Punishment and Blasphemy in The Abrahamic Religions.

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy ...

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Anti-Islamists such as Geert Wilders are fond of condemning the Quran as an evil book, and urging ‘westerners’ to remember their Christian Heritage, implying of course that Christianity is in some way vastly superior to Islam. As I have said elsewhere on this blog I regard myself as an Agnostic-Athiest, I.e. I don’t believe in god, but reserve the right to change my mind should compelling evidence appear, at which point I would be reluctant to define god in too limiting terms. So I approach this subject from a position of profound scepticism generally. A scepticism which I apply generally to religion generally and the Abrahamic religions specifically, given their somewhat chequered history.

Now it occurred to me that to refute some of the more outrageous claims of the Anti-Islamists I would need to compare the New Testament Gospels, Old Testament, Mosaic law and the Quran. I specifically exclude the Hadith, Sharia Law, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, the apocalypse of John and the wrangling over doctrine of the Early church fathers of Christianity. Mostly to keep it simple, otherwise this post would have to run into tens of thousands of words.

Even so I intend to post more than this one comparison, but as a beginning, I thought that since the issue of Blasphemy seems so key to Islamic radicals, and to the anti-Islamists I would tackle this issue first.

It is difficult to separate Christian Teaching from Judaic Teaching as regards the law of Moses, which outlines how to tackle Blasphemy.

For Christians the position is somewhat contradictory, on the one hand in Matthew 5:18 Jesus says “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”. Which the reader might think is a fairly emphatic endorsement of the Law of Moses, Except that In Luke 16:16 Jesus says: “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Which is taken to mean that since the time of John the Baptist a new law prevails. Which only goes to show how contradictory religion in general and Christianity in particular can be.

Practically speaking in the History of the Christian Church both views have held sway to greater or lesser extents, at different times, and even more confusingly have been used to justify things which would seem to the uninitiated reader to be against the original intent of either perspective. This is also complicated by reference to the epistles, which to my mind only create further confusion, and open up the possibility of manipulation and abuse by the unscrupulous. That the early church faters couldn’t agree, just seems par for the course.

Although there are minor differences between different versions of Leviticus the general meaning and intent appear unchanged in most versions, though those favoured by Judaism seem to often have more detail.

Leviticus Chapter 24

13 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 14 ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemeth the Name, shall be put to death. 17 And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death.

Which seems pretty emphatic about the punishment for blasphemy in Judaism, and for Christians when they are in the mood to follow the Mosaic law.

The position in the Quran frankly surprised me.


Dr Mohammad Taqi

Blasphemy laws: what does the Quran say?

Dr Taqi emphasises the absence in the Quran of any prescribed punishment for blasphemy, which surprised me frankly, but turns out to be true.

“…when ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if ye did, ye would be like them. For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith – all in Hell:-” Qur’an 4:140

“Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant.” Qur’an 7:199

“…but indeed they uttered blasphemy,…If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah will punish them…” Qur’an 9:74

“For Allah is with those who restrain themselves,…” Qur’an 16:128

“Therefore be patient with what they say, and celebrate (constantly) the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun, and before its setting; yea, celebrate them for part of the hours of the night, and at the sides of the day: that thou mayest have (spiritual) joy.” Qur’an 20:130

“And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!”;” Qur’an 25:63

“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: “To us our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you: we seek not the ignorant.” Qur’an 28:55

“And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity).” Qur’an 73:10

“Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not look forward to the Days of Allah: It is for Him to recompense (for good or ill) each People according to what they have earned.” Qur’an 45:14

“Bear, then, with patience, all that they say, and celebrate the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun and before (its) setting.” Qur’an 50:39

This is certainly far more benign than I expected, though it is worth pointing out at this point that there also the Hadith, to consider, supposedly the direct words of god spoken through Mohammed, though Shia and Sunni Muslims have different versions of these. There is also of course Sharia Law that should perhaps be considered, however at present I will leave these to one side and focus on the agenda I initially outlined. Seemingly the punishment for Blasphemy is solely in the hands of god according to the Quran, perhaps this is where Ghandi derived the phrase, ‘we are all such sinners we should leave punishment to god.’

The Qur’an does talk  of punishment for those who make war in opposition to God and Muhammad:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;” Qur’an, sura 5 (Al-Ma’ida), ayah 33 Qur’an 5:33. 

Which is less benign, but at least seems to focus on the warmongers, who it might be argued deserve what they get. And by this verse perhaps we might condemn Osama Bin Laden, and Al Zwahiri et al, since it seems to me they wage war against Islam as implied in the tone of tolerance and forgiveness for blasphemy outlined above.

As I have indicated the relatively benign tone of the Quran in comparison to the old Testament verses cited above surprised me, so if we were to develop a scoring system, of 0, for the worst, 1 for the middling, and 2 for the best of these positions.

Judaism:             0

Christianity        1 (Because we are feeling generous)

Islam                  2

So today’s surprise outright winner on benevolence towards Blasphemy is the Quran.


About Transremaxculver

An entirely fictitious username I created for posting on 'alt.religion.scientology', Scientology is something of which I am highly critical. For those of you who don't know, the Church of Scientology have a habit of making life very uncomfortable for even the most legitimate of critics, which is why this username is completely anonymous. Anyway I have become quite fond of this username, and although it has to some extent outgrown it's original purpose, I think a blog is perhaps the right place for me/it to continue to grow and develop.
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One Response to Punishment and Blasphemy in The Abrahamic Religions.

  1. Pingback: Serious Work to be Done: New Approaches to Spirituality 1 « My Caravan of Dream

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