Blasphemy and honor: Two peas in a pod

Honor killing is predominantly a crime committed by Muslims, and in the same way only in Muslim countries is blasphemy a crime that is punishable by death

2016-03-03T13:02:35+05:00 Aamir Butt

"Let us thank every good and noble man who stood so grandly, so proudly, in spite of opposition, of hatred and death, for what he believed to be the truth."

- Robert G. Ingersoll, The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child

During the last few days, blasphemy and honor killing, two different, yet closely related issues have been the centre of attention in Pakistan and among those interested in Pakistan. The reason as we know is that on 29th February Mumtaz Qadri was hanged, a bill that aims to protect women from violence was signed in Punjab and a Pakistan filmmaker won an Oscar for a movie that highlights the issue of honor killing.

Although the hanging of Qadri was by far the biggest of these events and also led to widespread mob violence and disruption in various cities of Pakistan, it is not hard to figure out that both blasphemy and honor killings are related to each other. And while more or less everyone condemns honor killing, there is a sizeable number of those among them who feel severe punishment including death is a justifiable punishment for blasphemy; and in my opinion this is the same as believing that honor killing is justified.

And if someone is still not sure what is the relationship between these two problems then the answer is Islam (or how Muslims practice it if you are unhappy at religion being blamed).

 I am sure there will be many who will now jump up and scream this is not right for honor killing has got nothing to do with Islam or Muslims, well they should read this excellent study which shows that:

‘’Although Sikhs and Hindus do sometimes commit such murders, honor killings, both worldwide and in the West, are mainly Muslim-on-Muslim crimes. In this study, worldwide, 91 percent of perpetrators were Muslims. In North America, most killers (84 percent) were Muslims, with only a few Sikhs and even fewer Hindus perpetrating honor killings; in Europe, Muslims comprised an even larger majority at 96 percent while Sikhs were a tiny percentage. In Muslim countries, obviously almost all the perpetrators were Muslims. With only two exceptions, the victims were all members of the same religious group as their murderers.’’

So we can see that for whatever the reasons, honor killing is predominantly a crime committed by Muslims, and in the same way only in Muslim countries is blasphemy a crime that is punishable by death.

We can therefore conclude that Muslims all over the world share some common trait that makes them demand death for blasphemy and kill their daughters in the name of honor. Question is what is this common factor?

Here we cannot blame religion directly, for while death for blasphemy clearly has a religious basis there is no command from any religious school of thought to kill your daughter or sister if you suspect her of tainting the family honor.

The clear agreement among all four Sunni religious schools as well as the Shia school that a blasphemer deserves nothing but death is rather strange for there is nothing in the Quran that would support any punishment let alone death for blasphemy.

In fact in my personal opinion those who believe that the punishment of death for blasphemy is justified are:

1. Refuting the basic teaching of their religion.

2. Refuting that Quran is the word of God.

3. Refuting the teachings of Mohammed.

4. Refuting the very existence of God!

How? Let me explain:

1. Recommending death for blasphemy refutes the basic teaching of Islam

Correct me if I am wrong but I think Islam recommends a punishment that equals the crime. So if someone slaps someone he should get a slap as the punishment; if someone blinds another he will be blinded and the ultimate crime, which is taking a life is punished by death.

However blasphemy does not fulfill any of these criteria. It does not harm even a hair on anyone's body, so how can the ultimate punishment be recommended for something that causes literally no physical harm at all? Clearly, this punishment is against the basic principles of Islam.

2. Recommending death for blasphemy refutes that Quran is the word of God

So if you believe in Quran it says that God tells you everything clearly. And if that is the case, to recommend the ultimate punishment, to ask that someone's life is to be taken there should be a clear command to do this in Quran. Well can someone knowledgeable about the Quran tell me where and which verse of Quran says that blasphemy should be punished by death? 

Now here someone will come up with this answer, not everything is in Quran. For example where does Quran say how to perform namaz, but how can this be comparable. If someone performs namaz incorrectly and there are variations between various sects then should they be killed and what punishment will they get in afterlife? I think none. So how can you decide that you can take someone's life, the ultimate act of violence, without God clearly telling you that you can do it for blasphemy?

