(Continued from the last issue)
Below is the last part of the transcript of the debate that took place between SAFM host, Jeremy Maggs on the 4th of December 2007 and a panel of guests amongst whom was Mufti Ebrahim Desai of Jamiatul Ulama (KZN). The topic was ’Blasphemy’ and it was aired live on SAFM.
The following alphabets are abbreviations for the different participants:
(J)- Jeremy Maggs – Host of the programme
(Dr)- Dr Jostlin Helegg – representing Christianity
(D)- David Sachs – representing Judaism
(J) We’ll take a couple of calls on this issue. We were talking about the manipulation of religion and the pursuit of power and haven’t even gotten to that aspect of the debate and where do we draw the line in blasphemy?
In Lenasia, Bashir, good morning to you and welcome sir.
(Bashir) Hi, good morning, Jeremy. I wish to take up this issue with the Mufti. You know I think that he has to make it clear that it is his interpretation of Islamic law and he is welcome to it. But I have a question for him. Since he says that it is Islamic law that if you revile God or anything like that, the Qur’aan is very clear, the concept of trinity is blasphemous, the concept of saying that someone is uniquely the child of God, the way Judaism portrays itself is also blasphemy and so is polytheism. Yet the Qur’aan very respectfully refers to the Jews and Christians as the people of the book. Now what he is suggesting is that we should immediately now imprison all Jews and Christians for blasphemy. But that is not what the Qur’aan is saying and now I am very confused, so could he enlighten me perhaps.
(J) Mr. Ebrahim Desai, do you have a view on that?
(Mufti Desai) I want to clarify what we are talking about. We are talking about blasphemy. There is a difference between blasphemy and differences of religion. Blasphemy, in itself is regarded as a crime. In fact, in a democratic dispensation we believe that freedom of religion is an entrenched clause. There should be tolerance whilst living in a multi-cultural society. In fact, the Qur’aan is replete with tolerance. The Qur’aan repeatedly tells us that we need to tolerate other people and overlook other people. If you study the Qur’aan, you will see that Muhammad (May peace be upon him) has been spoken about in the Qur’aan only about 5 times but Jesus (May peace be upon him) has been mentioned in the Qur’aan 25 times. Moses (may peace be upon him) is discussed repeatedly in the Qur’aan. Furthermore an entire chapter is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus (May peace be upon him). Thus, respect in its entirety to Jesus, Moses, Mary and all Prophets of God (May the peace of God be upon all of them), is an important and integral aspect of our faith. If we blaspheme any one of them or speak ill about any one of them, we automatically fall out of the fold of Islam. In fact, if you look at the bible, for example, Deuteronomy, chapter 18, verse18 actually speaks about Muhammad. Now, coming back to the issue of tolerance, if there is a non-Muslim citizen living in a Muslim country, he’s allowed freedom of religion within his personal life. For example, wine is prohibited in Islam and so is the eating of swine. However, if a non-Muslim wishes to drink wine within his own personal life or eat any food that suits him, he may do so in a Muslim country irrespective of whether its consumption is considered legal or illegal in Islam and the Muslim country. So it would be highly improper to say that Muslims have no tolerance and those who show intolerance to Islam would be imprisoned. One is blasphemy and the other is differences of religion. One has an overarching principle over the other. And just to further illustrate that, Jeremy, take for example if a South African citizen takes the South African flag and he goes to the South African Parliament and reviles the flag, he is in actuality reviling a symbol of South African law. Likewise, if someone goes to England and reviles the queen of England or for that matter if someone goes to Israel and denies the holocaust. These are insensitivities on behalf of that individual. When you go to any place, there should be a degree of tolerance and sensitivity to the ways of the people there.
(J) There are two other aspects that I would like to explore. One is the road of politics as far as all this is concerned. Using religion to further political aims and the other issue is the line between satire and blasphemy.
(J) David Sachs, The issue of freedom of speech versus blasphemy. Some say that these two issues cannot be viewed in isolation from the role of religion as a source of political power in some societies. Was that the case in Sudan?
(D) I am not all that aware of the inns and outs of that very complex situation but certainly religion in which the Muslim north has sought to crush the largely Christian and Animist south has played a great role. It has been used as a political weapon, definitely.
(J) And in other countries around the world as well in times gone by.
(D) Absolutely yes! The politicization of religions is one of the reasons why there has been a backlash against religion in modern times.
(J) Ebrahim Desai, the manipulation of religion in pursuit of power. That is true, isn’t it?
(Mufti Desai) Well, Jeremy, I first want to comment on your guest’s explanation regarding the interpretation of law. There are certain laws in Islam that are immutable and absolute. In the context of blasphemy, the laws of blasphemy are absolute. It is clearly in the Qur’aan and it is not left to the interpretation of man. So therefore if anybody would have to blaspheme, it is not left up to the interpretation of man. It is purely a Divine law of God which is not left to interpretation. The law of the blasphemy must be carried out.
(J) What about the notion of political expediency as far as this is concerned?
(Mufti Desai) we need to understand that there are two issues here. What is politics? To simplify it, politics means to engineer your course. Politics actually stem from different angles and different sectors. One of them could be religion. For example, in South Africa in 1974, there is a case which is recorded in the previous appeals court in Rex vs. Wepp. There was a man who wrote an article about a nun who has seen a dream that she happened to have a sexual relationship with Jesus, God forbid! (And may peace be upon Jesus). According to South African law, this was regarded to be an act of blasphemy and it turned out to be a huge political problem. So politics actually stem from different angles and it could also stem from not understanding religion and religious values. Therefore in a democratic dispensation, we believe that freedom of religion is an entrenched clause and we should, especially living in a diverse community and society, tolerate and respect each other.
(J) And Mr. Ebrahim Desai, where do you believe is the line between satire and blasphemy?
(Mufti Desai) I think we should go by the principle in what is known in law as strict liability; which means that if you did something without intention that should also be considered as a crime, especially when it comes to religious issues. This is because we live in such a society in which there are people of different religions. One should be sensitive to religions of other people, and any reckless behaviour will be equivalent and tantamount to dolis eventualis (reckless behaviour).
Note: Readers who wish to obtain a copy of the full debate are requested to contact the Jamiat’s Publications department. This will be gladly forwarded to you.