- By Leo Igwe
I salute you all, Nigerian Muslims, as you commence your holy month of Ramadan. As you mark this month of prayer and fasting, I would like to draw your attention to an issue that is deserving of your reflection at this time.
That is, allegations of blasphemy and reactions to purported cases of insulting the prophet of Islam, Allah, or desecrating the Quran. Recently we have witnessed accusations of blasphemy from Muslims, by Muslims, against other Muslims and non- Muslims.
These allegations reflect negatively on your religion. They make many people feel that Muslims are intolerant, but we know that some Islamic traditions have taught tolerance, that everyone’s human dignity must be respected, regardless of his or her faith, race, ethnic origin, gender, or social status.
There have been cases where Muslims have perpetrated arson, assault, and the murder of suspected blasphemers. Allegations of blasphemy have led to unlawful arrests, imprisonment, mindless violence, savagery and bloodletting.
While some of you may think that these abuses and heinous criminal activities are deserved responses to ‘insults’ to your religion or your prophet, it may be time you gave blasphemy allegations a second thought?
Look, allegations of blasphemy dent the image of Islam and Muslims. They reinforce the notion that Islam is a religion that thrives on intimidation and violence.
I understand that it is not all Muslims that indulge in allegations of blasphemy or related abuses. But you would agree that this is a position that is difficult to maintain because supposed moderate voices are seldom heard when these allegations and atrocities take place.
There is usually little or no opposition or outrage from within Muslim communities. Instead, there is an overwhelming support or deafening silence from Muslim individuals especially Muslim leaders and clerics.
And this is unfortunate. Isn’t it? Has Islam not taught that it is by Divine Will that God’s human creation follows different religions, or no religion at all, and that we have the right to freedom of religion?
Take the case of the Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala. You are already aware of his case by now. He has been arbitrarily detained since last year following a petition by some Muslim lawyers that he insulted the prophet of Islam in a Facebook post.
He has been imprisoned without being formally charged or prosecuted.
Muslims in Kano want to silence him as in other cases of blasphemy charges because he holds a different opinion of the prophet of Islam. They want him to spend the rest of his life in jail because he espouses views that some Muslims find offensive.
Muslims are threatening to murder him if he is eventually released. But, has Islam not taught that freedom of religion is a god given right, and that the final judgement of men lies with the creator?
Early in this 21st century, Muslims in Kano and other places across the nation need to consider the following:
Islam is not the only religion in Nigeria. Islam is not the only Abrahamic religion. Islam is one of the religions of the world. For Muslims to harmoniously co-exist with persons of other faiths and none, they must tolerate other and sometimes offensive views and expressions.
Truth be told, Islam is a form of blasphemy and owes its spread to blaspheming against other religions, prophets and gods. How do you really justify protests, anger, violence and the threat of violence over blasphemous posts and cartoons when your faith is a form of insult to others’ faiths, beliefs, gods and prophets?
Muslims profess views and expressions that persons of other faiths or none deem or could regard as offensive and disrespectful to their beliefs.
Muslims make declarations which persons who profess other Abrahamic religions consider, or could consider, insulting to the prophets and gods.
Islamic beliefs and practices offend the sensibilities of other believers and non-believers. Islamic teachings make a mockery, and a caricature of other people’s beliefs.
While Islam teaches tolerance, there are also provisions in the Quran and Islamic traditions that literally sanctify hatred, violence, oppression and persecution of non-believers, apostates and blasphemers, gays and women.
If persons of other faiths and none were to attack, kill, persecute or prosecute Muslims for entertaining different and offensive opinions to their religions and belief systems, their prophets and philosophers, as some Muslims do to non-Muslims, and approve of in places where Muslims are in the majority, there will be no peace in Nigeria.
There will be no peace in the world. Human beings will be entangled in a bitter and endless conflict. Just as you Muslims want your religious views and opinions of other prophets including those that offend others’ sensibilities to be tolerated, then you should learn to tolerate the views and opinions of others, whether they be offensive or not offensive.
On the issue of your prophet, Muhammad, one understands that you hold him in high esteem. There is no doubt about that. But others hold in high regard other prophets, philosophers, holy men and women that you do not respect, or that you disrespect as a matter of Islamic faith and fact.
It is a mistake to think that others should treat and respect Muhammad as Muslims do. That cannot hold. That is not possible. It is like expecting Muslims to treat and respect Buddha the way Buddhists do.
Look, there are billions of human beings who do not profess Islam, and who do not regard Muhammad as a prophet or as their prophet as Muslims do. There are billions across the globe who think or believe differently about Islam, about the Islamic prophet and the Islamic god.
It is good to learn to live with others and to tolerate their views, to live in a world, or in countries and communities, where people think or treat your prophet differently, just as you think and treat other religious prophets and gods differently.
Now to another point. I draw your attention to the ideas of the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan quoted him in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. John Stuart Mill argued in his little book, On Liberty, that silencing an opinion is “a peculiar evil.”
According to him, if such an opinion is right, we are robbed of the “opportunity of exchanging error for truth”; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in “its collision with error.”
He further states that “if we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that; it becomes stale, soon learned only by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth”.
We are a religiously diverse nation, a nation of religious and non-religious persons, of theists and non-theists, of believers and non-believers. By using allegations of blasphemy to silence others, you commit a “peculiar evil”, and make Islamic extremism an article of faith.
You rob other Muslims and humanity at large of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth and deepening their knowledge and understanding. You do humanity a great disservice. Blasphemy is a right, not a crime. Apostasy is a right not a crime.
Please consider a change of heart, mind and attitude towards views and expressions that you find offensive as you observe your Ramadan!
Consider tolerance, as some Islamic traditions have long taught, for the sake of peaceful co-existence with persons of other faiths and none. A peaceful world is a tolerant world.