At first glance this looks like the Religion News Service and the Washington Post giving space to a thoughtful moderate Muslim speaking up sensibly for the freedom of conscience. Unfortunately, that is not exactly what this is. Qasim Rashid, for all his pious posturing, is a spectacularly unpleasant, nasty, rude, arrogant human being, with a long record of dishonesty. He has lied about the Islamic justifications for jihad violence and publicly objected to a piece calling upon peaceful Muslims to fight actively against jihad terrorists. He has lied about the Qur’an’s sanction of deception of unbelievers; lied about the presence of violent passages in the Qur’an; lied about the Qur’an’s sanction of beating disobedient women; lied about the nature of Sharia; and called for limitations on the freedom of speech and expression to outlaw behavior and speech some Muslims may find offensive.
And now he is lying about the basis that laws calling for the imprisonment and/or execution of blasphemers have within the Qur’an and Sunnah. Here is the difference between reform and deception: a sincere reformer will confront and refute the arguments that support the doctrine he is trying to reform; a deceiver will ignore those arguments, not mention the scriptural passages or other teachings that support the doctrine in question, and pretend that the doctrine doesn’t exist at all. That’s what Qasim Rashid does here. He assembles a case for why “blasphemy charges pervert Islam’s teachings” without ever mentioning the Islamic foundations for blasphemy laws, thereby leaving a massive gaping hole in his own case by leaving unanswered this question: if “blasphemy charges pervert Islam’s teachings,” why are there so many perverts? If the Qur’an and Muhammad taught the freedom of conscience so clearly, why do so many Muslims misunderstand what they say, including the Islamic governments of Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere?
Indeed, if the Qur’an and Muhammad taught the freedom of conscience so clearly, why did this article need to be written at all? The Washington Post doesn’t feel itself compelled to publish articles about how blasphemy charges pervert Christianity’s teachings. That’s because Christians aren’t prosecuting people for blasphemy nowadays; such an article might have been useful a few hundred years ago, but not now. And why is this one useful at all, since it ignores all the Islamic justifications for blasphemy and thus doesn’t contain a single thing that would convince a Muslim who approves of blasphemy laws to change his mind? It is fairly clear that Qasim Rashid’s purpose here is to lull non-Muslims into complacency about the steady stream of prosecutions and executions for blasphemy that we see in some Muslim countries; blasphemy laws “pervert Islam’s teachings,” you see. Not to worry. No need to speak out against these prosecutions or do anything to end them: cooler Muslim heads will eventually prevail.
If they ever do, however, it will be no thanks to Qasim Rashid, who does absolutely nothing in this smoothly deceptive piece to counter Islamic justifications for the prosecution of blasphemers.
“COMMENTARY: Blasphemy charges pervert Islam’s teachings,” by Qasim Rashid for the Religion News Service via the Washington Post, February 3:
Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.
Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.
Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.
They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.
The famous Indian poet Sarojini Naidu once wrote, “(Islam) was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy ….” A glance at the aforementioned atrocities and one wonders how Naidu arrived at her conclusion.
Indeed. Especially since there has never been a single functioning Sharia democracy in the history of Islam. Turkey has been a democracy since the 1920s, and is still (for now), but it is a secular one, not an Islamic state. In fact, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, moved explicitly to restrict the political aspects of Islam, and for doing so is reviled as an apostate and an enemy of Islam by hardliners to this day.
Naidu and countless scholars throughout history including George Bernard Shaw, Alphonse de Lamartine, Mahatma Gandhi, and Annie Besant arrived at similar conclusions by studying Islam’s authentic sources — the Quran and Prophet Muhammad. Both champion universal freedom of conscience and free speech. Nothing in Islam endorses, much less commands, death for apostasy or blasphemy, or vigilante justice for childish cartoons.
Regarding blasphemy, the Quran implores Muslims at least seven times that if offended — ignore and move on: “And when thou seest those who engage in vain discourse concerning Our Signs, then turn thou away from them until they engage in a discourse other than that.”
Regarding free speech, the Quran recognizes and protects free speech and expression in more than 40 instances.
