل أو اللغة أو الدين أو العقيدة

Article 18: People are equal in human dignity, and citizens are equal before the law in public rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination among them on the basis of sex, origin, language, religion or creed.

مادة 22
حرية الضمير مطلقة، وتكفل الدولة حرمة دُور العبادة، وحرية القيام بشعائر الأديان والمواكب والاجتماعات الدينية طبقا للعادات المرعية في البلد

Article 22: Freedom of conscience is absolute. The State guarantees the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings in accordance with the customs observed in the country.

مادة 23
حرية الرأي والبحث العلمي مكفولة، ولكل إنسان حق التعبير عن رأيه ونشره بالقول أو الكتابة أو غيرهما، وذلك وفقا للشروط والأوضاع التي يبينها القانون، مع عدم المساس بأسس العقيدة الإسلامية ووحدة الشعب، وبما لا يثير الفرقة أو الطائفية

Article 23: Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Every person has the right to express his opinion and publish it by word of mouth, in writing or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law, provided that the foundations of Islamic doctrine and the unity of the people are not infringed, and schism or sectarianism are not aroused.

After the 2002 update of the original 1973 constitution, the Shura Council — which drafted and ratified the articles — issued an “explanatory note” concerning amendments made, and the “rationale that led to them.” This memo of sorts paints in stark terms the fact that freedom of belief and speech is limited only to those things that do not contravene or undermine religion:

أن حرية الرأي والبحث العلمي والصحافة والطباعة والنشر وتكوين الجمعيات والنقابات لا يجوز أن تتضمن مساسا بأسس العقيدة الإسلامية، فالالتزام بأحكام الشريعة الإسلامية والأسس التي يقوم عليها الدين الإسلامي الحنيف هو القيد الأساسي على ممارسة هذه الحريات والحقوق جميعها

It is not permissible for freedom — of opinion, scientific research, press, printing and publishing, and the association of trade unions — to undermine the foundations of Islamic doctrine. Commitment to the provisions of Islamic law, and those foundations upon which the natural religion of Islam (are built), are the primary constraints on the exercise of these freedoms and rights.

Bahraini Penal Code (1976)

Bahrain’s penal code does not overtly punish apostasy from Islam. However, it does punish the ridicule of religion, or the harming of religious sentiments. Both being broad categories which could encompass free expression by Bahrainis who have left Islam. Article 310 has been used in sentencing Shia youth or clerics who have insulted Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

Moreover, Article 112 provides that “capital punishment be inflicted upon” anybody who commits an act threatening the country’s “unity” — another broad, catch-all concept that could be interpreted to include religious dissent, and was moreover centrally featured in the constitution.

مادة 112
يعاقب بالإعدام من ارتكب عمدا فعلا يؤدي إلى المساس باستقلال البلاد أو وحدتها أو سلامة أراضيها

Article 112: Capital punishment shall be inflicted upon any person who deliberately commits an act having the consequence of affecting the country’s independence, unity or territorial integrity.

مادة 309
يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تزيد على سنة أو بالغرامة التي لا تجاوز مائة دينار من تعدى بإحدى طرق العلانية على إحدى الملل المعترف بها أو حقر من شعائرها

Article 309: A punishment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding BD 100 shall be inflicted upon any person who commits an offence by any method of expression against one of the recognized religious communities or ridicules the rituals thereof.

مادة 310
:يعاقب بالعقوبة المنصوص عليها في المادة السابقة
من أهان علنا رمزا أو شخصا يكون موضع تمجيد أو تقديس لدى أهل ملة
من قلد علنا نسكا أو حفلا دينيا بقصد السخرية منه

Article 310: The punishment provided for in the preceding Article shall be inflicted upon any person who commits in public an insult against a symbol or a person being glorified or considered sacred to members of a particular sect; (or) upon any person who imitates in public a religious ritual or ceremony with the intention of ridiculing it.

Worryingly, in June 2010 the Council of Representatives and Shura Council passed an amendment to Article 310, criminalizing the practice of “witchcraft, sorcery, and divination.” While the text of the new provision states that it was enacted on both “scientific and religious” grounds — and, according to local media, belief in the power of magic is widespread in Bahrain, leading to abuse by fake “healers,” among other professions — the provision still represents a capitulation to religious hardliners, who view “sorcery” as disbelief in Islam. Worryingly, the wording of the new provision specifies a punishment of imprisonment, but does not specify a possible length. It is also not certain whether the wording of the law accedes to belief in such forces (as Islam does, viewing sorcery and magic as real phenomenon, but being forbidden), or if it dismissive towards the phenomenon as a whole.

يعاقب بالحبس والغرامة أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين كل من زاول على سبيل الاحتراف والتكسب أياً من أعمال السحر أو الشعوذة أو العرافة، ويُعد من هذه الأعمال الإتيان بأفعال أو التلفظ بأقوال أو استخدام وسائل القصد منها إيهام المجني عليه بالقدرة على إخباره عن المغيبات أو إخباره عما في الضمير أو تحقيق حاجة أو رغبة أو نفع أو ضرر بالمخالفة للثوابت العلمية والشرعية

It is punishable by imprisonment, or a fine — or both — anyone who professionally practices and earns a livelihood by any means from witchcraft, sorcery, or divination. And, through these acts or utterances, uses them as a means to delude the victim to inform him about the “unseen,” or to achieve a need or desire for benefit or harm, in violation of scientific and religious fundamentals.

