Note: This post has been revised from its earlier version to explain why blasphemy (Asia Bibi’s crime) is considered a form of kufr, or unbelief, under Islamic law.
This job takes up so much of my time that I am chronically unable to do any outside reading. Unless I have to go to the dentist or wait at the DMV, I read very little that doesn’t bear directly on Gates of Vienna or related work.
Last week provided a chance to catch up on some of the backlog: I had to renew my driver’s license, which involved sitting at the Department of Motor Vehicles for an extended period. To add to the pleasure of the occasion, I took along several issues of National Review, which I had been neglecting since before Christmas.
Every issue of NR contains a feature near the front of the magazine called “The Week”, in which the editors collect various noteworthy news stories and add a bit of unsigned commentary to them. The February 7th issue included this item:
Aasia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian under sentence of death for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. She had been working in the fields one day alongside Muslim women, and they apparently set her up. The blasphemy law with its mandatory death sentence dates from the 1980s as part of Pakistan’s growing Islamism and has no Koranic sanction. [emphasis added]
That’s an intriguing assertion, coming from a (presumably) non-Muslim editor of a conservative American political magazine. It reminds me of the blanket statements about “true Islam” that are repeated over and over by the White House, or generals at the Pentagon, or officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
How do they know that something “has no Koranic sanction”? What authorities have they consulted? What texts have they examined?
Do they rely solely on press releases put out by CAIR? Or did they perhaps hear a talking head from ISNA say something about it on CNN?
How much do they know about Islam, and where did they learn it?
To determine whether or not something is sanctioned by the Koran, a good place to start is ’Umdat al-salik wa ’uddat al-nasik, or The reliance of the traveller and tools of the worshipper, by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri.
The book is commonly referred to as Reliance of the Traveller when cited in English, and is an authoritative source on Sunni Islamic law. We know this because it is certified as such by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which is recognized by Sunni Muslims as the highest authority on Sunni Islamic doctrine.
To understand the charge lodged against Asia Bibi, let’s take a look at Book O, “Justice”, in Reliance of the Traveller. The book does not actually refer to “blasphemy” — the word is not used in the text to describe a crime. However, the topic is covered by the more general concept of kufr, or “unbelief”.
Section o8.7, “Acts that Entail Leaving Islam”, tells us a bit more about unbelief:
Among the things that entail apostasy from Islam (may Allah protect us from them) are:
(1) to prostrate to an idol, whether sarcastically, out of mere contrariness, or in actual conviction… (2) to intend to commit unbelief, even if in the future… (3) to speak words that imply unbelief such as “Allah is the third of three,”… (4) to revile Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace); (5) to deny the existence of Allah…
o8.7 continues through fifteen more examples, and concludes: “There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless. May Allah Most High save us and all Muslims from it.”
For our purposes, “blasphemy” is covered by examples (1) through (5).
Example (3) in particular applies to the case of Asia Bibi, who is a Christian — “Allah is the third of three” is the Islamic description of the doctrine of the Trinity, which Muslims consider a dangerous form of unbelief. However, Ms. Bibi was also probably accused of (4), reviling Allah or Mohammed.
So Ms. Bibi is therefore guilty of kufr, and is subject to the same punishment as an apostate — someone who leaves Islam — under Islamic law.
In the header section on “Apostasy from Islam” (o8.0) we read: “Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief and the worst.” The first subsection (o8.1) is summarized with by topic header: “Whoever Voluntarily Leaves Islam Is Killed.”
And o8.1 itself includes this text:
When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
That seems fairly definitive to me. But if Reliance of the Traveller isn’t authoritative enough — National Review did insist on a “Koranic sanction”, after all — we may turn to the Koran itself and a relevant supporting hadith.
It’s important to note that the citations below are from sahih (“authoritative”) sources. This means that they enjoy the “consensus of the scholars”, and are thus undisputed by all Sunni religious authorities.
First, from Koran 4:89 (Sahih International version):
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper
Is this clear enough? Or is more sanction required?
Just in case the editors still have doubts, the same prescribed punishment is backed by a hadith (also sahih), Bukhari 4.52.260:
Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ’Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’”
In other words: apostates must be killed, but don’t burn them — the privilege of burning unbelievers is reserved to Allah alone.
So much for the lack of “Koranic sanction”!
The prosecution rests.
Before you write off National Review entirely, take a look at the following item, also found in “The Week”, from the February 21st issue:
Feisal Rauf, once the public face of the proposed Ground Zero mosque, has been replaced by Abdallah Adhami, a 44-year-old former architect and current cleric born in Georgetown. Rauf had become a drag on the project, thanks to his notoriety. Will Adhami equal him in that regard? Asked last year about sharia and apostasy, he gave a ten-minute answer in which he said, inter alia, that some jurists had prescribed death, though perhaps imprisonment was enough (comforted yet?); private apostasy might incur no sanction (how private?)…
Strangely enough, this time there’s no mention of “Koranic sanction” when examining the question of the death penalty for apostasy. Is this evidence of a split personality within the editorial staff of National Review?
The explanation for this apparent contradiction is obvious: National Review is a diverse publication. The overwhelming majority of its editors are moderates, but there remains a tiny minority of extremists on the editorial staff who demonstrate Islamophobic tendencies. No one should judge the entire magazine by the behavior of a few extremists who have hijacked a great publication.
The preponderance of “moderates” among the editors at NR is testimony to the fact that the magazine has gradually come to resemble an in-house publication for the Republican Party. As such, one cannot expect it to deviate significantly from the party line of the Republican National Committee.
George W. Bush laid down the party’s doctrine on Islam almost a decade ago. It runs something like this:
- Islam is a religion of peace.
- The terrorist threat comes from “Islamists”: deranged extremists who have hijacked a great religion for their evil ends.
- The evildoers who do horrible things (such as killing apostates) do not represent the true Islam.
- The vast majority of Muslims are just like you and me. They are fundamentally peaceful people who simply want to live their lives in freedom.
Unfortunately for anyone who wishes there were a substantial difference between the two major American political parties, Republican policy on Islam is pretty much set in stone. The party establishment has drunk deeply of the happy juice, and is unlikely to veer from its chosen course until some catastrophic event intervenes.
There are outliers within the party, of course, including Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, and Col. Allen West. However, the establishment Republican position on Islam is almost indistinguishable from that of the Democrats, and National Review generally echoes the Republican establishment.
There’s still a lot of good material in the magazine, so I’m not giving up on it just yet.
But the blatant and unwarranted assumption by the editors that they know what does and does not enjoy “Koranic sanction” — that sticks in my craw.
They don’t feel the need to back up their assertions; they just know. After all, everybody who is anybody “knows” the same things — the RNC, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Wolf Blitzer, Bill O’Reilly, CAIR, ICNA, MSA, MPAC, ISNA…
Did I leave anybody out?