Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Sharing Group Discussion on Jesus (a.s.) Qua Divine

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following was posted by me, on The Sharing Group, on the 11th March 2016: “Something to consider: From a Muslim theological perspective, the heresy of Trinitarianism is not the belief that Jesus (a.s.) is God since that can be understood through the doctrinal instruments of the tajalli and wahdat al-wujud; but that God is Jesus (a.s.) since God is Mukhalafatuhu lil Hawadits, Distinct from and without resemblance to Creation.”

Brother Abdul Karim Majid: Spot on and exactly what I have been taught to understand.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) was, perhaps, the one who articulated this best.  Imam Ahmad as-Sirhindi (q.s.) also had a similar position.

Brother Sri Nahar: Regarding “God is Jesus”; if by “Jesus”, we refer to the human nature of the Son of Mary, then God is not Jesus.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: God is not Jesus (a.s.) in any nature.

Brother Sri Nahar: The reason given to the statement that God is not Jesus is that the Creator is distinct from His Creation.  From the reason provided, it would seem that by “Jesus”, one is referring to the human nature of the person who is identified as the Son of Mary.  Trinitarians would agree that the Divine Nature is not human and never was and will never be.  This is a truism, and is like saying that the soul is not the body.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I refer you to the Nicene Creed: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

And the Athanasian Creed: “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.  For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.  But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.  Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.  The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated.  The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited.  The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal.”

Brother Sri Nahar: I do not see the problem with the Nicene Creed.  It does not conflate the Divine nature with the human nature of Christ.  What is affirmed is that the person Who is called Jesus Christ is the same person Who is the Logos.  But it does not follow from this that because Jesus and the Logos are one person, the human and Divine natures are not differentiated.  To put it very simply, nature does not equate with person.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The Nicene Creed is actually the Creed of the Council of Constantinople, where they edited it to further reject Arianism.  The Athanasian Creed came into the form we know at the Council of Chalcedon.

In essence, the two creeds were formulated to reject the Arian theology that Jesus (a.s.) was not Divine, created, limited and an intercessor for the First Cause.  Both creeds state that Jesus (a.s.) shares the Attribute of God, and rejects the Monophysite position that he is of human nature. Catholicism, and by extension, Pauline Christianity, states that Jesus (a.s.) is perfect god and perfect man.  There is no distinctiveness in his dual natures since they are, in reality, one nature.  Coming back to a Muslim perspective, Jesus (a.s.) is not and never was “God”.

Brother Sri Nahar: If by Jesus, you mean the human nature of the Son of Mary, that is not and was never God, that is something we can agree with.  But the point I am making is that the person Who was called Jesus is the same person Who is the Logos.  The identity is one of personality, not natures.

You wrote, “Catholicism, and by extension, Pauline Christianity, states that Jesus (a.s.) is perfect god and perfect man.  There is no distinctiveness in his dual natures since they are, in reality, one nature.”  I cannot comment about Catholicism, but in Eastern Orthodoxy, it is stressed emphatically that the there are two natures in Christ and that these two are quite distinct - even to the point of saying that Christ has two wills.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That is a different contention than what you have above then.  Now, the question we have to consider is what exactly is the Logos.  Even John 1:1 is quite unclear:

1 At the beginning of time the Word already was; and God had the Word Abiding with Him, and the Word was God.

Some assume it to be Jesus (a.s.).  The Samosatenes, the Arians, the Exucontians and others assume otherwise.  You are confusing the Nestorian belief with all of Eastern Orthodoxy here.  They are distinct.  The Nestorian position is a via media between Pauline Christianity and Arianism.  Nestorianism was refuted and made anathema at Chalcedon and Ephesus.

Brother Sri Nahar: I am not confusing Nestorianism with Eastern Orthodoxy at all.  I am simply stating what Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.  Eastern Orthodoxy explicitly teaches dyophysitism, that there are two natures in Christ; and also, dyotheletism, that there are two wills in Christ.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Eastern Orthodoxy accepts the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, although the latter is not in common use.  The official position of the Eastern Orthodox is not dyophysite - that is Nestorian.  In Christology, they are miaphysites.  The hypostasis was established at Chalcedon.