Bahraini Press Code (Legal Decree 47, 2002)

Given the lack of clear laws concerning apostasy or religious dissent, press laws can be a good way to judge the degree to which intellectual dissent is allowed in a society. As with Article 23 of the Bahraini Constitution, the Press Code affirms the right to express opinion, through writing or other means, “provided that the foundations of Islamic doctrine and the unity of the people are not infringed, and schism or sectarianism are not aroused.”

Moreover, the government has the ability to prevent the dissemination of books, other publications, and films that are regarded as harmful to the public order, or religious sentiment.

مادة 1
لكل إنسان حق التعبير عن رأيه و نشره بالقول أو الكتابة أو غيرهما وفقا للشروط و الأوضاع المبينة في هذا القانون ، وذلك كله دون المساس بأسس العقيدة الإسلامية ووحدة الشعب ، وبما لا يثير الفرقة أو الطائفية

Article 1: Every person has the right to express his opinion and publish it by word of mouth, in writing or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law, provided that the foundations of Islamic doctrine and the unity of the people are not infringed, and schism or sectarianism are not aroused.

مادة 19
يجوز بقرار من الوزير منع تداول المطبوعات التي تتضمن المساس بنظام الحكم في الدولة أو دينها الرسمي أو الإخلال بالآداب أو التعرض للأديان تعرضا من شأنه تكدير السلم العام ،أو التي تتضمن الأمور المحظور نشرها طبقا لأحكام هذا القانون

Article 19: It is permissible for the Minister to prohibit the circulation of publications that include prejudice towards the system of rule in the government, or its official religion; breach of decency; or presentation of religion (in a way) that would disturb public order; or which contain things outlawed, in accordance with the provisions of this law.

مادة 20
يجوز بقرار من الوزير منع أية مطبوعات صادرة في الخارج من الدخول و التداول في المملكة وذلك محافظة على النظام العام أو الآداب أو الأديان أو لاعتبارات أخرى تتعلق بالصالح العام

Article 20: It is permissible for the Minister to prohibit any publications issued abroad from entering and circulating in the Kingdom, in order to maintain the (normal state) of public affairs, morals, religion, or other considerations of public interest.

مادة 24
تشكل في الوزارة لجنة تسمى ” لجنة مراقبة الأفلام السينمائية و المطبوعات المسجلة ” برئاسة مدير إدارة المطبوعات و النشر وعضوية ممثلين عن عدد من الوزارات ذات العلاقة يرشحهم الوزراء المختصون
وتختص هذه اللجنة بمراقبة الأفلام السينمائية وما في حكمها المعدة للعرض في دور السينما وكذلك المطبوعات المسجلة التي تحال إليها من الإدارة من النواحي السياسة و الاجتماعية و الصحية و الأخلاقية و الدينية

Article 24: Within the Ministry is constituted a committee named, “The Committee for Monitoring Registered Films and Publications,” headed by Director of the Department of Press and Publication, whose membership includes representatives from a number of relevant ministries nominated by the ministers concerned.

This committee shall monitor films, and the like intended for display in movie theaters, as well as publications in respect to politics, society, health, morals, and religion.

مادة 25
اللجنة المشار إليها في المادة السابقة أن تحذف من الفيلم المشاهد التي ترى فيها إخلالا بمقومات الدولة أو المجتمع أو الدين أو الأخلاق أو الآداب
و للوزارة أن تصدر إلى أصحاب دور السينما أو المسئولين عن إدارتها التعليمات و التوجيهات التي تستهدف الحفاظ على مستوى البرامج السينمائية ، دينيا وقوميا وخلقيا وفنيا ، ورعاية الآداب العامة في هذه الدور

Article 25: The committee referred to in the previous article (has the ability to) delete scenes from films which sees it as a breach of the components of the state, society, religion, ethics, or morals.

The ministry can issue to the cinema owners, or those responsible for management, instructions and directives aimed at maintaining the level of film programs — religiously, nationally, morally, and artistically — in order to care for public morals.

مادة 38
يلتزم الصحفي بالامتناع عن الانحياز إلى الدعوات العنصرية أو التي تنطوي على ازدراء الأديان أو الدعوة إلى كراهيتها أو الطعن في إيمان الآخرين أو ترويج التمييز أو الاحتقار لرأي طائفة م، طوائف المجتمع

Article 38: A journalist must be committed to refraining from propagating racism; the denigration of religions; from advocating hatred or challenging the faith of others; or promoting discrimination or contempt towards the spectrum of community groups.

Beyond the Law: Safety From Society

Outside of retribution through State apparatuses, converts from Islam must deal with two equally as powerful forces: Culture and religion. Culture, in terms of the general, unthinking social attitudes that favor conformity and non-questioning, rather than debate and critical thinking. A culture that values honor, pride, and reputation above all else, and is accompanied by a mindset that has shown it does not fear killing in order to maintain them.