And therefore by insisting on such an ultimate punishment when it does not exist in Quran is rejecting Quran in my opinion.

3. Recommending death for blasphemy refutes the teachings of Mohammad

Again, please correct me if I am wrong but do we have any authentic reference that Mohammad ordered anyone to be killed for insulting him? Did he order anyone to be killed for insulting God? I don't think so. And therefore those who insist on this punishment are rejecting the teachings of Mohammad. 

4. Recommending death for blasphemy refutes the very existence of God

We need to ask a question, why is there punishment for any crime? Why is there death punishment for murder?

The reasons are:

i) To provide justice to the victim and his/her loved ones. The next of kin of the one killed can feel that justice has been done and achieve some kind of closure that the killer has met the same fate, death. This does not apply in blasphemy for no one has been killed, so how can you provide justice by killing someone who has not killed anyone? Are you trying to provide justice to Mohammad and God? Don't you think both of them are above such petty insults?

ii) The second reason is deterrence. By killing a murderer you send out a message that if you take life your life will be taken from you. Whether it is an effective deterrence of not is arguable but theoretically it is deterrence. So what are you trying to prevent by killing blasphemers? Blasphemy does not kill anyone; so if you don't prevent murder by this then how can you justify it as deterrence?

And herein lies the logic that if you think that blasphemy is such a disliked crime in God's eyes then don't you think He will punish it as He feels appropriate on the Day of Judgment? You need to punish for crimes that harm others in this world to provide them justice or as deterrence, but for a crime that does not harm anyone in this world but those in the other world, shouldn't the punishment be left to the other world?

And the very reason people insist on death for blasphemy is that they actually don't believe in the existence of God. Although I am sure they have convinced themselves that they do, but they are only fooling themselves for if they did then they would leave God to punish those who insult him or his beloved Prophet Himself.            

So how, one may ask, did the illogical and obviously un-Islamic practice of punishing and killing blasphemers become a part of mainline Islam? Here I feel the belief finds its roots in the same mind set that considers honor killing as justified. I will come back to this a bit later.

Analysts have given a long list of reasons for what leads someone to kill for honor ranging from preservation of economic assets to US drone attacks. But I feel besides explainable reasons there is a highly motivating and unexplainable pure sense of honor which induces people to commit this crime. In other words many who do kill in the name of honor are not doing it due to specific tangible reasons but out of a real sense of shame at their personal or family honor being tainted and believing that by the violence they will redeem what has been lost.

For whatever reasons, the sense of honor is very highly developed among the Muslims and Pakistanis.

I am told that a highly respected and enlightened Pakistan anchor had defended the attack on the office of a Paris magazine by tweeting that if the honor of my beloved Prophet is at stake then it is right to defend it by using violence. So once again the reason why Muslims and Pakistanis demand death for blasphemy is out of a real sense of honor, out of a need to use violence to defend or avenge their Prophet in the same way they do for their family honor.

In conclusion for me it is quite clear that both these phenomena peculiar to the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in specific have their basis in this false belief in honor which is part of the psyche of Muslims and Pakistanis. It is time we examine what is wrong with our societies which leads to this irrational and dangerous sense of false honor developing among our people and take steps to eliminate this error.

To do this we also need to develop among our so-called liberals the courage to see the truth. I use the term see rather than speak deliberately for many of our liberals are brainwashed to ignore the truth. I have seen them arguing that Taseer did not actually condemn the blasphemy law but the wrong use of this law, such statements are nothing but condoning Mumtaz Qadri. For, it means that if Taseer had actually condemned the blasphemy law he should have been punished. What needs to be clearly said is that there is no justification for severe punishment for criticizing current blasphemy laws in Pakistan, the argument that the law is correct but used incorrectly is ludicrous for it is illogical to have a law that can be misused so easily and no one with even a shred of humanity in him/her can demand that anyone should be killed for insulting another person or book. It is strange that those who are disgusted by honor killings yet feel severe punishment for blasphemy is justified fail to see that they are accepting as legitimate a crime which is even worse than the crime of honor killing.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

(Rabindranath Tagore)

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