Brother Sri Nahar: Miaphysitism is the position of the Oriental Orthodox, not of Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole.  From the Orthodox Wiki: Miaphysitism, sometimes called henophysitism, is the Christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.  Miaphysitism holds that in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and humanity are united in one “nature”, “physis”, the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

Also, from the Orthodox Wiki: “The Council of Chalcedon is often seen as a watershed for Christology, as it adopted dyophysitism.  However, as large portions of the Church in Syria and Egypt, who held to miaphysitism, rejected the decision, the controversy became a major socio-political problem for the Byzantine Empire.  There were numerous attempts at reunion between the two camps, including the Henoticon in 482 CE, and the balance of power shifted several times.  However, the decision at Chalcedon remains the official teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and traditional Protestants.  The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches are usually grouped together as Oriental Orthodox.  Over recent decades, leaders of the various branches of the Church have spoken about the differences between their respective Christologies as not being as extreme as was traditionally held.”

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I checked, and I stand corrected.  The Oriental Orthodox rejected Chalcedon, not the Eastern Orthodox.

In any case, going back to the original contention, it would be unbecoming for a monotheist to believe that God, the Unlimited, may become limited; in this case, the person of Jesus (a.s.).  Breaking it down, it becomes theologically problematic since it supposes that Jesus (a.s.) shares the Attribute of Existing, instead of reflecting it.

Brother Sri Nahar: There is no Orthodox Trinitarian who believes that the Divine Nature changes into something which is limited.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I agree that no Trinitarian says so, but that does not make it so, does it?  How is this theologically possible unless there is a variant understanding of Divine Nature.

Brother Sri Nahar: How is what not theologically possible?  The participation of a human nature in the energies of the Divine Nature in the maximum possible way?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: How does an Unlimited God becoming limited to a particular vessel of Creation?  He does not, so the Christians say that Jesus (a.s.) is uncreated, begotten not made, sharing the Substance and the Essence of God.  But consider this, God is Omniscient and Omnipresent because He is Unlimited and beyond limits. He is Absolute.  How can any vessel be absolute?  Can a thimble hold the ocean ten thousand times over?

Christian theology on the Divine Nature is not well-thought out and has been reactive for two thousand years.  They had, at least, eleven major councils to address this and they still have not.  God is not in need of anything in Creation.

Brother Sri Nahar: Where is there a limitation?  Rather, there is a participation of a human nature in the energies of the Divine nature.  A human nature is supernaturally elevated, but in doing so, the Divine nature is by no means diminished.

Jesus qua His Divine nature as the Logos is begotten, homo ousios, not qua human nature.  The vessel you refer to is the human nature of Jesus, and that vessel is by no means absolute.

Can a thimble hold the ocean ten thousand times over?  No, but that thimble can swim in the ocean in a way greater than all other thimbles.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The limitation in the first is human belief that God in His Absoluteness can be limited to a vessel.  This supposes that the vessel shares in the Divine Attributes, particularly the attribute of existence.  Only God Exists, and Creation is Reflection of the Divine.  Creation does not exist alongside God.  That would be duality.  So, how does Jesus (a.s.) then become perfect god and perfect man?  Does perfection require food and drink, to sleep and defecate?

Brother Sri Nahar: Again, we do not believe that the Divine nature is limited by the Incarnation.  Your analogy of the thimble holding the ocean is flawed, and I think I would make myself clearer if I turned it on its head - it is not the case that the thimble contains the ocean, but that the thimble swims in the ocean in a way no other thimble can.

You said, “Creation does not exist alongside God.”  You mean it does not exist in the way God does?  I agree, for God is Pure Act but creation is a mixture of potency and act.

Jesus qua human nature is the perfect man - as is He is everything a human should be.  Jesus qua Divine Nature has all the infinite perfections of God.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: This is the problem here: “Jesus qua Divine Nature has all the infinite perfections of God.”  Infinite Perfection means to be unlimited. God is Omnipotent; Jesus (a.s.) is not. God is Omniscient; Jesus (a.s.) is not. God is Omnipresent; Jesus (a.s.) is not.

Brother Sri Nahar: If you mean the human nature of Jesus is not omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; that, I concede.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The divine nature of Jesus (a.s.) cannot be Omnipresent either; he has a body.

Brother Sri Nahar: Being a body is predicated of the human nature of Jesus.  The Divine nature is non-local.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: How does that work rationally, brother?

Brother Sri Nahar: The commonly given analogy is that of how the human soul, which is immaterial, and non-local, is united to the human body, which is material, and therefore local.  Similarly, the Divine nature is united to the human nature.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The human soul not the entirety of the Divine.  For Jesus (a.s.) to be “Perfect God”, he must have the entirety of Perfection.  Partial “perfection” is imperfection.