However, in terms of religion, Bahrain presents particular challenges as well, which can threaten the health, safety, and well-being of religious dissidents in unique ways. Twelver Shia Islam — adhered to by a majority of Bahrainis — sanctions the extrajudicial killing of blasphemers, and in some cases, apostates. Given the posture of some segments of the Bahraini Shia community towards Iran and the Shia clerical apparatus, it would not be remiss to consider this a real concern for those who leave Islam from the Shia community. The threat of religiously sanctioned extrajudicial killing is real, and has been advocated by numerous Shia religious authorities, both past and present, who Shia communities worldwide, including that in Bahrain, look to for religious guidance.

Therefore, those who leave Islam from within the Shia community, on top of the scrutiny that might come from the State and local culture, face a profound threat from the religious apparatus that functions within their community, which could be an additional argument for the granting of asylum requests.

Conclusion

The state of religious freedom in Bahrain for those who choose to leave Islam remains unclear. Cases of apostasy tried by courts remain elusive to find.

However, it is clear that Bahraini law allows little room for social dissent, which in the eyes of judges and prosecutors will necessarily include expression of sentiments towards religion. Converts from Islam face not only an uncertain future in Bahrain, but also untested legal waters. Without freedom of belief, there is a limit to the dynamism and innovation that a society can display. By limiting their own citizens’ freedom of expression and religious association, Bahrain is limiting its future, and the potentials of many.

Understanding the Rushdie Affair: Blasphemy and Extrajudicial Killing in Shia Islam

This post is a modified version of my paper, originally published with Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Despite its multifaceted impact — on geopolitics, human rights, and ordinary lives — nearly twenty-five years on, the central impetus behind the Salman Rushdie affair remains unanalyzed.

Contrary to reflecting the whims of an individual, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against the author of The Satanic Verses — calling on “all brave Muslims of the world” to “kill him without delay” — was derived nearly verbatim from the writings of a millennium-old religious legal tradition, of which Khomeini was a lifelong student, and which informs the crux of modern Iranian law.

In this primer, for the first time in the English language, an introduction to blasphemy — perceived insult of the Prophet Muhammad — in classical Twelver Shia Islamic law will be presented. This survey will be divided into three sections:

  1. Fatwa Roots: The development of Twelver Shia theology and jurisprudence
  2. Classical Scholarship: A selection of classical and modern scholarly writings (including that of Khomeini) that advocate the extrajudicial killing of blasphemers, tied into modern Iranian penal law
  3. The Future: Legal reform in Iran, with an emphasis on the efforts of Ayatullah Yusuf Saanei

This analysis is not intended to be comprehensive (in any facet), but rather to fill gaps in the English-language, public knowledge of the topic. It is my hope that this will contribute to better understanding the contours of this historical event, and human rights abuses that continue to emanate from Iran.

Fatwa Roots: The Development of Twelver Shia Law

إن رجلا من هذيل كان يسب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله فبلغ ذلك النبي صلى الله عليه وآله فقال: من لهذا، فقام رجلان من الانصار فقالا: نحن يا رسول الله فانطلقا حتى أتيا عربة فسألا عنه فإذا هو يتلقى غنمه فلحقاه بين أهله وغنمه فلم يسلما عليه فقال: من أنتما وما اسمكما؟ فقالا له: أنت فلان بن فلان؟ فقال: نعم، فنزلا وضربا عنقه، قال محمد بن مسلم: فقلت لابي جعفر عليه السلام: أرأيت لو أن رجلا الآن سب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله أيقتل؟ قال: إن لم تخف على نفسك فاقتله

A man from the Hudhayl tribe used to insult the Messenger of Allah. When this reached him, he said, “Who is for this?” Two men from the Ansar stood and said, “We are, O Messenger of Allah.”

So, they set off until they reached Araba. They inquired about the man, and learned that he was herding his sheep. They caught up to him while he was in the company of his family, and his sheep, and did not greet him.

He said, “Who are you? What are your names?” They said, “Are you so-and-so, son of so-and-so?”  “Yes.” They then descended upon him and struck his neck.

Muhammad ibn Muslim then said to Abu Jafar, “What is your view if someone today insults the Prophet? Is he killed?” He replied, “If you do not fear for yourself, then kill him.” 1

— Al-Kafi, vol. 7, p. 267, #33
Tadhib al-Ahkam, vol. 10, p. 85, #98

This account, while describing an event from Muhammad’s life, was imparted nearly 100 years after his death. In addition to the Koran — the direct revelation from God to Muhammad — early Muslims also sought to preserve his words and actions, as a dual source of religious law and guidance. Collectively known as the sunnah (lit. way), such historical accounts were eagerly sought by learned men within the burgeoning Islamic milieu — many of whom traveled vast distances to seek out the last of Muhammad’s living companions, or those who had similarly learned from them. These accounts would in-turn be passed on to successive generations in the same manner, eventually to be compiled 150-400 years after the birth of Islam, into what today are generally known as books of hadith (lit. report, narrative).

