Whilst blasphemy is a transgression of enormous magnitude, against which Muslims are advised, there is no punishment recommended by the admonisher [Allah] to the admonished [Muslims] for the transgressing blasphemer. In the whole of the Quran, which is his divinely revealed words to mankind, Allah [SWT] did not decree death for a blasphemer in a single verse…
Accused of blasphemy against Muhammad [PBUH], the Prophet of Islam, in a song, the death sentence handed down to one Yahya Sharif-Aminu, a 22 year old Muslim singer, by an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State, has once again renewed the conversation about the unresolved conflict between the state and religion in Nigeria. As of the time of his conviction in early August, Sharif-Aminu was an obscure figure who was little known outside the fold of his Tijaniya Sufi order in Kano, just as the details of his alleged blasphemous song remains in short supply.
Enraged by his alleged sacrilegious composition, which was said to have been released in March and circulated by electronic means, an angry mob had besieged his family house, razing it to the ground, while calling on the relevant authorities to bring Sharif-Aminu to the ultimate justice of death, for blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam, in accordance with the Muslim Sharia law. The outrage over this incidence was so enormous that Hisbah, the Kano State Sharia enforcement outfit, arrested, detained and eventually charged the singer to a Sharia court, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Blasphemy in Islam, which loosely approximates the denigration, abuse, insult, mockery, ridicule and humiliation of God, his Angels and messengers, in utterances considered impious and laced with falsehood, constitutes a grievous transgression against which Muslims are admonished. The act of blasphemy is such a serious one that Muslims are even advised against denigration of the gods of idolaters (Baal, Huba, Amadioha, Ogun, and Sango) etc., so that they, in turn, will not blaspheme against Allah [SWT]. In urging Muslims against blasphemy, Allah [SWT] said in Quran 6:108 “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”
Whilst blasphemy is a transgression of enormous magnitude, against which Muslims are advised, there is no punishment recommended by the admonisher [Allah] to the admonished [Muslims] for the transgressing blasphemer. In the whole of the Quran, which is his divinely revealed words to mankind, Allah [SWT] did not decree death for a blasphemer in a single verse, just as there is no authentic record of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], ordering the execution of a single creation of Allah [SWT] on account of blasphemy. On what Muslims should do when people are blaspheming against Allah [SWT] and his messenger, as contained in Quran 4:140; “When you hear Allah’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them” [Muslims are enjoined to ignore the words of blasphemers and avoid their company when they are engaged in the act of blasphemy].
Allah [SWT], the most gracious, often forgiving, most merciful, all knowing and all wise, in his infinite mercy and grace towards mankind could not have decreed death for blasphemy against him and his messenger. And the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], an embodiment of the virtues of Allah [SWT], who is described as the best of mankind, could not have ordered the execution of any soul on account of blaspheming against him. To suggest otherwise would be to reduce Allah [SWT] and his divinely guided messenger to the worldly characteristics of ordinary mortals who are vain, vengeful and often unforgiving. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], was an embodiment of patience, endurance, wisdom, forgiveness, love and mercy, even in the face of trials and tribulations, yet he never caused any of his traducers harm in whatever form. Even when his capacity for patience and tolerance was stretched beyond human limits by the unrelenting insults and mockeries of enemies of Islam, Allah [SWT] comforted him thus; “And overlook their annoying talk, and put your trust in Allah” [Quran 33:48].
An alleged blasphemer like Sharif-Aminu is best ignored by Muslims by refusing to listen to or distribute his blasphemous songs. And if truly he is a Muslim but choses to disparage the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], then he should be treated as a pathetic case of derangement and a mental health challenge, requiring counselling, rehabilitation and possible medications.
Religion is a subjective interpretation of faith. Whereas, faith [Islam], an inter-personal relationship between man and his creator, is constant, religion [as practised by Muslims] is man’s varied interpretation of the subject of faith to his limited understanding of the limitless knowledge and wisdom of the creator of the heavens and earth. It is this subjectivity in matters of faith that has given rise to inter- and intra-religious divisions into sectarian divides. The Muslim religion, as presently practiced, may not always represent the tenets of the Islamic faith, because religious doctrines and laws are essentially the creation of men, who arrogate to themselves the status of higher knowledge and scriptural insight. This largely explains why there are various Sharia schools of thought, with jurisprudence varying from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore, a Muslim law guiding the conduct of Muslims may not always be Islamic. One of such Muslim laws that is not Islamic is the death penalty for blasphemy against Allah [SWT] and his Prophet, Muhammad [PBUH].
