In Sarah Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates”, she said, “The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous, I don’t mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed”. When a belief is so immanent that even if an illogicality is pointed out, the believer allows no room for tolerant discourse, chaos can result. This is true whether the belief concerns Christianity, Islam, atheism, agnosticism, science or any other religion. Thanks to a reprehensible belief, a life has been gruesomely ended in Kano.
A woman, Mrs Bridget Agbahime, was attacked in Kano State, northern Nigeria, for blaspheming Islam’s Mohammed. A mob incensed by the alleged blasphemy in a sharia law-powered state decided that the Nigerian citizen did not have any right to remain alive despite assurances by the nation’s constitution. According to the state’s police command, the victim’s husband would have been killed if not for the arrival of police officers. The officers rescued the husband, but no arrests were made until the opprobrious act raised condemnations from mostly non-Muslim Nigerians. Now, this article really begins.
“If you want to present Islam as peaceful, don’t cherry-pick verses. Highlight the verses from the Quran and Hadiths cited by the extremists and refute them. Don’t act as though those verses don’t exist. You are fooling no one. People know them. They are all over the internet. Refute those verses. Explain why the verses should not be applied today. Don’t ignore them. Don’t insult people’s intelligence. Speak to the Islamic extremists. Don’t just tell non-Muslims that Islam is peaceful. Tell the violent extremists why they should stop acting on those verses. Islamic extremism is a serious global problem. And it demands some seriousness from anyone who seeks to combat it”
The lengthy quote above was copied from Facebook and posted in a WhatsApp group, triggering an emotional debate. Was the writer Islamophobic? Is his admonition valid or insulting? Was he aggressive? Did he fail to understand the Quran? Did his failure to provide examples of the claimed verses render his post useless? Is there any helpful thing to be gleaned from the post or do we just discard it? The debate continues.
“Call them extremists, not Islamic extremists!” This is a passionate plea made by some Muslims. However, when a soldier goes beyond the law to kill someone, no one argues that the killer is not a soldier. Rather, the argument is usually on the “extrajudicality” of the action. If this is the case, then extremists that subscribe to Islam, quote the Quran, and shout “Allahu Akbar” in the midst of murderous frenzies can be called “Islamic extremists”, especially, when they point to verses that they claim offer legitimacy to their actions. The onus lies on “peaceful Muslims” to publicly counter the extremists’ claims. See this example.
In some arguments on the issue of extremism, some Muslim apologists point to the “violent history of Christianity”. Are they right? Maybe. However, in trying to make a point, they miss a clear point—obvious differences in the legitimacy of the quoted references. While an Islamic extremist can point to verses ordering the killing of infidels, the entire biblical New Testament does not contain such an instruction. Rather, “love” is the focus. Therefore, it is illogical to argue that a so-called “Christian” who used Christianity as a reason for killing people has a backing in the New Testament.
Quoting the Old Testament is another exercise in futility. For one, Moses’ rules about wiping out Canaanite nations was basically a land-grabbing strategy for the Israelite nation, similar to the norm in that era where nations invaded others to acquire territories. If it were a non-negotiable rule, the Gibeonites, Edomites and the Moabites would not have had their lands exempted. Anyone pointing to the Old Testament should show instances after Joshua and Judges, apart from Saul in First Samuel, where the Israelites fought a religious war. When the Israelites were settled in lands, they did not need a religious instruction to invade anybody. They became like the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians of that era, invading not for religious reasons but political reasons. In essence, Moses’ Old Testament invasion rules were discarded.
What I have done above, though very brief, is what I expect from enlightened peaceful Muslims. Use the Quran to discredit the extremists publicly. How can we believe you do not support their violent actions if you don’t speak out? Silence makes it appear that a number of Muslims secretly support the beheading of that woman, and several others who have been murdered under the cover of blasphemy.
It is not just blasphemy in the form of “insults”. Non-Muslims have been killed for touching a Quran. Since a number of Muslims have bibles they read, should they be killed for touching bibles? This intolerance covers a feeling of superiority. Events in Nigeria and Pakistan have also shown that allegations of blasphemy are sometimes used to settle personal scores. If religious tolerance does not provide enough reason to discard the concept of blasphemy, this potential for abuse should serve as motivation.
Looking at blasphemy, it is quite a silly concept in the 21st century. Whether the murdered woman “blasphemed” or not is irrelevant. In a supposedly secular country, why should the concept of blasphemy even exist? In the second paragraph, the name “Mohammed” was neither preceded by “Prophet”, nor succeeded by “Peace be unto him”. That’s because I am NOT a Muslim. It is therefore sensible to expect that I should not be treated like one nor expected to behave like one. Similarly, if someone disputes the “lordship” of Jesus, calls him a mere prophet, says he is a fraud, had a wife, or any other statement considered “irreverent” by Christians, such a person cannot be held criminally liable. It is a free world! Gideon’s example in the Book of Judges illustrates that a “god” is supposed to fight for itself. If God is powerless, then we should all be atheists.
Samuel Rushdie, the wanted author of “The Satanic Verses” wrote, “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable”. Enlightened Muslims need to prove that this callous murder and other extreme acts are actions of persons wrongly using God to justify the reprehensible. The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido, as the religious head of Kano, and being an educated person, should be at the forefront condemning this blasphemy nonsense. First, he should clarify the allegations about his involvement in the 1995 beheading of Gideon Akaluka by Islamic fanatics. Once those allegations are discredited, he would have full moral capital to show his people a better, civilized way of living religiously without being intolerant.
The same is expected from non-fanatical leaders in the north and south of Nigeria. They need to speak out. Silence implies complicity. This is the time for imams to use their pulpits to break the shameful yoke of intolerance. The Ramadan season provides an avenue for re-education. They can show that the extremists misunderstand Islam, or lack the ability to comprehend the Quran, the same way many persons miscomprehend GRE Verbal. If they do not feel inclined to do this in defence of Islam, they should think of what the world would have looked like if Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist countries had policies that made “blasphemy” against their official religions a capital offense. Such would be a scaringly intolerant world.
Anyone who still thinks that a person should be killed or even jailed for insulting any religion is simply crazy. Such a person is unfit for 21st century civilization. Let me end with a quote by Voltaire: “What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?”
Image Credit: forbes.com