Corporal Punishment for Blasphemy or Apostasy not in line with Quranic Ethos?

The present concept of blasphemy as an offence has been developed by Muslim jurists in the post Prophetic period.


“Had your Lord wished, that all those who are on the earth would be believers, would you then force people until they become faithful?”                              
(Quran: Chapter 10, Verse 99.)

The verse from the Quran clearly discourages the use of force in the process of calling people towards faith and preaching religion. This rejection is equivalent to accepting the freedom of an individual to agree and accept or to disagree and leave religion.

Blasphemy means a speech that causes injury or speaking evil. Initially, blasphemy was understood in Islamic tradition as attacks on core ideas and symbols, mainly God and Prophet.

In Quran, the term equivocal for blasphemy is “Sabb”. Sabb-Allah or Sabb-Al Rasul means to abuse God or the messenger. All utterances that express contempt for Allah, his law, attributes, commands or prohibitions and scoffing at Muhammad or any of the prophets are considered as Sabb.

The word “Sabb” comes twice in Quran, in verse 108 of Chapter 6,

“Do not abuse (La Tasubbu) those whom they invoke besides Allah, lest they should abuse (Tasubbu) Allah out of hostility without any knowledge. That is how to every people We have made their conduct seem decorous/beautiful (Zeena)”

In this verse, there is no mention of corporeal punishment for blasphemy. Even in the case of apostasy, Quran in Chapter 2, Verse 217 says,

“Those whoever if you turn away (Yurtad) from his religion and dies faithless. They are the ones whose works have failed in this world and Hereafter.”

All the punishments if we look at Quran are non-physical and not hudud punishments. The approach that Quran follows, especially towards its opponents is encouraging tolerance and perseverance among Muslims.

In Hadith literature, we do have reports that contain references to blasphemy and punishing them. One of the famous examples is Ka’ab al-Ashraf. An in-depth examination of this Hadith reveals that he was not just charged with blasphemy but with extensive anti-Muslim activity, slander of the Prophet and plot to kill the prophet. He was perceived to wage war against the Muslim community.

 The present concept of blasphemy as an offence has been developed by Muslim jurists in the post Prophetic period. Blasphemy against Prophet was considered a greater legal offence than blasphemy against God. Since the prophet had passed away and was not able to defend himself, it was thought that it was the responsibility of the community (Ummah) to guard his honour by imposing punishment.

It stemmed from the idea that it was a violation of the “right of humans” (Huquq ul Abd). Since it is the right of people and not God, there can be no repentance by itself.

Abdullah Saeed, Tariq Ramdhan and Mohsen Kadivar are some contemporary scholars of Islam who present a different approach to understanding these hadiths. According to them, critical analysis and hermeneutical reading of these Hadith reveals that most of them have a weak chain of transmission and others have been taken out of context or the proper context has been ignored.

In Islamic history, blasphemy and apostasy have been used both to suppress thoughts and debate and to harass religious minorities, both inside and outside Islam. They were used as vicarious arguments to serve political and economic interests or to settle scores. Muslim rulers in the post-Prophetic era used/ abused this law to strengthen and consolidate their position by charging people and groups who oppose them as apostates and rebels (Baghi). Similar to the way the law of sedition is used in today’s politics

The accusation of blasphemy or apostasy extends beyond the law and judiciary by putting people at risk of extrajudicial killings whether in jail or on the outside. It also tends to elevate all critique of religious knowledge to blasphemy. Attacking or punishing someone just because you think that they have insulted or criticised what you consider sacred is neither in line with the teachings of the Quran nor the Sunnah of Prophets but the Sunnah(way) of Pre-Islamic Arab Jahiliyah and the oppressors like Namrud.

Quran condemns the elites of Quraysh who decided to captivate, kill or expel Prophet Muhammad. They did so because they believed that the message of Islam was an insult to their gods and the tradition of their forefathers.

Similarly, Namrud had ordered Prophet Abraham should be burned in the fire. Namrud and other priests considered Abraham’s way of preaching and denying the lordship of Namrud as an insult to their Gods.

Stabbing a 75-year unarmed old man in an education centre is bereft of any Zeena and can never be in line with the themes of peace, justice and humanity prescribed by the Quran.

 In conclusion, I would like to convey my message to the author of Satanic verses in the form of a quote by Voltaire,

“I may not agree with what you have to say, But I will defend to the death your right to say it.”



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