However, in contradistinction to the view that the sunnah — knowledge of Muhammad’s words and actions — was interspersed throughout the early Muslim community, to be scavenged and collected, other views persist. According to some schools of speculative theology that arose during this period, this knowledge was instead embodied within a living individual — an infallible guide who inherited divine prerogative to religiously and politically succeed Muhammad after his death, and could authoritatively impart his teachings. For a number of theological and political movements, such a guide could be found within the ranks of Muhammad’s own familial descendants. Today, few such minority groups remain within Islam, the Twelver Shia — concentrated in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Pakistan — the largest among them. Accordingly, Twelver Shia theology posits a lineage of twelve Imams (lit. leaders), tasked with guiding the Muslim community. The last of these, the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is thought to be alive, but in a state of ghaybah, or “occultation,” since 255 AH (869 CE), and will reappear at the end of the world to guide the community once more.

While the Imams were indeed historical figures whose familial status and connection to Muhammad’s legacy ensured them a level of social and scholarly repute, Twelver Shia theology postulates that they also maintained a select group of inner companions, who, like their counterparts in the general Muslim community, received accounts of Muhammad’s sunnah through their innate and inherited knowledge. By around 300 AH (912 CE), the first formative books of Twelver Shia praxis and law had developed, to this day serving as a claim to Muhammad’s intellectual inheritance.

History, Brought Full Circle

It is within this context that the above account can best be understood. It details an exchange between the Fifth Shia Imam (a great-great grandson of Muhammad), Muhammad ibn Ali al-Baqir — also known as “Abu Jafar” — and one of his closest students. After imparting the story of Muhammad’s order to execute the man who had insulted him (the nature of which is never specified), al-Baqir is then asked a question: “What if someone today does this? Is he killed?” The response: In lam takhaf ala nafsika faqtulhu — “If you do not fear for yourself, then kill him.”

While al-Baqir lived in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city, the Shia were predominately situated in Kufa, modern day Iraq, and would visit him during the Hajj season to seek religious counsel. At this time, most of the Islamic world, including both Medina and Kufa, were under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate — a government which minted currency, conducted war and diplomacy, and had a system of justice and representation which extended to the local level. By rejecting recourse to the law, al-Baqir establishes a dangerously irrational precedent: Independent of one’s state or government, and absent of any legal mechanism, execution for blasphemy is a personal duty that can be carried out anywhere.

This account would later be recorded in two of Shia Islam’s most prominent early books of hadith and legal literature: Al-Kafi, by Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni (d. 329 AH/940 CE), and Tadhib al-Ahkam, by Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Tusi (d. 460 AH/1067 CE). Its content, reinforced by centuries of scholarly commentary, would be incorporated into foundational books of religious curricula, and studied in the hawzas of Qom and Najaf.

The effects of al-Baqir’s purported words would come full circle in 1989, in the form of a fatwa read over Radio Tehran.  The proclamation by Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini resulted in an assault on innocent human life, material property, free society, and the livelihood of an author, the full effects of which cannot be justly covered here:

به اطلاع مسلمانان غيور سراسر جهان مى ‏رسانم مؤلف كتاب «آيات شيطانى» كه عليه اسلام و پيامبر و قرآن، تنظيم و چاپ و منتشر شده است، همچنين ناشرين  مطلع از محتواى آن، محكوم به اعدام مى ‏باشند. از مسلمانان غيور مى‏خواهم تا در هر نقطه كه آنان را يافتند، سريعاً آنها را اعدام نمايند تا ديگر كسى جرأت نكند به مقدسات مسلمين توهين نمايد و هر كس در اين راه كشته شود، شهيد است ان شاء اللَّه. ضمناً اگر كسى دسترسى به مؤلف كتاب دارد ولى خود قدرت اعدام او را ندارد، او را به مردم معرفى نمايد تا به جزاى اعمالش برسد

I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Koran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, God willing.2

Classical and Modern Scholarship

While the previous account should be sufficient to paint a picture of how the Twelver Shia legal canon envisions dissent, unfortunately there are many more of a similar nature.However, due to the intention of this paper as a primer, rather than a comprehensive survey of religious history, it will have to suffice as the sole example from the hadith literature.

However, perhaps more pertinent to understanding Khomeini’s fatwa is scholarly precedent — which, in clerical circles, plays a supporting role in legal interpretation. This section presents a survey of scholarly opinions, from some of the earliest and most prominent works of Twelver Shia law. This list will be rounded out by a selection of modern opinions, including from Khomeini’s own jurisprudential work, Tahrir al-Wasilah. As with the majority of content in this paper, these are appearing for the first time outside their original Arabic.

Ali ibn Babawaih al-Qummi “Sheikh al-Saduq” (d. 381 AH/991 CE)Al-Hidaya fi al-Usul wa al-Furu, p. 295

ومن سب رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) أو أمير المؤمنين (عليه السلام) أو أحد الأئمة صلوات الله عليهم فقد حل دمه من ساعته

Whoever insults the Messenger of Allah, the Commander of the Faithful, or any of the Imams, his blood immediately becomes lawful (to shed).