Brother Sri Nahar: Jesus qua His Divine nature has all perfections.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Perfection also means Absoluteness.  God is neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, male nor female. God is Omnipresent; Jesus (a.s.) is not.  So, no, he cannot be perfect.

Brother Sri Nahar: Again, what you refer to as “Jesus”, we refer to as the human nature of Jesus.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That is a false dichotomy.  Are we implying that Jesus (a.s.) is possessed by God?  If Jesus (a.s.) is Perfect God, what makes him perfect?  We know from the Gospels that He refers to the Father in the third person, and is shown to explicitly seek the Father’s Approval or Permission.  Does that mean God is schizophrenic?  That cannot be.

Brother Sri Nahar: No, just as we don't imply that the body is possessed by the soul.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: This is becoming circular. The soul is not all of God.  Now, if Jesus (a.s.) is perfect man, does he have a soul?  Because is man a soul or a body, or both from a Christian theological perspective, both?  So, if Jesus (a.s.) has a soul, does He have two souls, or does God replace that soul with Him, so, in effect, God is a soul.  That means God is somehow definable from a human experience, and by extension, limited.

Brother Sri Nahar: No.  What I was saying is that the relation between the Divine and human natures of Christ is analogous to that of the relation between the body and the soul.  Man is a person.  He has a soul, and he has a body.  Similarly, Jesus is a person, and has the Divine nature and a human nature and in His human nature has a human soul.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: In Islam and Judaism, we understand that a person is the soul, and the body is for this temporal reality.  It lives and it dies, and is discarded.  The soul lives on and is Resurrected.  If man is a person, is that person a sum of the body and soul, or is that person a soul?  If we accept that fallacy of a Perfect God and Perfect Man, it gets all tangled up and not only is it theologically unsound, it is also rationally impossible.  And that is why they call it part of that Divine Mystery.

Brother Sri Nahar: If you accept a Cartesian metaphysics, then yes.  But Christianity need not accept that metaphysics.  Is that person a sum of the body and soul?  Yes, there is nothing rationally impossible in this.  The Divine Mystery is regarding the nature of God, for God can never be understood in terms of His Essence, but only in terms of His Energies.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I do not accept Cartesian though.  As pointed out previously, cogito ergo sum is inadequate and makes leaps of logic.  Just because we think, does not mean we exist.  We can only surmise that thoughts exist.

God is not understood in terms of His Essence since that is beyond our conception.  We agree.  He is understood in terms of His Attributes.  I do not what you mean by His “Energies”.

Brother Sri Nahar: If by Attributes, you mean predicates such as Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Love, Infinite Power, Immutability, Self-Existence et al, then I agree, but I would also emphasise that these predicates are applied only analogically to God.  God’s Energies are His Activities, to be specific, the Exercise of His Powers within the Created realm.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: You mean His Will then.  An understanding of the exercise of Divine Will requires knowledge, since the Divine Intent is not always apparent.  That is because our vision is limited to the extent that we pay attention and the limits of being Created, whereas He is Unlimited.

Brother Sri Nahar: Specifically, the exercise of the Will of God, yes.

Brother David W Roesler: Your interpretation puts limits to a Limitless Bing.  If God is Infinite and All Powerful, He could Do anything including Manifesting as a mortal human being.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Your interpretation means that a limitless being can be limited.  This means that God is not limitless in the first place.

Brother David W Roesler: No, it does not; it just means that an All-Powerful, Limitless Being could intentionally divest Itself of Its Infinite Nature to experience limits, and interact with mortal beings.  Any creature can, if it wants, limit itself.  Take a person who wants to abandon the hustle and bustle of urban life and go back to nature living off the power grid to experience life as people did before modern conveniences.  A person has the choice to return to civilisation at any time, but he prefers the simplicity of life in the wild at least for the moment.  God could do the same, inhabiting a mortal body to experience limitations with the proviso that at any moment he could discard and reclaim His Infinite Nature.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Your similitude is inadequate.  It presupposes that Creation has an independent existence from God, that it can be god in a limited sense.  That is mushkil, impossible.  Your example also presupposes that Creation sustains itself.

A better similitude would be to consider the mirror and person.  The image in the mirror that seems to have all the attributes of the person, the object of interest; it is alive, it moves, it bees, it speaks, it hears and so forth.  But the image has no independent reality.  So too, Creation is the mirror of Divine Attributes. It has no independent reality.  So, how can something that has no independent reality contain the Reality, al-Haqq?

