Islam and blasphemy

Blasphemy in Islam is impious utterance or action concerning God, Muhammad or anything considered sacred in Islam.[1][2] The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for blasphemy.[3] The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death.[3][4] However, it has been argued that the death penalty applies only to cases where there is treason involved that may seriously harm the Muslim community, especially during times of war.[5] Various fiqhs (schools of jurisprudence) of Islam have different punishment for blasphemy, depending on whether blasphemer is Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman.[3] The punishment can be fines, imprisonment, flogging, amputation, hanging, or beheading.[6][7]

Muslim clerics may call for the punishment of an alleged blasphemer by issuing a fatwā.[8][9]

Islamic scriptures


Main article: Quran and violence

There are a number of surah in Qur'an relating to blasphemy, from which Quranic verses 5:33 and 33:57-61 have been most commonly used in Islamic history to justify and punish blasphemers.[4][10][11] For example,[4]

Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger - Allah has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment.
Quran 33:57
Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbours for any length of time: They shall have a curse on them: whenever they are found, they shall be seized and slain (without mercy).
Quran 33:61


According to several hadiths, Muhammad ordered a number of enemies executed "in the hours after Mecca's fall". One of those who was killed was Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, because he had insulted Muhammad.[12]

The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "O Allah's Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?" He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka'b) and said, "This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity." Ka'b replied, "By Allah, you will get tired of him." Muhammad said to him, "We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair." Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him. Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah
It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah said: Who will kill Ka'b b. Ashraf? He has maligned Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like).

Muhammad declared that there shall be no punishment for murdering anyone who disparages, abuses or insults him (tashtimu, sabb al rasool),[4]

Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib: A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of Allah declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.

Blasphemy as apostasy

Blasphemy has historically been seen as an evidence of rejection of Islam, that is, the religious crime of apostasy. Some jurists believe that blasphemy automatically implies a Muslim has left the fold of Islam.[3] A Muslim may find himself accused of being a blasphemer, and thus an apostate on the basis of one action or utterance.[13][14] Some[15][16] modern Muslim scholars contest that Islam supports blasphemy law, stating that Muslim jurists made the offense part of Sharia.


A painting from Siyer-i Nebi, Ali beheading Nadr ibn al-Harith in the presence of Muhammad and his companions.

The first executions for blaspheme were "in the hours after Mecca's fall" to the Muslims in 629. Muhammad ordered a number of enemies executed and based on this early jurists postulated that sabb al-Nabi (abuse of the Prophet) was a crime "so heinous that repentance was disallowed and summary execution was required".[17][18]

According to Islamic sources Nadr ibn al-Harith, who was an Arab Pagan doctor from Taif, used to tell stories of Rustam and Isfandiyar to the Arabs and scoffed Muhammad.[19][20] After the battle of Badr, al-Harith was captured and, in retaliation, Muhammad ordered his execution in hands of Ali.[21][22][23]

Legal historian Sadakat Kadri claims that the actual prosecutions for blasphemy in the Muslim historical record "are vanishingly infrequent". One of the "few known cases" was that of a Christian accused of insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It ended in an acquittal in 1293, though it was followed by a protest against a decision led by the famed and strict jurist Ibn Taymiyya.[24]

In recent decades Islamic revivalists have called for its enforcement on the grounds that criminalizing hostility toward Islam will safeguard communal cohesion.[18] In one country where strict laws on blaspheme were introduced in the 1980s, Pakistan, over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy from 1987 to 2014, (mostly non-Muslim religious minorities), mostly for allegedly desecrating the Quran.[25] Over 50 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over,[26][27] and prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities) have been assassinated.[25]

Examples of blasphemy

Writer Salman Rushdie was accused of blasphemy and became the subject of a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in February 1989.

