All around the Islamic world, and even in the West, “blasphemers”—those who would talk against Islam—are under attack; some are murdered, many imprisoned.
Validating this assertion is almost futile, as blasphemy-related stories surface with extreme regularity. The recent murder of an American citizen being tried for blasphemy in a Pakistani courtroom is just the most “spectacular.” Incidences of Muslims beating or imprisoning (two with death sentences) those who say or do something critical of Islam—to say nothing of just rioting in general—have in recent days and weeks been reported from Austria, Bangladesh, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Norway, Tunisia, and the UK.
What explains this phenomenon? Why don’t the followers of other religions respond similarly to those who “blaspheme”? The answer is that few modern religions are as fragile as Islam. Built atop a flimsy and easily collapsed pack of cards, silencing any criticism against it has always been and remains pivotal to its survival.
Muhammad himself knew this well; hence why his Koran (33:57) declares that “Those who abuse Allah and His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter and prepared for them a humiliating punishment.” More practically, “the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] mischief is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land” (Koran 5:33).
Islam’s ulema (leading scholars and sheikhs) have long held that “wage war” most definitely includes verbal war. In fact, verbal attacks on Islam are often perceived as worse than physical attacks. As the highly revered Ibn Taymiyya—the “Sheikh of Islam”—put it,
Muharaba [waging war] is of two types: physical and verbal. Waging war verbally against Islam may be worse than waging war physically—hence the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to kill those who waged war against Islam verbally, while letting off some of those who waged war against Islam physically. This ruling is to be applied more strictly after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Mischief may be caused by physical action or by words, but the damage caused by words is many times greater than that caused by physical action; and the goodness achieved by words in reforming may be many times greater than that achieved by physical action. It is proven that waging war against Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) verbally is worse and the efforts on earth to undermine religion by verbal means is more effective.
This is not merely a medieval interpretation, limited to the “radical” Taymiyya; there is consensus among all four schools of Islamic law that speaking against and therefore blaspheming Muhammad deserves the death penalty. After quoting the aforementioned Koran 5:33, Dr. Zakir Naik asserted in Islamic Voice in 2006, “In Islam, a person who has committed blasphemy can either be killed or crucified, or his opposite hands and feet can be cut off, or he can be exiled from that land.”
These brutal penalties are based on the fact that, as Taymiyya pointed out, Muhammad himself ordered the execution of many people simply for criticizing, questioning, or mocking him. Among those killed were women, such as Asma bint Marwan.
According to the prophet’s earliest biographer, after Muhammad heard some of her poetry, which portrayed him as a murdering bandit, he called for her assassination, exclaiming: “Will no one rid me of this woman?” Umayr, a zealous Muslim, decided to execute the Prophet’s wishes. That very night he crept into Asma’s home while she lay sleeping surrounded by her young children; one was at her breast. The Umayr removed the suckling babe and then plunged his sword into the poet. The next morning at mosque, Muhammad, who was aware of the assassination, said, “You have helped Allah and his Apostle.” Apparently feeling some remorse, Umayr responded, “She had five sons; should I feel guilty?” “No,” the prophet answered. “Killing her was as meaningless as two goats butting heads.”
The prophet knew, as many of his modern followers instinctively sense, that, once the door to criticism is left open, Islam—which more than any other religion has been so thoroughly debunked by many fields of knowledge, not just theology or common sense—falls apart.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar, The Al Qaeda Reader, and Crucified Again, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.