Only the government has the power to punish blasphemers – Islamic scholar, Maquari
An Abuja-based Islamic scholar, Professor Ibrahim Maquari, shares with SOLOMON ODENIYI his view on the recurring issue of blasphemy in the country
The issue of blasphemy has returned to center stage in the country. Can you please educate the public on the concept of blasphemy in Islam?
Blasphemy depends on several things. If a Muslim commits blasphemy, his penalty is death, and there is consensus among Islamic scholars on this. But if the person happens to be a non-Muslim, there are some things we consider. For example, if a Christian says that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is not a prophet of God and the Quran is not a true book of Allah, we do not consider this as blasphemy because of his religion . This could be the position of his religion; we do not consider this to be blasphemy. But to call the prophet unprintable names, we do not tolerate that.
What do you think is the root cause of blasphemy in Nigeria? Do you think those who make blasphemous statements are intolerant of Muslims?
The root cause of this is the intolerance and ignorance of scholars, who lead their followers astray because of worldly material benefits, among other things. It makes them rash statements. If you live in the North, know that no Muslim scholar will ever attempt an act of blasphemy against any religion, as we consider Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as brothers. The second reason is the fact that the authorities do not intervene whenever such things happen. The authorities are supposed to take the right measures. We are not promoting extrajudicial executions, but it is something that cannot be stopped until the government assumes its responsibilities.
This is not the first time such an incident has occurred. Let us recall the question of the columnist of the newspaper ThisDay. What the lady (Deborah) did was way beyond what the ThisDay columnist did. You know what happened then and what prompted the media house to polish its image in the North.
Do you think those who make blasphemous statements are intolerant of Muslims?
I don’t know, but I will say they are ignorant and I will blame their leaders. I’m sorry to say, maybe it’s because they don’t know how Muslims take the prophet. In Islam, we do not joke with the prophet. No Muslim will tolerate insults on the Prophet unless he is not a true follower of Islam.
Do you think it is necessary to educate the public to avoid instances of blasphemy and the violence and controversy that often accompanies such acts?
Indeed there are. Without seeming proud, I did. You see, Muslims are very tolerant and peace-promoting. It’s a shame that I have to come and talk like this. That we say we promote peace comes not from the mouth, but from the heart. We can write books about what we have done in this regard.
Do you think that if the political class had joined you, the issue of blasphemy would have ended?
I am not a politician but what I know is that the political class should stop using religion to divide Nigerians. They should leave religion alone.
Your statement, which went viral, was interpreted by many members of the public as justifying the lynching of the young woman, Deborah. Does this really represent your point of view?
People shouldn’t misinterpret my comment on Twitter. I didn’t justify his murder. I didn’t address the issue of mob action in my comment you refer to. My focus was on the issue of blasphemy. My comment concerned the protection of religion and the dignity of the prophet. The action of the mob in general is condemnable. It’s damnable because of who killed her and how she died. She deserves death, no doubt about it, but who should kill and how she should die is the question.
In reacting to the last case, which happened in Sokoto, you said that Muslims have a red line, which should not be crossed. Can you elaborate on this subject?
The red line is Prophet Muhammad (SAW). No one can insult the prophet like the maiden did and think they can stay intact. We don’t support what the mob did. But when you have a bigger case and a smaller one, the focus will be on the bigger one. The bigger is the red line she crossed, while the smaller is what the crowd did.
Is blasphemy a pardonable offence?
Unfortunately, it is not the case. Unless the person who did it is not a Muslim and converts to Islam; in this case, the person can be forgiven. But if a Muslim commits an act of blasphemy, it cannot be tolerated.
There are members of the public, especially non-Muslims, who are quick to say that Muslims should leave revenge or vengeance to Allah in cases of blasphemy rather than attacking the blasphemer. What will be your response to such a statement?
In Islam, there are things that are not left to Allah. There are things that Allah has commanded us to do so that peace can reign among mankind. It’s one of them. If someone can curse your religion and your prophet and you will not act until he curses you or your father, then your religion is useless to you.
But during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), when someone urinated in the mosque in the presence of the prophet and his companions who were angry, he warned them against committing the offender; isn’t this a way of asking Muslims not to take justice into their own hands?
It’s quite different. The person urinated in the mosque out of ignorance. This and blasphemy are two different things. Blasphemy is one thing and ignorance is another. It is tolerance; Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was tolerant and taught Muslims how to be tolerant but not allow people to insult or curse his person; the Sokoto affair is an act of blasphemy and cannot be tolerated.
Is it true that there is a reward for Muslims who defend Allah from blasphemy?
Ideally, only the authorities have the power to punish the person who commits an act of blasphemy. I don’t understand where you got that from. Only the authorities have the power to act accordingly.
In your opinion, what can be done to avoid cases of blasphemy and the resulting crises in a plural society like Nigeria?
Three quarters of Nigerians are Muslims, and I am one of them. We are happily prepared to separate from Nigeria if non-Muslims continue this act of blasphemy against our prophet and our religion. It’s something we just can’t tolerate. We tolerate our brothers; we keep them and continue to sacrifice ourselves for them. Despite what Muslims have been through in many parts of the country, have you heard them taking revenge? There has never been a time when Muslims in the North or any part of the country have attempted to take revenge for any form of injustice inflicted on them. But acts of blasphemy against the prophet will not be tolerated.
Don’t you think it is necessary to let peace reign?
We need peace, but not at all costs.
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