Individuals have been accused of blasphemy or of insulting Islam for:

Blasphemy against holy personages

Blasphemy against beliefs and customs

Blasphemy against artifacts

Individuals have been accused of blasphemy or of insulting Islam for:


The punishments for different instances of blasphemy in Islam vary by jurisdiction,[3][99][100] but may be very severe. A convicted blasphemer may, among other penalties, lose all legal rights. The loss of rights may cause a blasphemer's marriage to be dissolved, religious acts to be rendered worthless, and claims to property—including any inheritance—to be rendered void. Repentance, in some Fiqhs, may restore lost rights except for marital rights; lost marital rights are regained only by remarriage. Women have blasphemed and repented to end a marriage. Muslim women may be permitted to repent, and may receive a lesser punishment than would befall a Muslim man who committed the same offense.[14] In some jurisdictions blasphemy may be subject to the death penalty.[101] Many severe punishments are imposed in various Islamic societies.

In the case of an insult to Muhammad, the Muslim community is considered to be under an obligation to avenge the insult because the possibility of forgiveness expired upon the death of Muhammad.[3]

Punishment by different Islamic schools of jurisprudence

The Quran does not explicitly mention any worldly punishment for blasphemy (sabb allah or sabb al-rasul), as it does for apostasy (riddah). Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) of Sunni and Shia madhabs have declared different punishments for the religious crime of blasphemy, and they vary between schools. These are as follows:[2][102][103]

Hanafi – views blasphemy as synonymous with apostasy, and therefore, accepts the repentance of apostates. Those who refuse to repent, their punishment is death if the blasphemer is a Muslim man, and if the blasphemer is a woman, she must be imprisoned with coercion (beating) till she repents and returns to Islam.[104] If a non-Muslim commits blasphemy, his punishment must be a tazir (discretionary, can be death, arrest, caning, etc.).[7][105]
Maliki – view blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy for Muslim men, and repentance is not accepted. For women, death is not the punishment suggested, but she is arrested and punished till she repents and returns to Islam or dies in custody.[106][107] A non-Muslim who commits blasphemy against Islam must be punished; however, the blasphemer can escape punishment by converting and becoming a devout Muslim.[108]
Hanbali – view blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy, for both Muslim men and women, and repentance is not accepted.[109][110]
Shafi’i – recognizes blasphemy as a separate offense from apostasy, but accepts the repentance of blasphemers. If the blasphemer does not repent, the punishment is death.[111][112]
Ja'fari (Shia) – views blasphemy against Islam, the Prophet, or any of the Imams, to be punishable with death, if the blasphemer is a Muslim.[113] In case the blasphemer is a non-Muslim, he is given a chance to convert to Islam, or else killed.[114]

Blasphemy against beliefs and customs

The punishment for non-conformity with prevailing beliefs and customs varies by jurisdiction.[99] In September 2009, Abdul Kahar Ahmad pleaded guilty in a Malaysian Sharia court to charges of spreading false doctrines, blasphemy, and violating religious precepts. The court sentenced Ahmad to ten years in prison and six lashes from a rattan cane.[115] In October 2009, Somalia's hardline Islamist group al-Shabaab whipped women who were wearing a bra, and whipped men for being beardless. The group said violation of Islamic custom deserved whipping.[116] In Malaysia, Islamic scholars issued a fatwa declaring yoga as blasphemous, because yoga is a form of spiritual practice in Hinduism.[117][118][119]

In 2014, an Egyptian state prosecutor pressed charges against a former candidate for parliament, writer and poet Fatima Naoot, of blaspheming Islam when she posted a Facebook message which criticized the slaughter of animals during Eid, a major Islamic festival.[120] Naoot was sentenced on January 26, 2016 to three years in prison for "contempt of religion." The prison sentence was effective immediately.[121]