Ali ibn al-Hussein “Sharif al-Murtada” (d. 436 AH/1044 CE)Al-Intisar, pp. 480-481

سب النبي ومما كأن الإمامية منفردة به: القول: بأن من سب النبي (صلى الله عليه وآله) مسلما كان أو ذميا قتل في الحال. وخالف باقي الفقهاء في ذلك، فقال أبو حنيفة وأصحابه: من سب النبي (صلى الله عليه وآله) أو عابه، وكان مسلما فقد صار مرتدا، وإن كان ذميا عزر ولم يقتل. وقال ابن القسم عن مالك من شتم النبي (صلى الله عليه وآله) من المسلمين قتل ولم يستتب، ومن شتم النبي عليه السلام من اليهود والنصارى قتل إلا أن يسلم. وهذا القول من مالك مضاه لقول الإمامية. وقال الثوري: الذمي يعزر. وذكر عن ابن عمر أنه يقتل. وروى الوليد بن مسلم عن الأوزاعي ومالك فيمن سب رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله) قالا: هي ردة يستتاب، فإن تاب نكل به وإن لم يتب قتل قالا يضرب مائة ثم يترك حتى إذا هو برئ ضرب مائة ولم يذكرا فرقا بين المسلم والذمي. وقال الليث في المسلم يسب النبي (عليه وآله السلام): إنه لا يناظر ولا يستتاب ويقتل مكانه، وكذلك اليهودي والنصراني وهذه موافقة للإمامية

As for insult of the Prophet, the Twelver Shia are unanimous:  Whoever insults the Prophet, a Muslim or dhimmi, he is killed…

It is related from Malik ibn Anas that whoever curses the Prophet from the Muslims is killed, and not asked to repent. And whoever curses the Prophet from the Jews or Christians is killed, unless he converts to Islam. This position from Malik corresponds to the Twelver Shia…

It is related from Layth ibn Saad that a Muslim who insults the Prophet is not considered, or asked to repent, but is killed in his place, and the Jew and Christian likewise. And the Twelver Shia agree with this.3

Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Tusi “Sheikh al-Tusi” (d. 460 AH/1067 CE)Al-Nihaya, p. 730

ومن سب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله، أو واحدا من الأئمة عليهم السلام، صار دمه هدرا، وحل لمن سمع ذلك منه قتله، ما لم يخف في قتله على نفسه أو على غيره. فإن خاف على نفسه أو على بعض المؤمنين ضررا في الحال أو المستقبل، فلا يتعرض له على حال

Whoever insults the Messenger of Allah, or any of the Imams, his blood has become liable to shed, and it is lawful for whoever hears that to kill him, so long as he does not fear through his killing for himself or others. If he fears for himself, or any of the believers, injury at that time, or in the future, then he should not confront him.

Ibn Zuhra al-Halabi (d. 585 AH/1189 CE). Ghunya al-Nuzu ila Ilmi al-Usul wa al-Furu, p. 428

ويقتل من سب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم وغيره من الأنبياء أو أحد الأئمة عليهم السلام، وليس على من سمعه فسبق إلى قتله من غير استئذان لصاحب الأمر سبيل، كل ذلك بدليل إجماع الطائفة

Whoever insults the Prophet, other Prophets, or any of the Imams, he is killed. And there is no claim against the person who hears that, and kills him without the permission of the ruler. The proof for all this is the consensus of the (Twelver Shia) community.

Ali ibn Ahmad al-Amili “Shahid al-Thani” (d. 1011 AH/1602 CE)Sharh al-Luma al-Dimashqiya, vol. 9, p. 194

وساب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله، أو أحد الأئمة عليهم السلام يقتل ويجوز قتله لكل من اطلع عليه (ولو من غير إذن الإمام) أو الحاكم (ما لم يخف) القاتل (على نفسه، أو ماله، أو على مؤمن) نفسا أو مالا فينتفي الجواز، للضرر، قال الصادق عليه السلام أخبرني أبي أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله قال: الناس في أسوة سواء من سمع أحدا يذكرني بسوء فالواجب عليه أن يقتل من شتمني ولا يرفع إلى السلطان، والواجب على السلطان إذا رفع إليه أن يقتل من نال مني. وسئل عليه السلام عن من سمع يشتم عليا عليه السلام وبرء منه قال: فقال لي: هو والله حلال الدم. وما ألف رجل منهم برجل منكم دعه. وهو إشارة إلى خوف الضرر على بعض المؤمنين. وفي إلحاق الأنبياء عليهم السلام بذلك وجه قوي، لأن تعظيمهم وكمالهم قد علم من دين الاسلام ضرورة. فسبهم إرتداد. والحق في التحرير بالنبي صلى الله عليه وآله أمه وبنته من غير تخصيص بفاطمة صلوات الله عليها. ويمكن اختصاص الحكم بها عليها السلام، للاجماع على طهارتها

Whoever insults the Prophet, or any of the Imams, he is killed. And it is permissible for anyone who is made aware of it to kill him. This is even without the permission of the leader, or judge, so long as he does not fear for himself or his wealth, or a believer’s life or wealth. With these (factors present), the permissibility (of killing) is denied. This ruling also extends to (insult of) the Prophets, because their glorification and perfection is known in Islam, and their insult is apostasy. This also includes the mother of the Prophet, and his daughters, not specifically Fatima alone. And perhaps the ruling could be restricted to her alone, because there is a consensus on her purity.

Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989 CE)Tahrir al-Wasilah, Book of Punishments (al-Hudud)

من سب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله والعياذ بالله وجب على سامعه قتله ما لم يخف على نفسه أو عرضه أو نفس مؤمن أو عرضه، ومعه لا يجوز، ولو خاف على ماله المعتد به أو مال أخيه كذلك جاز ترك قتله، ولا يتوقف ذلك على إذن من الامام عليه السلام أو نائبه، وكذا الحال لو سب بعض الائمة عليهم السلام، وفي إلحاق الصديقة الطاهرة سلام الله عليها بهم وجه، بل لو رجع إلى سب النبي (ص) يقتل بلا إشكال

كسى كه به پيامبر اسلام صلى الله عليه و آله (العياذ بالله) ناسزا بگويد بر شنونده كشتن او واجب است ، مگر آنكه بر جان يا عرض خود و يا بر جان مومنى يا عرض او بترسد كه با چنين ترسى نه تنها واجب نيست كه جائز هم نيست ، و اگر خطر جان و عرض در بين نباشد بلكه بر مال معنتا به خودش يا برادر دينيش ترس داشته باشد ترك قتل او جائز است و كشتن او موقوف بر اذن امام عليه السلام و يا نائب او نيست ، در ناسزا شنيدن بر بعضى از ائمه عليهم السلام نيز حكم همين است و در اينكه صديقه طاهره فاطمه سلام الله عليها ملحق به آن حضرات باشد وجهى است ، بلكه اگر ناسزاى به آنحضرت به ناسزاى پيغمبر صلوات الله عليه برگشت كند بدون اشكال كشتن او واجب است

Whoever insults the Prophet — I seek refuge with Allah — it is obligatory upon whoever hears that to kill him, so long as he does not fear for his life or honor, or the life or honor of a believer. And with (these factors present), it is not permissible. And if he fears for his wealth, or the wealth of his brother (in faith), this is also permission to abandon his killing. This is not contingent upon the permission of the Imam, or his representative. And this situation is the same for whoever insults any of the Imams, and also Fatima al-Zahra. If he returns to insulting the Prophet (after the killing had been averted due to fear), then kill him, with no doubts.

Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (d. 1992 CE)Minhaj al-Salihin, vol. 2, p. 43

يجب قتل من سب النبي (صلى الله عليه وآله) على سامعه ما لم يخف الضرر على نفسه أو عرضه أو ماله الخطير ونحو ذلك ويلحق به سب الأئمة (عليهم السلام) وسب فاطمة الزهراء عليها السلام ولا يحتاج جواز قتله إلى الاذن من الحاكم الشرعي

It is obligatory to kill whoever insults the Prophet, by whoever hears it, so long as he does not fear injury upon himself, his honor, his wealth, or similar things. This extends to insult of the Imams, and insult of Fatima al-Zahra. The allowance to kill him does not rest upon the permission of the judge/legal authority.

Ayatullah Mohammad Reza Golpaygani (d. 1993 CE)Durr al-Mandud, vol. 2, p. 242

من سب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله جاز لسامعه قتله ما لم يخف الضرر على نفسه أو ماله أو غيره من أهل الايمان

Whoever insults the Prophet, it is permissible for whoever hears that to kill him, so long as he does not fear injury upon himself, his wealth, or others from the people of faith.4

Islamic Penal Code of Iran (Qanun-i Mujazat-i Islami Iran); Discretionary and Deterrent Punishments; Section 2 – Insult of Religious Sanctities or State Officials

هر کس به مقدسات اسلام و یا هر یک از انبیای عظام یا ائمهی طاهرین (ع) یا حضرت صدیقهی طاهره (س) اهانت نماید اگر مشمول حکم ساب النبی باشد اعدام می شود و در غیر این صورتبه حبس از یک تا پنج سال محکوم خواهد شد

Article 513: Whoever insults Islamic sanctities, or any of the glorified Prophets, the Pure Imams, or her excellency Fatima al-Zahra, should be executed if it equals insult of the Prophet, and otherwise should be sentenced to imprisonment for one to five years.

Ayatullah Yusuf Saanei and the Case for Iranian Legal Reform

Let me declare my belief clearly. The destiny of the religion’s social prestige today and tomorrow will depend on our interpretation of the religion in a manner which would not contradict freedom. Whenever in history a religion has faced freedom, it has been the religion which has sustained damage. Even if justice has contradicted freedom, justice has suffered. When progress and construction have curtailed freedom, they have been undermined.5

— Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, May 1998

Despite the seemingly unambiguous pronouncements from the hadith and scholarly literature that sanction extrajudicial killing of blasphemers — there do exist arguments against carrying out the measure today. In fact, the religious case against Khomeini’s fatwa, and in support of legal reform in Iran, is surprisingly strong.

While many voices in Iran greatly desire to do away with problematic, religiously-inspired laws — by seeking reform without regard for the religious and scholarly tradition, reformists bear the ire of “hardliners,” who in turn perceive all reform efforts as being pro-Western, and anti-Islamic. Voices of reform from within the religious tradition itself, however, are much rarer, and indeed largely the effort of a single individual:  Ayatullah Yusuf Saanei.