And if God “lives off the grid”, then what happens to Creation?  That is one of the problems with the Crucifixion.  If Jesus (a.s.) is God, and Jesus (a.s.) died, did 'God' die?  If God died, the Who Sustained Creation?

Brother David W Roesler: A limitless being could and by necessity be a multiplicity of natures and identities.  It could for example be in two places at once, do two or more things at once or be a multiplicity of beings at once.  Just like a computer can solve an enormous amount of problems at the same time so can God, an Infinite Being, do and be more than one thing at a time.  Does God need to Maintain Creation after it has been Created?  We create a car that we can inhabit and drive in, so why can God not do the same?  A car does need maintenance, but not all the time, so why can Creation not be the same, needing a tune up once and a while but not constant supervision?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: You still do not understand: the car, the world, the universe, all Creation, does not exist.  Please refer to my similitude of the mirror above.

Brother David W Roesler: By your definition of Creation, and, by inference, Islamic definition of Creation.  A philosophical definition I once heard was I think therefore I exist.  The problem is our different concept of the relationship between the Created and its Creator.  Are we a sub programme of an infinite computer which created a program like some ultra-elaborate video game?  If so, the operator can interact with the game by activating its avatar in the game just as we do in virtual reality programs.  Or, is Creation a separate reality with its own existence that can be entered and experienced by its Creator just as we can build a house and move in and inhabit it.  Either way the infinite computer or the infinite being can enter its own Creation.  Even your mirror example allows the interaction of the real subject through his reflection with in the mirror world.  His reflected image is his avatar in the mirror world and moves and interacts in that world as he wishes.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum”, which has been translated into the pithy statement, “I think, therefore I am.”  However, there are many issues with this.  I like Soren Kierkegaard's refutation: “X” thinks; I am that "x".  Therefore, I think.  Therefore, I am.

In summary, “I think; therefore, thoughts exist,” and this “I” is a vessel of those thoughts.  If we break down your contentions, then it becomes clear that they are based on certain suppositions that are alien to monotheism.  If God is all, there can be nothing but God, laa ilaha illa Allah.  If God were a circle, then nothing exists outside this absolute circle.  Creation cannot have its own “circle”.

Brother David W Roesler: I could understand Jesus as being a kind of probe or extension of God’s Perception into mortality.  Like mankind sends extensions of its perceptions to explore other planets or the deep sea.  He could also be considered the tip of an octopus’ tentacle.  In this way, we could accept that the man Jesus is mortal but the motivating force behind the man is Infinite.  God perceives the limited nature of man through its probe but does not subject himself to its limited nature.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That would imply that God does not know something, precluding Him from being Omniscient.

Brother David W Roesler: It would allow God to Interact with Creation on a direct level like scientists manipulating bacteria on a slide through a microscope and mechanical probe.  By assuming human form, in a probe, it allows God to interact with its Creation on an intimate non-intrusive manner with its subjects.  It can use subtle methods of influencing human behaviour, such as examples of kindness, mercy and benevolence instead of wrath and judgement.

Additionally, God appears to men a number of times in the Old Testament as a man.  Does Islam disregard these interactions and consider them false?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Islam considers any form of an anthropomorphic “god” as false.  In the Old Testament, it was not God who appeared, but His Manifestation, such as the burning bush, or His emissaries, such as the apocryphal story of Metatron.

God is not in need of 'manipulation' since that would infer that our will contends with His Will.  His Will, His Iradat, is Manifest, and He does as He Wills. His Decree is Paramount.  Anything other than that would mean a God Who is not Omnipotent.

Brother Sri Nahar: What Brother David is describing is called a Theophany.  The visible appearance of the glory of God in a form that humans can perceive is just that - an appearance, and is not reality.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The technical term for theophany, in Islamic theology, is “tajalli”; I prefer to translate it as “Manifestation”.

Brother David W Roesler: Since God has Given man free will, He must, by necessity, use dialogue with mankind to Guide us.  While prophets are invaluable, direct interaction is even better.  Like a politician who endears himself by interacting with his followers by kissing babies and shaking hands nothing works better than direct interaction with your constituency.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That is far too anthropomorphic an understanding for my taste.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Sharing Group Discussion on Blasphemy Laws

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following was posted, by me, on The Sharing Group, on the 06th March 2016: “Considering developments in the Muslim world in the last few days, is there a place for blasphemy laws in a modern, secular state?  Are blasphemy laws in accordance to the values that the Prophet (s.a.w.) taught us?”

