Blasphemy is nothing more and nothing less than the criminalisation of criticism of religious doctrines. Its purpose is to make the expression of certain ideas punishable, in some religions by death. It is long overdue to abolish blasphemy laws worldwide but especially in countries where the Quran is the constitution and is complemented by the sayings and doings of Muhammad known as the hadith.
Blasphemy laws make it possible to punish a person simply for speaking their mind. For utilising his/her freedom of speech. It is a restriction of freedom of speech aimed only at protecting the religious status quo. Those who argue the case against the existence of god or that Muhammad was not a prophet or that the Quran is not perfect are punished by criminal law in countries where the Quran is the highest book of law supplemented by the hadith. In these countries blasphemy is part of the same section of the law that is used to convict rapists and murders.
In Islam, blasphemy is classified as a Hudud crime, which simply means that it is a crime against god. Crimes against god are seen as more severe than crimes against human beings. Yes, human beings come second in this worldview.
As of 2017 this means that human beings can be sentenced to death for questioning the flawlessness of the Quran or the character of Muhammad in any country that uses the Quran and hadith to determine criminal law. According to a large research project done by Pew this is in 18 out of 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Blasphamy laws are also part of the reason why countries where the Quran is the constitution refused to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also didn’t sign it because the Quran does not allow for muslims to leave their religion, see apostasy in Islam. This clashes with the concepts of freedom of religion and conscience stated in the UDHR.
Instead, these countries ratified a separate declaration called the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. This shows the incompatibility of Islam with the concepts of freedom of religion, conscience and speech. It also shows that there is legal discrimination of human beings in Islam when it comes to holding and expressing an alternative worldview. For example, it is not just socially incomprehensible for a child of a parents who follow Islam to become an atheist, it is illegal by law. But it is legal for a child of parents who call themselves atheists to become muslim. I will write a separate article on discrimination in Islam later.
Why do I focus on Islam and not Christianity in which blasphemy is also punishable? Because in the bulk of countries with a christian majority that have blasphemy laws they mean very little. The punishment (if given at all) is often a mere fine, not the death sentence mandated by the Quran and Islamic tradition. The actual harm done is thus of a completely different order. Furthermore, the Bible is rather vague on what the actual punishment of blasphemers should be and more importantly is not claimed (by the vast majority of christians) to be the literal word of god, which allows for interpretation or deviation.
This may seem like nit-picking to some but the fact that the Bible is not seen as the literal word of god as it was during the dark ages has serious real life implication. The last time blasphemy laws were used in a court in Britain to sentence someone to death was in the case of Thomas Aikenhead in 1612.
There is thus little comparison to be made between the application of blasphemy laws in christian majority countries today and Islamic majority countries. Every day human beings in countries that use the Quran supplemented by the hadith as the highest word of law are sentenced to lashing, imprisoning or execution (normally by beheading) due to blasphemy laws.
In an earlier blog post I explained that there is a real danger in restricting free enquiry. And that is what I would like to end with again today:
What if mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (who first formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the centre of the universe) did not question the Church’s position that the earth was the centre of the universe because his parents forbade him to? What if Einstein’s parents forbade him even to think that Newton could be wrong about the nature of gravity? What if we were forbidden to question Einstein’s hypothesises? Would there be any progress at all if we took out current understanding of the world to be sufficient?