Who needs blasphemy laws anyway?

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There have been two victories for freedom of speech recently. The first, on 28th October, was when Ireland voted in a referendum to scrap its blasphemy laws. Stephen Fry was reported by a member of the public in 2015 for the following comments:

“Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded stupid god who creates a world so full of injustice and pain?” the actor said.”The god that created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac, totally selfish.”

The reaction from the political establishment was embarrassment swiftly followed by legislative reform. How ridiculous that this stuff is still on the statute book, said the press.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where blasphemy is a capital offence and blasphemy laws are defended by its UK educated Prime Minister,  Asia Bibi was finally freed after 8 years on death row. After some grubby bargaining with the political parties who wanted her dead, it’s hoped she has finally been allowed to leave the country – the latest news is still unclear.

But unlike Stephen Fry’s opinions, Western media outlets don’t like to repeat what Bibi actually said. The BBC reports coyly “she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad.”  Sky News says she was imprisoned “over allegations she insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad”. Mohammed Hanif in the New York Times went further still:

“We can never know what she may or may not have said because repeating blasphemy is also blasphemy, and writing it down may be even greater blasphemy. So let’s not go there….”

Surprise, surprise, the same newspaper decided to publish Stephen’s comments in full! Why this lack of editorial consistency? I wonder if the violent protests  across the country, calling for the assassination of Bibi and the judges who acquitted her had anything to do with it.

So what exactly did Asia say that everyone is too shy to report? Asia recounts answering her neighbour, who had just referred to Jesus as a “bastard”, with the words “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammed ever do to save mankind?” Probably one of the most prescient, probing, relevant questions ever asked. And not even blasphemous -her neighbour was blasphemous. Either way – blasphemy should never be a criminal offence. But who cares? A blasphemy law is redundant when the mainstream media is sharia compliant by choice.

Indeed Twitter’s sharia-compliance officers charged us with ‘hateful conduct’, after we tweeted Sky News on the issue of grooming gangs:

“Religion of Islam has lots to do with this. Qur’an supports their actions. Role model of Muslims is Muhammad and his actions support the actions of grooming gangs (should be called ‘rape gangs’.” (You can probably tell which one of us wrote that.)

Clearly Twitter can’t tell the difference between ‘hateful conduct’ and ‘uncomfortable facts.’ But then, this is the organisation that accepted a paid  ad promoting female genital mutilation. (You can watch our response to Twitter  here, and you can read our article where we link the issue of rape gangs with Islamic teaching here.)

But at least the European Court of Human Rights is on the side of free speech – right? Wrong. The ECHR thinks free speech is less important than “the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved.” So if people feel on religious grounds, that having sex with 9 year old child is acceptable (because their prophet did so) their religious feelings take precedence over proper discussion of their prophet’s behaviour.  All at a time when “child marriage has become one of the most pervasive and enduring forms of sexual exploitation of young girls in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to this  white paper on Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa.  (Click here for the full article by Jules Gomes.)  Likewise Asia Bibi won’t be offered asylum in Britain, according to one source, due to ‘security concerns and unrest in certain sections of the community.’ Yet again Muslim feelings trump the morally right thing to do.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday. I wonder what the soldiers who laid down their lives would make of the freedoms they fought for being discarded so cheaply? But bemoaning it doesn’t help. Nor does silence. The church needs to find her voice again, and be firm and be courageous. We must “speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9); we must preach the Gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2), and “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5), especially as it gets more costly. But we can do with joy and hope, with Jesus as our victorious King.

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)

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Asia Bibi, Freedom of Speech and Muslims’ feelings

Asia Bibi, Freedom of Speech and Muslims’ feelings.

Godwin talks with the Dawah team on whether people should be allowed to critique Islam.

From Ibn Sa`d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, translated by S. Moinul Haq, volume 2, pages 30-31.

SARIYYAH OF `UMAYR IBN `ADI Then (occurred) the sariyyah of `Umayr ibn `Adi Ibn Kharashah al-Khatmi against `Asma’ Bint Marwan, of Banu Umayyah Ibn Zayd, when five nights had remained from the month of Ramadan, in the beginning of the nineteenth month from the hijrah of the apostle of Allah. `Asma’ was the wife of Yazid Ibn Zayd Ibn Hisn al-Khatmi. She used to revile Islam, offend the prophet and instigate the (people) against him. She composed verses. Umayr Ibn Adi came to her in the night and entered her house. Her children were sleeping around her. There was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because he was blind, and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword in her chest till it pierced up to her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the prophet at al-Medina. The apostle of Allah said to him: “Have you slain the daughter of Marwan?” He said: “Yes. Is there something more for me to do?” He [Muhammad] said: “No. Two goats will butt together about her. This was the word that was first heard from the apostle of Allah. The apostle of Allah called him `Umayr, “basir” (the seeing).

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Shia doesn’t stay for answers to his questions

Shia doesn’t stay for answers to his questions.

While talking about Asia Bibi, freedom of speech and how Muhammad killed his critics, Hatun’s Muslim interlocutor changes the topic and ask questions about the Christian God, Trinity and deity of Jesus . But he doesn’t want to stay for the answers…

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Should you be allowed to critique Islam?

Should you be allowed to critique Islam?

Hatun and Yahya discuss Freedom of Speech in Islam.