Brother Nick Orzech: I do not have an easy answer, but I will say that from my experiences, I have much greater respect for critical and scholarly rabbis in their approaches to religious law than I do for many of the fuquha’ these days.  My gut says no because the context is simply not there anymore and, frankly, that seems to be a part of the shari’ah that is contingent, in that it is subservient to the higher maqaswid which are simply not being met in many Muslim societies.  They say that only ‘urf rulings are subject to change with time but I find that to be a load of nonsense.  We do not need to throw out any of our texts and we should never ever do so, but we can be critical and scholarly in the way we study the diyn and assess how we can best work towards a just society based on the ideals of the faith.

Brother Christopher Santoro: Render unto Caesar …; the separation of church and state.  We should let secular societies determine what is best for them, and let religious organisations decide what is best for their own followers within a secular society.  Unless, of course, you believe that everybody must follow one specific religion, and only one specific branch of said religion, in which case there is nothing separating the two.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Perhaps we should define what exactly is blasphemy, and how the Prophet (s.a.w.) addressed it.

Brother Nick Orzech: I think a good parallel is the concept of apostasy and its associated rulings.  We all know what people like Shaykh ibn Bayyah and others have said about that, and even if a particular thing was considered blasphemy in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) time, but it does not mean that it is the same in a modern context, just as apostasy is not a political act these days.  I guess a liberal interpretation of the source material would indicate actively preaching disobedience or rebellion against one of the parts of the orthodox creed.  Not simply private statements of belief to my understanding. Again, somewhat like treason or inciting stuff.

Brother Christopher Santoro: Agreed, but it is a fine line between secular laws that are beneficial for society overall, and religious laws that are not universally shared, or even necessary for a society to function.  For a very simple example, some religions prohibit eating pork, others prohibit eating beef, some have no prohibitions, and still others prohibit eating any kind of meat.  These dietary prohibitions, in my opinion, which play a role in religious belief systems, have no place in secular law.

Brother Domenyk Eades: Suppressing criticism on any matter not only provides the tools for corrupt religious leaders to manipulate public opinion, but also sends a message that Muslims are unable to defend their religion in an open environment.  It inculcates a mentality of “might is right”, which weakens the society morally and intellectually.  Having said that, I support limits on hate speech, i.e. the spread of propaganda against Muslims and other minorities, which is a separate issue.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Shaykh Javed Ahmed Ghamidi says that there is no basis for a blasphemy law, or, in fact, an “islamic state” or a khilafah, or the imposition of shari’ah law.  I am not a scholar myself, but I do respect and defer to Shaykh Ghamidi’s opinion on many issues.

In terms of the sunnah, we know that the Prophet (s.a.w.) did not react with anger, hatred, abuse or violence when he personally faced such behaviour from others.  We are also told that when people abused him, and his companions asked him if they could retaliate, he forbade them from punishing such people. but we are also told that if one of his companions reacted with violence to such abuse towards his person, the Prophet (s.a.w.) forgave that companion.  Taking all this into consideration, it seems to me that a blasphemy law that punishes people, especially non-Muslims, for abusing the Prophet (s.a.w.) has little basis in the Qur’an and sunnah, and Allah (s.w.t.) Knows best.  But as Brother Domenyk Eades says, secular laws that protect freedom of speech must regulate hate speech and speech that incites violence.

Shaykh Javed Ahmad Ghamidi wrote, in his “Islam and the State: A Counter Narrative”, “It has been repeatedly pointed out by this writer that when in a Muslim society anarchy is created on the basis of religion, then the remedy to this situation is not advocacy of secularism.  On the contrary, the solution lies in presenting a counter narrative to the existing narrative on religion.”

He continued that the message of Islam is primarily addressed to an individual.  The directives it has given to the society are also addressed to individuals who are fulfilling their responsibilities as the rulers of Muslims.  Hence, it is baseless to think that a state also has a religion and there is a need to Islamise it, and that it must be constitutionally bound to not make any law repugnant to the Qur’an and sunnah.

It can be the dream of every person that countries in which Muslims are in majority should unite under a single rule and we can also strive to achieve this goal, but this is no directive of the shari’ah.  Neither is “khilafah” a religious term nor its establishment at the global level a directive of Islam.

