While media attention recently has focused on Pakistan and its blasphemy laws, many countries have such laws including Saudi Arabia and Iran. In western countries blasphemy laws have been replaced by hate speech laws that also punish some types of speech.
The arrest of a young Christian girl for allegedly burning pages of a beginner's guide for reciting the Quran has focused media attention on Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Those laws are draconian but they derive more generally from Sharia law and its prohibitions.
There is a certain irony in the strong association of draconian blasphemy laws with Islam. According to Wikipedia neither the Quran nor hadith (sayings) make reference to a crime of blasphemy. It is later jurists who incorporated laws against blasphemy into Sharia law. A lawyer, activist and critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, Ayesha Haq says:
"I think it's a bad law to start off with – it's a man-made law and it has nothing to do with religion. If you look at our history, the history of Islam and that of our Holy Prophet - he was exceptionally tolerant to those who were abusive towards him. He never took any action against anyone who did anything horrible to him, like throw garbage on him. So for him to put up with all that and we can't, to me, makes absolutely no sense."
Yet under Sharia law penalties for blasphemy can include fines, imprisonment, flogging, amputation, and death by hanging or beheading. One section of Pakistani blasphemy law states:“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine.”
There is nothing unique about the Pakistani laws. Similar laws can be found in Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Again somewhat ironically laws governing criticism of Muhammad or Islam are often used against minority Muslim sects as well as adherents of other religions.
In 2008 in Saudi Arabia Ra'if Badawi ran a website that was critical of the Saudi religious police and also questioned the traditional Wahhabi interpretations of Islam. He was charged with setting up a site that insults Islam. Badawi was faced with possibly 5 years in prison and an $800,000 dollar fine. He fled the country.
In 2007 Sabri Bogday, a barber from Turkey, confessed to swearing at Allah and was sentenced to death. Two appeals were denied but eventually after Bogday appealed to King Abdullah and expressed repentance while asking Allah for forgiveness the king allowed his appeal and Bogday returned to Turkey.
Iranian blasphemy law is based on Sharia law but from a Shia perspective. Critics claim it has been used against minorities such as the Sufis, Bahai, and even opposition journalists or politicians. Here are two illustrative cases from Wikipedia.
In June of 2009 singer Mohsen Namjoo was sentenced in absentia to a five-year jail term for ridiculing the Quran in a song even though a year earlier Namjoo had apologized for the song and claimed it was never meant for public release. Perhaps the most famous use of blasphemy laws was the fatwa issued against the novelist Salman Rushdie.
In 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers of the satirical novel the Satanic Verses for insulting Muhammad and Islam. While Rushdie has so far escaped punishment his Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991. The Italian translator also was stabbed but survived.
While in many western countries blasphemy laws have disappeared there are in many countries hate speech laws which criminalize certain types of speech. Hate speech laws are much broader than blasphemy laws which are connected to religion. Groups protected against hate speech include the disabled, ethnic minorities, religious groups, those of a particular gender or gender identity, those of a particular sexual orientation and no doubt others as well. Many countries,although not the United States, have such laws. However even more countries, including the United States, have hate crime legislation that in effect adds seriousness and punishment to existing crimes that are motivated by hate. All of these types of laws can be misused to stifle opposition and certainly they impose a type of political correctness on citizens.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com