The Great Price of ‘Blaspheming’ Against Muhammad

A few days ago in Pakistan, a Christian pastor who has been “tortured every day in prison” since 2012 when he was first incarcerated, was sentenced to life in prison. Zafar Bhatti, 51, is accused of sending “blasphemous” text messages from his mobile phone; but human rights activists contend  that the charge “was fabricated to remove him from his role as a Pastor.”  His wife, Nawab Bibi, says: “Many Muslim people hated how quickly his church was growing; they have taken this action to undermine his work. Yet despite their actions the church grows. I wish our persecutors would see that Christians are not evil creatures. We are human beings created by God the same God that created them although they do not know this yet.”

She adds, “There have been numerous attempts to kill my husband — he is bullied everyday and he is not safe from inmates and prison staff alike.”  In 2014, he “narrowly escaped assassination after a rogue prison officer,” Muhammad Yousaf, went on a shooting spree “to kill all inmates accused of blasphemy against Islam.”

Bhatti is one of countless Christian minorities to suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has helped make that country the fourth worst nation in the world in which to be Christian.  Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother has been on death row since 2010 on the accusation that she insulted Muhammad.  According to Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Because the word of a Christian “infidel” is not valid against the word of a Muslim, accusations of blasphemy, often with little or no evidence, routinely lead to the beating, imprisonment, and possible killing of Christians and other minorities every month in Pakistan.[1]   An Amnesty International report from 1994 summarizes the situation:

Several dozen people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan over the last few years; in all the cases known to Amnesty International, the charges of blasphemy appear to have been arbitrarily brought, founded solely on the individuals’ minority religious beliefs. . . . The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities . . . hostility towards religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage. As a consequence, Amnesty International has concluded that most of the individuals now facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges, are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs in violation of their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Other Christians accused of blasphemy never get the chance for even a mock trial and are dealt “justice” at the hands of angry mobs—such as the young Christian couple burned alive on a spurious accusation of blasphemy in November 2014.  A report from 2012 found that “Since 1990 alone, fifty-two people have been extra-judicially murdered on charges of blasphemy” in Pakistan.  Last month, three burqa wearing sisters shot and killed a man accused of committing blasphemy in 2004.  “[W]e couldn’t kill him at the time because we were too young then,” they explained later.   Also last month, a 23-year-old college student “was killed and another seriously injured by a vigilante mob for allegedly ‘publishing blasphemous content online.’”  The incident occurred on campus; the mob was yelling “Allahu Akbar” throughout.

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Although Islam’s blasphemy law is most associated with Pakistan, several other Muslim nations use it to persecute Christians and other minorities.  Days ago, around the same time Bhatti was being sentenced to life in Pakistan, in Indonesia, Ahok, the Christian governor of Jakarta, was sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of insulting Islam and desecrating the Koran.[2]   Similarly, on March 30, a report appeared saying, “Iran sentences a 21-year-old man to death for ‘insulting Islam’ … after confessing when police promised he would be pardoned if he came clean.”

Earlier this year in Algeria, Samir Chamek, a 34-year-old Christian man, was sentenced to one year in prison after a court found him “guilty of insulting Islam and its prophet over items he posted on his Facebook page.”  They were described as “accusing the prophet Muhammad of terrorism and murder and comparing the prophet to Hitler, mentioning the persecution and massacre of the Jews.”  Also in Algeria, last August a Muslim convert to Christianity was sentenced to the maximum five years in prison for saying that the light of Jesus will outshine Islam and its prophet Muhammad on social media, which the court ruled as “blasphemous.”

In October, in Ethiopia, four Christian girls—aged 18, 15, 14, and 14—handed out a booklet entitled, “Let’s speak the truth in love.”   Because it challenged Islamic accusations against Christianity, local Muslims deemed the book blasphemous and rioted. They attacked a church and assaulted Christians.   The girls were arrested and, after a brief court hearing on November 15, sentenced to a month in prison.

As in Pakistan, Muslim mobs and “vigilantes” often take “the law” into their own hands.  In March, in India, a Muslim turned atheist “was hacked to death by a four-member gang” of Muslims.  Last September, a Christian writer and activist was killed outside of a courthouse in Jordan. The 56-year-old man was earlier arrested for sharing a “blasphemous” cartoon about the prophet Muhammad. As he was walking into court to stand trial for “contempt of religion” and “inciting sectarian strife,” a man dressed in traditional Muslim garb shot him to death.

Last August in Nigeria, after two university students got into an argument, the Muslim student accused the Christian student of insulting  Muhammad. Soon a mob of Muslims assembled and said the Christian must die. Then they savagely beat and nearly killed him.  The following day, mobs of Muslims rioted and vandalized Christian campuses and churches.

Such nonstop accusations, incarcerations, murders, tortures and death penalties meted out to non-Muslims on the mere accusation of “blasphemy”—at the hands of mobs, vigilantes, and court judges— call into question any claims of tolerance, modernity, or pluralism in many Muslim majority nations.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Raymond Ibrahim