In October of 2020, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee of Chechen ethnicity, killed and beheaded a French middle-school teacher Samuel Paty. Paty was murdered because in a class on freedom of expression, he showed his students Charlie Hebdo’s 2012 cartoons of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam.
After Samuel Paty’s brutal murder, Emmanuel Macron stated: “We will not give up caricatures and drawings, even if others back away… Our citizens are waiting for us to act… Dozens of operations have been launched against associations, and also individuals who support a plan of radical Islamism, in other words an ideology to destroy the (French) Republic.”
Following president Emanuel Macron’s words many groups including those on the right are expressing similar views and are calling for stricter surveillance, monitoring of Mosques and regulating accreditation of Imams. Some are worried this could enflame Islamophobia.
Imam Shabbir Ally, President of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto, contextualized in detail the classic Islamic teaching and understandings regarding execution for “criticizing” Islam, Allah or Muhammad.
Imam Shabbir Ally: Well in Islamic societies it has been very commonplace for a long time that blasphemy is taboo… There are classical books written that explained the religion of Islam. And these classical interpretations of Islam make it so objectionable to criticize God or the prophet or the scriptures of Islam to the extent that they prescribe the death penalty for the critic. There are different ways of understanding this. The most cautious way would be to say that okay if somebody is openly criticizing the faith that person may be brought to the court and be given a chance to recant. If that person has some doubts things would be explained to that person, maybe he’ll be called in three days one after the other to give him a chance and to rethink. And then when he recants especially when he knows the axe is going to fall on him, then naturally he is going to want to recant unless somebody is really on principle sticking to his guns and saying I fear nothing, what I believe [is] I want to say. So people might recant. That’s the most cautious way.
Question: Sorry, are you saying that this is part of Islamic law then?
Well, yes. This is known in Islamic law. This is quite common in classical Islamic books. So that’s the most cautious way. But somebody else may say: Well, wait a minute. There is a report saying that the prophet Muhammad PBUH validated the actions of a person who took the matter into his own hands and slaughtered the critic. With this in mind you can very much imagine that, if this is being acculturated among Muslims, that this is how we regard blasphemy. If somebody blasphemes you might kill him. Then, even if you say it’s only through the legal process that he would be killed, you are automatically saying that this person deserves death. And if you’re thinking that this person deserves death and there is no law that’s going to inflict the death penalty on him, especially where you live, whether it be France or Canada or the United States or Australia or wherever, then you might well imagine that somebody may take this up into their own hands and saying: This guy deserves death but no law is going to give him the death penalty so I’ll do it myself. And the worst case scenario is with those rulings which say that the individual can take it upon himself and do this. So when we see that something like this, which is totally shocking and unexpected happening, we need to retrace our steps and ask ourselves how did we as a society get here. This is one of the things that I find we need to go back and revise.
Question: What to do you think we can do with that part of our tradition?
Imam Shabbir Ally: We have to confront that tradition.