When I heard the shocking news that the writer Salman Rushdie had been stabbed while participating in a conference, I immediately realised, without knowing further details about the attack or the assailant, that it is paramount as a Muslim to express absolute condemnation of this atrocity.
Salman Rushdie is well known amongst Muslims for his controversial novel The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, in which he fictionalised the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. His book was considered by different sectors of the Islamic world as a blasphemous act and several religious leaders at the time issued a “fatwa" (an Islamic legal pronouncement) in which they demanded capital punishment for the author.
It is not only Salman Rushdie who has been condemned for “blasphemy.” The journalists of Charlie Hebdo magazine, Sri Lankan businessman Priyantha Kumara and a long list of others have also suffered. Even on the same Friday morning as the attack on Rushdie, an Ahmadi Muslim was murdered in Pakistan in broad daylight in a street full of pedestrians due to his "crime" of belonging to the Ahmadiyya Community, which is constitutionally persecuted in Pakistan for blasphemy.
In short, the term "blasphemy" is the dark cloud that overshadows the followers of Islam and is often used as an open licence to eliminate and persecute any opinion that is different, critical or considered inconvenient.
As a Muslim, the most worrying thing for me is that some groups justify violence in the name of God, even though there is no punishment for blasphemy in our religion. There is not a single verse in the Qur'an, not a single incident in the entire life of the Prophet Muhammad where he would have shown any violent reaction or punished anyone because of his blasphemous acts. On the contrary, the Prophet was a model in guaranteeing religious freedom and respecting freedom of opinion. Of course, we can and even must constantly question in our pluralistic societies the definition of the "right of opinion" in order not to allow hate speech in the name of freedom. For sure, we are saddened if someone insults and defames the honour of our prophet, but there is no permission and justification for a Muslim to take the law into his hand and respond violently, even to provocations or blasphemous acts. The Holy Qur'an teaches to respect the dignity of every human life, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and makes it clear that whoever kills a human being is as if he has killed all of humanity.
In conclusion, a "fatwa," such as the one pronounced in the case of Salman Rushdie, which contradicts the very same Islamic sources, lacks its authenticity, and must be repudiated by Muslims. I firmly believe that it is incumbent upon every devotee, who claims to love Islam (which literally in Arabic means "peace") to follow its noble teachings rather than justify or permit violence falsely exercised in its name.
* Marwan Sarwar Gill is Imam (Islamic theologian) and President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina.
by Marwan Sarwar Gill*