The basis of nationhood in Islam is not Islam itself, as is generally understood.  At no place in the Qur’an and ahadits has it been said that Muslims must become one nation.  On the contrary, what the Qur’an Says:


The believers are but a single brotherhood: so, make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers: And recognise Allah that ye may receive mercy. (Surah al-Hujraat:10)

Thus, the relationship between Muslims is not based on nationhood; it is rather based on brotherhood.

If some Muslims of the world acknowledge themselves as Muslims, in fact, insist on this and adopt a belief or deed which is not approved by one or more scholars or the rest of the Muslims, then this deed or belief of theirs can be regarded as incorrect and even a deviation and departure from Islam, yet these people cannot be regarded as non-Muslims or disbelievers (kuffar) because these people adduce their views from the Quran and Hadith. For the ruling of God on such beliefs and deeds, we must wait for the Day of Judgement. Their proponents in this world in accordance with their own acknowledgement are Muslims, must be regarded as Muslims and must be dealt with in the same way as a Muslim is dealt with. It is the right of the scholars to point out their mistake, to invite them to accept what is correct, to regard what they find as constituting polytheism and disbelief in their ideology and also inform people about all this. However, no one has the right to declare them as non-Muslims or to ostracize them from the Muslim community because only God can give this right to someone, and everyone who has knowledge of the Quran and Hadith knows that God has not given this right to anyone...

Polytheism, disbelief and apostasy are indeed grave crimes; however, no human being can punish another human being for these crimes.  This is the Right of God Alone.

Centuries before the thinkers of the present age, the Quran had declared:


Those who harken to their Lord, and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance. (Surah ash-Shura’:38)

It holds and should hold the final authority in the system of state.  People do have a right to criticise the decisions of the parliament and point out their mistakes; however, no one has the right to disobey them or rebel against them.  Neither scholars nor the judiciary is above the parliament.

If, at some place, a Muslim government exists, it is generally asked to implement the shari’ah.  This expression is misleading because it gives the impression that Islam has given the right to a government to forcibly implement all the directives of the shari’ah on people.  The fact is that the Qur’an and ahadits do not give this authority to any government.  The shari’ah contains two categories of directives.  The first category comprises directives which are given to individuals and the second category comprises directives which are given to a Muslim society.  The first category relates to directives which are between an individual and God.  In these directives, a person is not responsible before any government; on the contrary, he is responsible before God.  Hence, no government, for example, can force a person to fast or go for hajj or ‘umrah, or to circumcise himself or to keep his moustaches trimmed or in the case of a woman to cover her chest, refrain from displaying her ornaments or to wear a scarf when going out.  In such matters, a government has no authority beyond urging and educating people except if there is a chance of rights being usurped or excesses being committed against the life, wealth and honour of people.  The Qur’an has Explicitly Said that among the positive directives of religion, a state can only forcibly demand from them to offer the prayer and pay zakat.  The Qur’an Says:


But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah at-Tawbah:5)

So, after their belligerence is stopped, it is incumbent upon the state to leave them alone and not try to enforce anything on them.  As for the second category of directives, they are only given to a government because it is a government which represents a society in collective affairs.

If religious scholars demand from those in authority to obey them, then they certainly will be justified.  In fact, it is their duty in their capacity of scholars to make such a demand.  It should be clear that this demand is the demand to follow the shari’ah.  Implementation of the shari’ah is not the right name for this demand.
Here is Shaykh Ghamidi’s statement on the blasphemy law: Islamic Scholar Attacks Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Sister Shahbano Aliani, Shaykh Javed Ghamidi is quite thorough in his refutation of the validity of the blasphemy laws.  Why is it that more people in Pakistan are not relooking it?

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, a space seems to have opened recently, and I pray that Mumtaz Qadri’s execution is a good sign.  Historically the following may be some reasons:

Firstly, the extremists have struck fear into the hearts of people.  After Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salman Taseer; and Sherry Rahman, another former politician, was accused of blasphemy for her criticism of the law; people who had an informed position, especially public figures, were afraid to take a stand on the issue.  Shaykh Ghamidi had to leave for Canada with his family after a bomb was found at his residence.  A close associate of his was murdered subsequently.

Secondly, some of the ‘ulama are deliberately confusing people by equating criticism of the blasphemy law with criticism of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  This is because the blasphemy law allows them political power which they otherwise do not have.  The Pakistani people never vote the right wing religious political parties into power in any significant numbers.  This is a very interesting and often overlooked fact.  With apologies to my Indian friends, we have never had the Pakistani version of the BJP being voted into power ever.