Qasim Rashid mentions, not surprisingly, only verses from the Meccan period, during which Muhammad taught tolerance. Rashid doesn’t mention that in the Medinan suras of the Qur’an, which are generally considered by Islamic scholars and religious authorities to take precedence over the Meccan ones, the teaching is very different. And even in a Meccan sura, the Qur’an says this: “Lo! those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah hath cursed them in the world and the Hereafter, and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained. And those who malign believing men and believing women undeservedly, they bear the guilt of slander and manifest sin. O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge thee on against them, then they will be your neighbours in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.” (Qur’an 33:57-61)
A late Medinan sura: “And of them are those who vex the Prophet and say: He is only a hearer. Say: A hearer of good for you, who believeth in Allah and is true to the believers, and a mercy for such of you as believe. Those who vex the messenger of Allah, for them there is a painful doom.” (Qur’an 9:61) Is that “painful doom” for those who vex Muhammad solely hellfire in the next world, or execution in this one? Since 33:57 says Allah has cursed those who malign Muhammad in this world as well as in the next, it is easy to see how some Muslims could have gotten the idea that blasphemers should be killed.
And Muhammad’s example only reinforces this. Qasim Rashid says:
Muhammad’s example as Medina’s ruler echoes this teaching. Muhammad forgave and led the funeral prayer for Abdullah bin Ubay bin Salul, who was guilty of sedition and also advanced the slanderous claim that Muhammad’s wife Aisha was not chaste. Let alone capital punishment, Muhammad did not order any punishment and permitted free speech.
Muhammad established the Charter of Medina, a secular constitution between Muslims and Jews. The charter ensured equality, universal religious freedom, and free speech for all Medina’s residents.
Rashid doesn’t mention a few inconvenient other stories from Islamic tradition about Muhammad. Abu ‘Afak was a poet who was over one hundred years old, and had mocked Muhammad in his verses. Muhammad asked his companions: “Who will avenge me on this scoundrel?” One of them murdered Abu ‘Afak in his sleep. Likewise with another poet who mocked him: the poetess ‘Asma bint Marwan. Muhammad on another occasion cried out, “Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?” One of Muhammad’s companions, ‘Umayr ibn ‘Adi, went to her house that night, where he found her sleeping next to her children. The youngest, a nursing babe, was in her arms. But that didn’t stop ‘Umayr from murdering her and the baby as well. Muhammad commended him: “You have done a great service to Allah and His Messenger, ‘Umayr!” (Ibn Ishaq, 674-676)
Then there was Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf, another poet whose crime was mocking Muhammad. Muhammad again asked his companions: “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” One of the companions, Muhammad bin Maslama, answered, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” When Muhammad said that he would, Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab).” Muhammad responded: “You may say it.” Muhammad bin Maslama duly lied to Ka’b, luring him into his trap, and murdered him. (Bukhari 5.59.369)
Rashid also doesn’t mention that the Constitution of Medina is of doubtful authenticity. Like so much of what we “know” about Muhammad, it is first mentioned in Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, which was written over 125 years after the accepted date for Muhammad’s death. Unfortunately for Rashid, Ibn Ishaq also details what happened to three Jewish tribes of Arabia after the Constitution of Medina: Muhammad exiled the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir, massacred the Banu Qurayza after they (understandably) made a pact with his enemies during the pagan Meccans’ siege of Medina, and then massacred the exiles at the Khaybar oasis, giving Muslims even today a bloodthirsty war chant: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” Funny how we never hear Muslims chanting, “Relax, relax, O Jews, the Constitution of Medina will return.”
Then Rashid turns to make a sly case against free speech: “punishment is warranted if an individual threatens the state due his advocacy of terrorism or incitement to pre-emptive war” — in other words, any speech that the state finds threatening to itself, it can proscribe. That was just what the Founding Fathers sought to prevent by devising the First Amendment: it was a safeguard against tyranny, not a license for tyrants such as what Rashid is advocating.
