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How Prophet Muhammad Responded to Blasphemy

Is Blasphemy Punishable by Death in Islam?

There is nothing in the Quran or in the authentic teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that justifies, sanctions, or legitimizes the killing of people for opposing, criticizing, humiliating, or showing irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, and beliefs of Islam.

The many Quranic responses to blasphemy have always been “respond not to it and turn away,” and “hold on to forgiveness.”

Qur’anic Guidance

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Examples from the Quran in responding to blasphemy and humiliation against the Prophet (peace be upon him):

We certainly know that your heart is truly distressed by what they say. So glorify the praises of your Lord and be one of those who always pray. (Quran 15:97-98.)

Be gracious, enjoin what is right, and turn away from those who act ignorantly. (Quran 7:199.)

Proclaim then what you are commanded and turn away from the unbelievers. (Quran 15:94.)

˹O Prophet!˺ Follow what is revealed to you from your Lord—there is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him—and turn away from the polytheists. (Quran 6:106.)

˹O believers!˺ Do not insult what they invoke besides Allah or they will insult Allah spitefully out of ignorance. This is how We have made each people’s deeds appealing to them. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them of what they used to do. (Quran 6:108.)

O believers! Do not let some ˹men˺ ridicule others, they may be better than them, nor let ˹some˺ women ridicule other women, they may be better than them. Do not defame one another, nor call each other by offensive nicknames. How evil it is to act rebelliously after having faith! And whoever does not repent, it is they who are the ˹true˺ wrongdoers. (Quran 49:11)

…What is with Allah is far better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; who avoid major sins and shameful deeds, and forgive when angered… (Quran 42:36-37.)

…Do you not love to be forgiven by Allah? And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Quran 24:22.)

The Prophet’s Challenges

If blasphemy were punishable by death in Islam, then the Prophet (peace be upon him) would have been the first to order the killing of hundreds of his foes who later became his closest companions.

Except for a small number of earlier Arabs who accepted the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the Messenger of Allah, most people of Makkah opposed him, humiliated him, cursed, blasphemed, or even tried to kill him. He preferred to practice pardon seeking divine mercy for them. Even after being severely wounded in Taif, he refused to seek revenge.

The older woman who used to throw garbage on the Prophet (peace be upon him) was visited by him when he did not see her throwing it anymore to learn that she was not well.

When Suhail bin Amr, a poet who composed poetry blaspheming the Prophet, was taken as a prisoner of war after Badr’s battle, the Prophet (PBUH) asked his companions to show him kindness.

Examples of Mercy from Hadith

Abu Hurairah narrated: It was said to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him):

“Invoke curse upon the polytheists.”

Whereupon he said:

I have not been sent as the invoker of curse, but I have been sent as mercy. (Muslim)

Abu Hurairah narrated: At-Tufail bin `Amr came to Allah’s Messenger (s) and said:

“O Allah’s Messenger (s)! The tribe of Daus has disobeyed (Allah and His Apostle) and refused (to embrace Islam), therefore, invoke Allah’s wrath for them.”

The people thought that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would invoke Allah’s wrath for them, but he said:

O Allah! Guide the tribe of Daus and let them come to us. (Bukhari)

There are examples to prove that the Prophet never resorted to violence against those who were showing utter disrespect to him or Allah the Almighty.

Violence against anyone criticizing Islam, Allah the Almighty, or Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is unacceptable as clearly established by divine teachings.

Punishments against so-called blasphemy, is a stab in Islam’s heart and a humiliation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) by those who claim to be his followers.

Those who support the killing of people accused of blasphemy are Islam’s enemies because they neither understand Islam nor respect the Prophet (peace be upon him). No matter who they are, the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) challenge them.

Unfortunately, a few Muslim scholars demanded death for acts of apostasy and blasphemy. Political influence was the cause of their corrupt judgment by the true standards of Islam.

The idea of blasphemy is foreign to Islam. Few medieval Muslim scholars justified it based on their understanding of Christian and Jewish texts supporting laws against those who blaspheme and vilify their religions. (Source)

About Faysal Burhan
Faysal Burhan works for the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the dual roles of bringing the true message of Islam to the public, as well as finding common ground between all Muslims, Christians, and Jews.