From Ibn Sa`d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, translated by S. Moinul Haq, volume 2, pages 30-31. SARIYYAH OF `UMAYR IBN `ADI Then (occurred) the sariyyah of `Umayr ibn `Adi Ibn Kharashah al-Khatmi against `Asma’ Bint Marwan, of Banu Umayyah Ibn Zayd, when five nights had remained from the month of Ramadan, in the beginning of the nineteenth month from the hijrah of the apostle of Allah. `Asma’ was the wife of Yazid Ibn Zayd Ibn Hisn al-Khatmi. She used to revile Islam, offend the prophet and instigate the (people) against him. She composed verses. Umayr Ibn Adi came to her in the night and entered her house. Her children were sleeping around her. There was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because he was blind, and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword in her chest till it pierced up to her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the prophet at al-Medina. The apostle of Allah said to him: “Have you slain the daughter of Marwan?” He said: “Yes. Is there something more for me to do?” He [Muhammad] said: “No. Two goats will butt together about her. This was the word that was first heard from the apostle of Allah. The apostle of Allah called him `Umayr, “basir” (the seeing).

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Critiquing Muhammad and Asia Bibi with a Shia Muslim

Critiquing Muhammad and Asia Bibi with a Shia Muslim.

Hatun asks a Shia Muslim if he thinks people should have the freedom to question/ critique Muhammad.

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A tale of two prisoners

Free Asia BibiAnjem Choudary

On October 8th Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal case of Asia Bibi, the farm worker and mother of five who has been in prison on death row for almost eight years. She was imprisoned under the country’s infamous blasphemy law section 295C – “defiling the name of Muhammad”  – a capital offence.

Asia had been harvesting berries when she went to get some water. When she drank from a cup also used by her Muslim co-workers, they objected on the grounds she was a Christian. In the ensuing argument, Asia said “”I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” For this she was sentenced to death. Asia describes that moment:

“I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I can no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker. I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: “Kill her, kill her! Allahu Akbar!” The court house is invaded by a euphoric horde who break down the doors, chanting: “Vengeance for the holy prophet. Allah is great!” I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van… I had lost all humanity in their eyes.”

Since then her case has been through numerous appeals; her husband and children live in hiding; two politicians, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, have been assassinated because of their support for her; judges are too afraid to be involved in her case, and demonstrations calling for her to be hanged are attended by tens of thousands. Salmaan Taseer’s murderer was praised by none other than the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque. “A true Muslim was punished for doing which the collective will of the nation failed to carry out,”he wrote.  (He wasn’t charged with hate speech.) Another cleric, Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman, addressing a pro-blasphemy law rally, called the same murderer a ‘martyr’ – he was invited to be a key speaker at a UK anti-terrorism conference in July. Barnabas Fund tried to raise concerns with the Home Secretary about this man; they were told  it wasn’t possible to comment on “individual cases.”

This is Asia Bibi’s last chance. The verdict has been delayed – if it fails she will become the first woman to be executed under Section 295C, unless Prime Minister Imran Khan grants her clemency.

This Friday, Anjem Choudary will be released from prison after serving half of his five and a half year prison sentence for supporting Islamic State. Here are some of Choudhury’s statements, all of which are completely in line with Islamic teaching:

“Thieves would have various warnings first, and only in cases where he has stolen more than £20 of non-perishable goods from a private house would his hand be chopped off.”

“Under Sharia and under the Koran the sale of alcohol is prohibited and if one were to also drink alcohol, that would be 40 lashes.”

“All women would have to be covered up appropriately and wear the niqab or veil and so there will be no prostitution.”

“By 2050, Britain will be a majority Muslim country. It will be the end of freedom of democracy and submission to God.”

Choudary’s name has been linked to 15 terror plots: he  inspired Khuram Butt, one of the London Bridge terrorists as well Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who killed the British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013.  His influence is alive and well – we talk to his acolytes every week at Speaker’s Corner.

Because he was given a fixed-term sentence, he is automatically eligible for release half-way through this sentence. (Stricter options, for those who remain a danger to the public, such as “extended determinate sentences” are available but were not applied in the Choudary case.) And so, despite being described by the judge as “genuinely dangerous” he is being released under strict conditions; he’s not allowed outside London, his Internet search history will be monitored, he won’t be allowed to meet his jihadi contacts – at huge cost to the tax payer. Will he get round these? Why ever not? This is a man who accepts Islamic theocracy as the only true authority, not some rule of law imposed on him by the kufr.

What do both cases tell us? That a Muslim in a non-Muslim country enjoys the freedom to criticise that country’s beliefs but those freedoms are not reciprocated. That Islam breeds fanaticism and fear. The fanaticism of thousands, who think the honour of their prophet is well served by the murder of an illiterate woman asking a reasonable question; and the fear of death for anyone daring to side with her. The fanaticism that comes with one man wanting to live purely by the teaching of Allah; and Muhammad and the authorities’ fear of confronting this robustly.

How do you overcome fear? Only through trusting in the only One who has faced death and overcome. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33. And it’s because of Him we speak up, in the  hope that Muslims will become his disciples, and that “the truth will set them free.” Asia is in prison for her spirited defence of the truth about Jesus Christ; we must continue to speak fearlessly of Him in her honour, and pray fervently for justice to be done.

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