Islam limits free speech on the same premise that the U.S. Supreme Court has also banned the utterance of inflammatory speech. Punishment is warranted if an individual threatens the state due his advocacy of terrorism or incitement to pre-emptive war. It is upon this premise that citizens were punished in Muhammad’s time — be they Muslim or Jewish. At least 15 European nations have laws punishing certain types of blasphemy — something Islam’s original sources do not have.
Rashid concludes by tossing a few red herrings to the kuffar, brushing aside “kill them where ye find them” (Qur’an 2:191, 4:89, and 9:5) by airily waving in the direction of “context” without bothering to explain what that context is (although he claims to below, he only actually supplies a flat and unsupported assertion), and following that up by claiming that the Qur’an teaches only defensive warfare:
But what of those allegedly violent Quranic verses that declare “kill them where ye find them?” Yes, any six-word excerpt can seem violent when the reader is not aware of the context.
In Chapter 22:41 the Quran explains, “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged ….”
The Quran then specifically obliges Muslims to protect, “churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques” from destruction.
Thus, Islam permits defensive battles to ensure universal freedom of conscience. The proper context of “kill them where ye find them,” therefore, is in self-defense to kill those who persecute and kill others for their faith. Moreover, the Quran further commands Muslims “but if they desist fighting, then you too desist,” demonstrating that Islam actively requires reconciliation.
Sure. If the Infidels surrender and submit to Islamic rule — “pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29), then there is no need to fight them, and they can keep their churches and synagogues as long as they pay that jizya into the Muslim state’s treasury. Muslims are commanded to fight “until religion is all for Allah” (Qur’an 8:39) — that is, until Sharia reigns supreme.
Furthermore, Islam’s rules of war are more advanced, compassionate, and humanitarian than anything any nation on Earth today employs. Even in self-defense, Muslims may only engage those actively engaging them first. Islam categorically forbids treachery; mutilation; killing women, children, or the aged; burning trees; slaying livestock; or harming monks and ministers. Thus, concepts such as drone strikes, nuclear attack, or collateral damage all violate Islam’s rules of war.
Here again: why, then are there so many Misunderstanders of Islam? Why do so many Muslims, including the most devout and pious, transgress against or ignore or deny these rules of warfare? And what is Qasim Rashid saying to them — or is his audience made up solely of credulous infidels?
No Qasim Rashid farrago would be complete without a paragraph or two proselytizing for Ahmadi Islam — without bothering to mention, of course, that it’s a minority sect considered heretical by both Sunnis and Shi’ites and violently persecuted in Pakistan and Indonesia. In the West, Qasim Rashid smears and demonizes those who speak out against this persecution, and sides with his oppressors, while strutting around thumping his chest about his superior knowledge and wisdom. His unstinting rudeness and arrogance shows up his ostentatious religiosity to be just another layer of deceit from this desperately deceitful man.
Far from the barbarism of Taliban and some Muslim-majority regimes, Muhammad’s example of compassion is unmatched. He peacefully endured persecution for a dozen years in Mecca, then fled to Medina to escape an assassination attempt, and finally fought defensive battles on the outskirts of Medina. After the Meccans broke yet another peace treaty, Muhammad marched back to retake Mecca.
Mecca surrendered immediately, leaving Muhammad as the de facto ruler. With the city in hand and the opportunity to exact retribution on all those who murdered his family and companions — Muhammad did something incredible. He declared to the Meccans, “I speak to you as Joseph spoke to his brothers. This day there is no reproof against you. You are free.”
This was Muhammad’s unbreakable allegiance to justice and universal freedom of conscience.
This Islamic spirit of justice still exists today. In 1900 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community wrote, “If (religion) has to make up for its weakness in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.”
Likewise His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad recently declared, “Khilafat has no relation to government or politics. We believe entirely in a separation of religion and matters of state.”
The Quran is clear: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” Thus, in stripping Alexander Aan, Masood Ahmad, and Saeed Abedini of their freedom of conscience, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Iran have only succeeded in stripping Islam of its most noble quality.
Universal freedom of conscience is the very root of Islam — for all people of all faiths, and for all people of no faith.