Thirdly, ordinary people do not know the details of the law as it has been formulated and implemented in Pakistan, and the details of a counter narrative such as the one Shaykh Ghamidi presents, even though this stuff is not too complicated. they tend to identify with positions that fit crudely with their identities of “us” and “them”, or else remain confused and silent. for instance, some people think only liberals criticise the blasphemy law and since they believe liberals are America-lovers, unpatriotic or foreign agents, they take the opposite view without being informed.

Fourthly, since the late seventies, the time of the Soviet-Afghan War and the Iranian Revolution, up until recently; the Pakistani military, the most powerful institution in the country, has supported and actively cultivated extremist groups for its campaigns in Afghanistan and Kashmir.  This is a well-known fact. as many of us know, the US gave its full support to this strategy in its initial phases.  Political parties, that are not religious but secular, populist, have also formed alliances with extremist groups during elections and other times to get votes and for other expedient reasons. the funding for many of these groups and right wing religious propaganda and indoctrination has come from Saudi Arabia.  I sense a shift in this decades old nexus and military strategy since last year.  There has been a crackdown on terrorists, terrorist attacks have declined sharply, Pakistan refused to join the Saudi campaign against Yemen, and now Qadri has been executed.  I pray there is, indeed, a shift.  I am neither a historian, nor a political scientist or scholar of any discipline, but this is my perspective based on observations and some study.

Brother Ariffin Yeop: There is no Islamic state anywhere on earth at present, not in the footsteps of the Beloved Prophet (s.a.w.).

Brother Ahsan Razvi: The blasphemy law is very ambiguous in nature.  There are different opinions between the ‘ulama and the fuqaha’ to what constitutes blasphemy.  For the sake of the argument, let us take the example of blasphemy law in Pakistan, 295c of the Pakistani Penal Code.  This law is loosely worded and there are no save guards, and on top of that, it is an offence that could lead to capital punishment.  There is anarchy because of the failure of system, that is, failure of Parliament, the judiciary and bureaucracy.  This gives the government of the day a lethal weapon to divert the attention from the real issues like food, water, shelter and security.

The solution is that there has to be a law to curb hate speech or incitement to violence like in any other moderate country, a law that could work as deterrent.  I think a law under which religious sensitivities of both the majority and the minorities are protected.  Now, whether one is to call it a blasphemy law or by some other name, is a separate matter.  The conversation has to take place on what is considered sensitive or sacred.  Muslims surely hold Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in high regard, and there should be discussion what could be the boundaries.  In India, we have Section 153a of the Indian Penal Code that works pretty much the same way to cut down hate speech and bigotry.

153A. Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. —
(1)   Whoever —
(2)    
(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or

(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, or

(c) organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Offence committed in place of worship,

(2) Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (1) in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.

Brother David Rosser Owen: Law 153 of the Indian Penal Code, on which the Pakistani blasphemy law was based, was enacted by the Viceroy’s Council of British India as a means of dealing with the generators of sectarianism and the communal violence that tended to follow.  It was not intended to replicate the UK’s Blasphemy Act, which in any case only applied to the beliefs of the Church of England.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: In Singapore, we do not have a blasphemy law.  What we do have is a Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.  This act of legislation makes it a criminal offence to deliberately offend the sensibilities of the religious, but the insult has to be deliberate.  Fair comment, dissension, differences of opinion, and variances in creed within the same religious tradition are not covered under the act.  That is the sensible way to go.

The problem with blasphemy laws is that they are far too easy to abuse for a political or sectarian agenda.  They are also problematic since they are inherently against the tradition of free religious discourse in Islam.  Within the Hanafi madzhab, the blasphemy laws were enacted from the Abbasid times to address the wanton heresy of some quarters to prevent the people being agitated.  But even then, the perpetrators were always brought before the qadhi and given an opportunity to explain themselves, and if required, to repent.

Nowadays, blasphemy accusations are invitations to mob violence.  That is inherently haram.  Also, we live in an age of general ignorance of religion, who is there to decide what is or is not an actual blasphemy?

Brother Ahsan Razvi: I think it is Section 295a of the Indian Penal Code, not Section 153.  I stand to be corrected.

295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of 273 [citizens of India], 274 [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both.

Brother David Rosser Owen: Could be.  I no longer have a copy of it to check with.