Saanei has cemented his role as a reformer by reexamining religious issues of modern social significance, including: The equalization of “blood money” between all citizens, regardless of religion or gender; the raising of the minimum female age of marriage from 9 to 13 years; and establishing the equality of witness testimony between men and women. While Saanei takes Islamic law to the periphery of its traditional understanding, the quality of his scholarship and length of time in the hawza have helped place him squarely within the acceptability of the clerical establishment.While none of his views have been adopted by law (the change in blood money came close, twice), the trajectory of his scholarship provides him a unique and necessary role among reform efforts in Iran.

Saanei’s apparent quest for reform also extends to blasphemy. Interestingly, the majority of his treatment on the subject comes from Fiqh al-Thaqalayn fi Sharh Tahrir al-Wasilah — a commentary of Khomeini’s own jurisprudential work (translated in the previous section).7 While his analysis of the subject is far from comprehensive, it represents the best attempt at reform, both from within the clerical establishment, and also in scholarly literature.

While Saanei does deconstruct and seek to contextualize both the hadith accounts and scholarly statements — legal reform through religious reinterpretation is not realistic. Rather, more broad, methodological arguments will be explored. Saanei’s contributions are clearly quoted — everything else is commentary.

Harm to Islam

Regardless of the cruelty or irrationality present in the legal literature, there is a condition that remains constant: Lack of harm. Nearly every scholar articulated that permission to exact extrajudicial justice is dependent upon a lack of harm: To life, honor, and property.

Commenting on Khomeini’s condition that killing be abandoned if it affects the “life or honor of a believer,” Saanei remarks:

أو عزّة الإسلام وشرفه، وأن يصير قتله سبباً لاتّهام الإسلام بالهرج والمرج وعدم وجود الحدّ والقانون فيه وأنّه دين خال عن الأمنية والحكومة، وذلك لأولوية عزّ الإسلام وحفظه على عرض المؤمن ونفسه

This also includes the glory and honor of Islam. If killing becomes reason to accuse Islam of (having caused) distress and disquiet, then the punishment, and its law, are dropped. Islam is a religion separate from security and government. The priority is the glory of Islam, and preserving the honor and life of the believer.

— Al-Taliqat ala Tahrir al-Wasilah, vol. 2, p. 492

It cannot be doubted that Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie — and continued human rights abuses today — have severely harmed Iran’s international standing, worldwide perception of Islam, and in many ways, the lives and livelihoods of most Iranians, not to mention the direct damage to material property and innocent human life resultant from the fatwa itself. They have served to isolate Iran, limit the mobility of its citizens, harmed its business, academic, and diplomatic interests, and turned it into a worldwide pariah. Clearly, it is from this viewpoint that the strongest religious case against punishment for blasphemy can be made. Moreover, reform from this perspective can be done without even touching or having to reevaluate the religious or scholarly tradition.

An Affront to Reason: The Victim’s Inability to Defend Himself 

Elaborating slightly on the previous point, Saanei states:

ولقاعدة نفي الضرر والحرج ، بل لا ينبغي الإشكال في تقيّده بعدم الخوف على الضرر على الإسلام وعزّته أيضاً ، بتضييع حرمته وصيرورته متهماً بالفوضى وعدم الأمن والأمان فيه ، وبأ نّه مع كون المقتول غير قادر على الدفاع فكيف يحكم عليه بارتكابه السبّ واستحقاقه التعزير أو الحد

The permission (to kill blasphemers) rests upon a lack of damage and harm. It is not fitting that doubts exist concerning (the condition) that there be a lack of fear and damage. This includes upon Islam and its glory — that Islam lose its sanctity and become accused of anarchy, and a lack of security and safety. Along with this is (the fact that) the victim would be unable to defend himself (from the accusations against him). How can it be ruled that he committed blasphemy, and is deserving of punishment?

— Fiqh al-Thaqalayn fi Sharh Tahrir al-Wasilah; Kitab al-Qisas, p. 54

Strangely, this logical argument receives no mention in the scholarly literature: The inability of those accused of blasphemy to defend themselves, and the pretext that allowance of extrajudicial justice can provide for murder. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that accusation of blasphemy — when carried out through the mechanism of the law, in other Muslim countries — is routinely abused to settle personal disputes. Extrajudicial punishment, no less, would run afoul of reason and rationality — qualities that are not only praised in Shia Islam, but are woven into the fabric of the cosmos:

لما خلق الله العقل تنطقه ثم قال له: أقبل فأقبل ثم قال له: أدبر فأدبر ثم قال: وعزتي وجلالي ما خلقت خلقا هو أحب إلي منك ولا أكملتك إلا فيمن احب، أما إني إياك آمر، وإياك أنهى وإياك اعاقب، وإياك اثيب

The Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, said: When Allah created reason, He questioned it, and then said, “Come forward,” and it came. He then said, “Go back,” and it went back. He then said, “By My honor and glory, I have not created a creation more beloved to Me than you, and I will not perfect you except in those I love. It is by you that I command, and by you that I prohibit (from sinful actions). It is by you that I will punish, and by you that I will reward.”

