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Deadly blasphemy laws must be abolished

Blasphemy laws and equally repugnant apostasy laws, according to the Pew Research Center, are often but not exclusively found in Muslim majority countries. These laws criminalize things like conversion from Islam, saying anything offensive about Islam, destroying or defacing the Quran, and drawing pictures of Prophet Muhammad.

In other words, these laws criminalize rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These laws must be abolished, and Muslim scholars must articulate a clear and unequivocal explanation that blasphemy and apostasy are matters best left between individuals and God. Until that happens, more innocent people, like Farkhunda in Afghanistan, will be killed.


Last week, a mob of men stoned, beat, kicked and set on fire Farkhunda, a 27-year-old Afghan woman, after it was alleged that she burned the Quran. This heinous murder happened in broad daylight, with throngs of onlookers, some of whom photographed the brutality. In the wake of the murder, the head of Afghanistan’s criminal investigation unit remarked that he was unable to find “one iota of evidence” that Farkhunda burned the Quran. That issue should be irrelevant. It’s a travesty that he needed to spend one iota of his time looking for such evidence; whether she burnt the Quran is irrelevant. This attack was unjustified and her attackers and killers must be brought to justice.

The people who took part in this young woman’s murder are vile, but until the archaic blasphemy and apostasy laws are stricken, and until the notion that in Islam blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death is openly and clearly refuted, this will happen again. These laws are not the sole reason for these atrocities, but they play a significant role, and as such, abolishing them is merited.

Farkhunda’s killers may have thought they were defending Islam, but in reality, they are the ones desecrating it. For a Muslim, the Quran is the word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad. The book is valuable and sacred for this reason, but the physical object can be replaced if it is rendered unreadable. Every human life is a miracle created by God, and each one is precious, but unlike a book that can be reprinted by the thousands, a person can never be replaced.

The paper and ink used to record the message revealed to Prophet Muhammad are not sacred. Burning or otherwise desecrating that paper — even when done with malicious intention — cannot debase the message recorded therein. Countless Qurans have been burned and desecrated, but the message and values the Quran conveys — that all human life is sacred, that charity and justice are paramount, that humans beings have free will, and that there is no compulsion in matters of faith — endure. If there is a blasphemy taking place, it is being perpetrated by those who kill innocent people in the name of religion.

Blasphemy and apostasy laws must be repealed. The leaders in countries that have these laws must take bold action. Muslim scholars must support these leaders by stating clearly and often that killing people for desecrating the Quran, for lampooning Prophet Muhammad, for saying something offensive or negative about God, or for choosing to not believe in Islam is not religiously sanctioned.  This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but it is one that has to be addressed from the top down through the political leaders, and from the bottom up through the religious scholars.

Junaid M. Afeef is the Chicago-based founder of Common Good Advocates and a Political Partner at Truman National Security Project.  His views are his own.