Of the four principal sources of the codified body of Muslim laws, the Sharia, only the Quran is divine. The three other sources, which include the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad [PBUH], the consensus of opinions of eminent scholars [Ijma], and the analogical reasoning of jurists [Qiyas] are by no means divine and the theological doctrines emanating therefrom should be continuously interrogated and thoroughly crosschecked to ensure they do not contradict the word of Allah [SWT] and his essence, as the most gracious and most merciful. The aspect of the Sharia law, which prescribes capital punishment for blasphemy, is in clear contradiction of the words of Allah [SWT], as contained in the Quran, wherein he did not decree death or any other punishment for blasphemy. Allah [SWT] is the sole giver and taker of life, as the power over life and death is exclusively that of the creator of heaven and earth, and not those of his Prophets, scholars or jurists.
An alleged blasphemer like Sharif-Aminu is best ignored by Muslims by refusing to listen to or distribute his blasphemous songs. And if truly he is a Muslim but choses to disparage the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [PBUH], then he should be treated as a pathetic case of derangement and a mental health challenge, requiring counselling, rehabilitation and possible medications. Such a person should not be dignified by this needless controversy of avenging his blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam.
Interestingly, the massive support for the death sentence passed on Sharif-Aminu for his alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad [PHUH] and the condemnation of those opposed to this aspect of Sharia law as “hypocrites” that are worse than “infidels” and “unbelievers”, is a rude reminder of the religious and cultural self-immolation in the Muslim north of Nigeria. The groundswell of support for the Muslim Sharia legal system and outpour of violent emotions towards humankind in the stout defence of their cherished theocratic ethos is a clear illustration of a manifestly latent problem of radicalisation in the Muslim north of Nigeria.
Arising from its wrong religious and cultural choices, the Muslim North has remained a fertile ground of radicalisation for the breeding of willing recruits into the Boko Haram insurgent group, thereby making the war on terror intractable. Islam is a universal Empire of Faith that cannot be consigned to a state under the guide of self-appointed potentates.
The Sharia movement, which started in Nigeria in the early 1970s with the introduction of Salafism into the Muslim north, was a precursor to the current Boko Haram insurgency that is ravaging the Nigerian state. Having weaponised religion as a potent tool for acquiring political power but failing to achieve the expected utopia of an Islamic state through the introduction of the Sharia legal code in the early years of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the leadership establishment of the Muslim north inadvertently succeeded in stoking the fire of extremism, which has resulted in the raging Boko Haram insurgency.
The move, since 1999, by some states in the Muslim North to expand the jurisdiction of the Sharia jurisprudence beyond personal and family matters, as allowed by the Constitution of a multi-religious Federal Republic of Nigeria, is similar to the struggle [Jihad] of Abu Shekau and his Boko Haram struggle [Jihad] to impose an Islamic state. In the same vein, those who support the death sentence for blasphemy passed on Sharif-Aminu and also violently condemn those opposed to it as “infidels”, are themselves not so different from Boko Haram insurgents in their intolerance and extremism.
Arising from its wrong religious and cultural choices, the Muslim North has remained a fertile ground of radicalisation for the breeding of willing recruits into the Boko Haram insurgent group, thereby making the war on terror intractable. Islam is a universal Empire of Faith that cannot be consigned to a state under the guide of self-appointed potentates. The constitution of Nigeria allows its Muslim citizens the freedom to practice their Islamic faith without any form of inhibitions, just as it allows adherents of other faiths to do likewise. However, if the Muslim North is desirous of having an Islamic state where the Sharia legal jurisprudence, which does not separate the state from religion [Islam] will have unlimited jurisdiction, then the time is right to renegotiate the structure of the Nigerian federation.
To save the rest of Nigeria from the incineration of the religious and cultural self-immolation of the Muslim North, the Federal Government may consider the option of reaching a peace accord with Abu Shekau and his Boko Haram insurgent group. In exchange for lasting peace and the cessation of hostilities in the region, the Nigerian state may further consider the option of granting the Muslim North its long cherished and desired status of a Sharia ruled Islamic state within the legal frame work of a restructured Nigeria, wherein other regions will be similarly granted their respective long-term aspirations, such as resource control, regional autonomy and fiscal federalism.