— Al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 1, #1

Contradiction to the Koran

While both Sunni and Shia Muslims view the sunnah as a dual source of law which works in tandem with Koranic injunctions—there are hadiths which urge abandoning laws which contradict it. As most Muslims can testify, punishment for blasphemy, much less carried out extrajudicially, receives no support in the Koranic text. Most Shia Muslims today, including the vast majority of religiously literate Iranians, truly do believe Islam and human rights to be compatible, and will often employ this line of reasoning:

خطب النبي صلى الله عليه وآله بمنى فقال: أيها الناس ما جاءكم عني يوافق كتاب الله فأنا قلته وما جاءكم يخالف كتاب الله فلم أقله

The Sixth Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq, reported that the Prophet gave a sermon at Mina and said: “Oh people, whatever comes to you from me that agrees with the Book of Allah, then I said it. And whatever comes to you that disagrees with the Book of Allah, I did not say it.”

— Ibid., vol. 1, p. 69, #5

Limitations on the Implementation of Hadd Punishments

In Islam, two types of penal punishments exist — hadd (fixed) punishments, and tazir (discretionary) punishments. In the legal literature, discussion of blasphemy (sabb al-nabi) is found in sections related to hadd punishments — specifically, under qadhaf: False accusation, or slander, usually of a sexual nature. Indeed, it seems that most scholars conceived of blasphemy as a sub-category of slander. Although, given its extrajudicial perception, it has escaped more formal attempts at legal codification. Khomeini also included his discussion of blasphemy in Tahrir al-Wasilah under “Kitab al-Hudud” — the chapter on hadd punishments.

However, in the hadith and legal literature, it is well established that hadd punishments cannot be carried out in “the land of the enemy” — that is, in lands not governed by Islamic law. In the same chapter, Khomeini states:

لا يقام الحد إذا كان جلدا في الحر الشديد ولا البرد الشديد، فيتوخى به في الشتاء وسط النهار، وفي الصيف في ساعة برده خوفا من الهلاك أو الضرر زائدا على ما هو لازم الحد، ولا يقام في أرض العدو ولا في الحرم على من التجأ إليه، لكن يضيق عليه في المطعم والمشرب ليخرج، ولو أحدث موجب الحد في الحرم يقام علهى فيه

Hadd punishments, if they consist of lashing, are not carried out in intense heat or cold. In the winter they should be done in the middle of the day, and in the summer at a cooler time, so as not to bring about loss or damage in excess of the intended punishment. And they are not carried out in the land of the enemy, and not in the sanctuary (of Mecca), if someone has taken refuge there.

— Tahrir al-Wasilah, Book of Punishments (al-Hudud)

Theoretically, if considered a hadd punishment, this stipulation would rule out the religious permissibility of killing blasphemers worldwide, especially in the West, as Khomeini sought to do. Indeed, the scholars featured previously lived in theocratic environments, and contextually were not addressing worldwide retribution for blasphemy. However, the finer points of religious law are often muted when filtered down to the level of reality.

Conclusion

The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful individuals who do not relate to their faith through legalisms, or classical scholarship. However, the worldview of Iran’s ruling clerics is one that favors reference to this often-murky history to inform its day-to-day dealings. It is my hope that this paper serves to elucidate the historical record, prompt self-searching and questioning, and contribute to the quest for legal reform and human rights in Iran, and the broader Muslim world.

Notes

1. While this account is absent from Sunni hadith literature, it is also found in Daim al-Islam, a fourth-century Ismaili hadith collection which drew upon Sunni and Twelver Shia sources.

2. In addition to blasphemy, a comprehensive analysis of freedom of speech and religion in Twelver Shia jurisprudence would also need to include apostasy (the leaving of religion, rather than its insult), the treatment of non-Muslims in the Islamic state, and envisioned relations with Muslims of other intellectual persuasions.

According to official archives, Khomeini addressed the Rushdie affair on three different occasions from February 14-22, 1989. The first instance being the original fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death. The second, a follow-up to the fatwa, stating that even if Rushdie repented, it was still mandatory to kill him. And, the third occasion, in a lengthy speech, Khomeini spurned the diplomatic consequences of the Rushdie fatwa; deemed The Satanic Verses a “wicked Western conspiracy” indicative of the “catastrophe of democracy and civilization;” justified the non-existence of diplomatic relations with “enemies;” and claimed, “God wants the publication of the blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, to take place at this time, so that the world of vanity, arrogance, and barbarity would reveal its true face in its old enmity to Islam.”

3. Both Malik ibn Anas and Layth ibn Saad were early Muslim jurists and founders of their own schools of law.

Apparently, al-Murtada distinguishes between punishment for insulting, and cursing.

4. In the entirety of the scholarly literature, Golpaygani’s analysis of blasphemy is the longest, and most in-depth. Though, most of it is irrelevant for the purposes of this paper.

5. BBC, “Monitoring President Khatami’s Anniversary Speech.” 

6. While this is still largely the case, Saanei was among several notable clerics who were reprimanded for their criticism of the government during the 2009 presidential elections. There are rumors that his title of Ayatullah has been stripped by a clerical council, though this is not definitive, and he continues to meet publicly with other clerics.

7. Revealingly, the only published volumes seem to be on the topics of divorce (talaq), and retribution (qisas) — where the discussion of blasphemy is found. Both of these areas contain multiple issues of prominence in relation to Iranian legal and social reform.