See also


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  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Saeed & 2004 p.38-9.
  4. 1 2 3 4
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    • R Ibrahim (2013), Crucified Again, ISBN 978-1621570257, pp. 100-101
  6. See the articles about Islamic jurisdictions under Blasphemy law.
  7. 1 2 P Smith (2003), Speak No Evil: Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law, UC Davis Journal Int'l Law & Policy, 10, pp. 357-373;
    • N Swazo (2014), The Case Of Hamza Kashgari: Examining Apostasy, Heresy, And Blasphemy Under Sharia, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 12(4), pp. 16–26
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  11. Richard T. Antoun (2014), Muslim Preacher in the Modern World, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691602752, page 194, Quote - "All the negative connotations of factionalism, social dissension, blasphemy, and their logical conclusions conspiracy, military confrontation and damnation - are captured in the title of this sura, al-Ahzab (The Confederates, Book 33)"
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  103. Saeed, Abdullah. "AMBIGUITIES OF APOSTASY AND THE REPRESSION OF MUSLIM DISSENT." The Review of Faith & International Affairs 9.2 (2011): 31-38.
    • Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi (983), Mukhtalaf al-Riwayah, vol. 3, pp. 1298–1299
    • Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (933), Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama, vol. 3, p. 504
    • Ali ibn Hassan al-Sughdi (798); Kitab al-Kharaj; Quote: “أيما رجل مسلم سب رَسُوْل اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أو كذبه أو عابه أوتنقصه فقد كفر بالله وبانت منه زوجته ، فإن تاب وإلا قتل ، وكذلك المرأة ، إلا أن أبا حنيفة قَالَ: لا تقتل المرأة وتجبر عَلَى الإسلام”; Translation: “A Muslim man who blasphemes the Messenger of Allah, denies him, reproaches him, or diminishes him, he has committed apostasy in Allah, and his wife is separated from him. He must repent, or else is killed. And this is the same for the woman, except Abu Hanifa said: Do not kill the woman, but coerce her back to Islam.”
  104. Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (933), Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama, vol. 3, p. 504
  105. Qadi 'Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi (1145), Kitab Ash-shifa (كتاب الشفاء بتعريف حقوق المصطفى), pp. 373-441 (Translated in English by AA Bewley, OCLC 851141256, (Review Contents in Part 4, Read Excerpts from Part 4, Accessed on: January 10, 2015)
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    • Ibn Taymiyyah (a Salafi, related to Hanbali school), al-Sārim al-Maslūl 'ala Shātim al-Rasūl (or, A ready sword against those who insult the Messenger), Published in 1297 AD in Arabic, Reprinted in 1975 and 2003 by Dar-ibn Hazm (Beirut), the book is on blasphemy/insulting Muhammad and the punishment in the context of Islamic scriptures;
    • Jerusha Lamptey (2014), Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism, Oxford University Press, Chapter 1 with footnotes 28, 29 pp. 258
  109. L Wiederhold L, Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (sabb al-rasul, sabb al-sahabah) : The introduction of the topic into Shafi'i legal literature, Jrnl of Sem Studies, Oxford University Press, 42(1), pp. 39-70
  110. P Smith (2003), Speak No Evil: Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law, UC Davis Journal Int'l Law & Policy, 10, pp. 357-373;
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    • Ali ibn Ahmad al-Amili al-Thani (1602), Sharh al-Luma al-Dimashqiya, vol. 9, pp. 194-195;
    • Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Tusi (1067), Al-Nihaya, pp. 730-731 and Tadhib al-Ahkam, vol. 10, p. 85;
    • Ali ibn al-Hussein "Sharif al-Murtada" (1044). Al-Intisar, pp. 480–481;
    • Ali ibn Babawaih al-Qummi al-Saduq (991), Al-Hidaya fi al-Usul wa al-Furu, pp. 295–297
  112. Ali ibn al-Hussein al-Murtada (1044), Al-Intisar, pp. 480-481
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  117. New York Times, Seeking to clear a path between yoga and islam (April 8 2012)
  118. Days after Mauritania sentences man to death for 'insulting Islam', Egypt to try female writer for similar offence Agence France-Presse, MG Africa (December 28, 2014)
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