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Monday, 03 September 2012 12:33

End Blasphemy Laws Now!

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This month, blasphemy in the Muslim world became relevant once again with the arrest of a young Christian Pakistani girl, named, Rimsha Masih. Reports suggest that Masih, an 11-year-old with Downs syndrome and from a poor neighborhood near the capital of Islamabad, was beaten by neighbors after she disposed of pages that contained verses of the Quran in the trash — an act that is illegal, and viewed as particularly egregious when carried out by religious minorities such as Christians.

For the longest time, Muslims have been arrested, beaten, tortured and killed in the name of “blasphemy.” But outside of the usual human rights organizations that regularly condemn such things, most Muslim organizations in the U.S. don’t seem to be bothered enough to raise their voice in opposition.

To be sure, there are always the die hard human rights advocates who unselfishly start petitions or launch campaigns to raise awareness about these issues. But why are most Muslim organizations quick to condemn blasphemy when it involves a non-Muslim but not when it is a Muslim? Is it just for show? Or, perhaps, is it simply out of fear that the majority Christians in their own democracies may react in kind if they don’t speak out?

There is nothing Islamic about blasphemy laws. Nothing in the Quran supports the notion of blasphemy as a crime — zero, nada. It is the religious scholars and interpreters who have sanctioned it and created a brutal punishment for it. In other words — humans, not God, have invented and prescribed this often-cold and calculative sanction.

The “crime” of blasphemy has been made into law in many Muslim nations. Yet, the definition of “insulting” Islam and the Prophet Muhammad is vague and broad, and so is its punishment, which often ranges from the less extreme imprisonment to the unthinkable and ghastly, death.

Yes, in the Muslim world, it is these sadistic religious scholars, their disciples, and their political goons who have become God. They get to decide when and what someone has said or done constitutes an insult to God and how that person must then pay for the crime.

If a Muslim wants to express a religious thought that is contrary to society’s man-made standards, they had better keep their mouths shut. Should they wish to be poetic and tweet about a conversation with God or about the Prophet Muhammad, Saudi Arabia, for example, isn’t the place to do that. The penalty for a 140-character thought could be quite costly. Sadly, in case one is mentally handicapped, like Rimsha Masih, that doesn’t even matter.

Blasphemy charges in the Muslim world are made too often, creating many prisoners of conscience and destroying the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims. These charges are unjust regardless of who is perceived to be at fault, and regardless of their perceived crime. A few examples of recent blasphemy incidences include: Hamza Kashgari (Saudi Arabia) and Aasia Bibi (Pakistan), both of whom allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad. There’s also Yousef Naderkhani and Saaed Malekpour (both from Iran), Adel Imam (Egypt), Sarwar Penjwani, Lanja Abdulla (both from Iraq), and Sayeed Mahdawi and Ali Reza Payam (both from Afghanistan).

We must end these blasphemy laws. They contradict the Quran’s mandate for one’s right to self-determination and that “there’s no compulsion in faith.” There are many Muslims who are in support of abolishing them and together we must put pressure on Muslim governments (note I didn’t say Islamic) to end this practice.

It is only when we, as Muslims, are self-critical about injustice, even when the perpetrator is Muslim, that we earn respect as a defender of justice for all.

Let’s take the first step. Please participate in a letter writing campaign to the Pakistani Ambassador in the U.S, Sherry Rehman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell her that Rimsha Masih must be released and protected, and that blasphemy laws in Pakistan must be abolished.

Please use this letter as a talking point, add your own language if you will, but write!

The Creator doesn’t need us to defend His/Her Honor. The Creator demands we speak up:

“Stand up firmly for justice, witnesses for God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents and your relatives, and whether the case is of a rich person or a poor person. God is nearer to them than you are.” 4:135 The Holy Quran

By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist
*Photo Credit: Helen.2006

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0 # Avery 2012-09-05 10:10
Ani, this article has made a good impression on people from all over the world, believers and non-believers alike. I just got a note from my aunt telling me how much she liked it. Keep up the good work!
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-1 # Abdel 2012-09-24 18:38
You cite verse 2:256, 'there is no compulsion in religion'. It is well known that this verse has been abrogated by newer verses, notably verse 9:5 :"Kill the disbelievers wherever you find them.".

How can there be no compulsion if the punishment for apostasy is death?
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0 # Ani Zonneveld 2012-10-01 15:59
Abdel,
1. Show me where it mandates the punishment for apostasy is death in the Quran. That's right. It is not in the Quran.
2. The verse 9:5 is during a period of war and applies to those who have broken peace treaties. Taking it out of context is exactly what al-Qaeda and the extremists do to justify their killings. Is that what you believe?
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