JAMIAT takes part in SAFM Debate on December 4th, 2007
Recently, a volatile incident occurred which caught the attention of the world at large. Gillian Gibbons, an elementary school teacher from England on assignment in Sudan was accused of inciting her six and seven year old students to name a teddy bear Muhammad. She was arrested by the Sudanese authorities and charged with blasphemy and subsequently jailed for 15 days. This incident provoked world-wide debate centering on the issue of blasphemy, its boundaries and limits. SAFM, through Jeremy Maggs conducted a live aired debate regarding this issue. They gathered a panel of guests which included Mr.David Sachs representing Judaism, Dr Jostlin Helleg representing Christianity, and Mufti Ebrahim Desai Sahib, on behalf of the Jamiatul Ulama (KZN), representing Islam to discuss this issue. The responses of Mufti Ebrahim Desai was well received and much spoken about by the Muslim community. For the benefit of those who did not listen to the debate, hereunder are edited excerpts from the debate. Kindly bear in mind that (J) denotes Jeremy Maggs, (Dr) denotes Dr.Helleg and (D) denotes David Sachs.
(J) Dr. Helleg let me start with you, if I can. It’s a difficult one but a definition perhaps of blasphemy; the Catholic Church signifies it as entomologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem. Sounds like quite a mouthful. How does that sit with you?
(Dr) That figures basically something which would use God’s name in vain, or to use anything associated with religion in a negative insulting way; but different religions and different adherents of different religions would see blasphemy differently. What one may regard as blasphemous, another person in that same tradition might not.
(J) That exactly it isn’t David Sachs. One person’s blasphemy is perhaps just a normal day expletive for others.
(D) Yes. In a democracy I think the very concept of blasphemy is anachronistic. Blasphemy assumes an accepted set of ideas and dogma which everybody is expected to adhere to. In a democracy you cannot impose such a system on people. But, I would distinguish between questioning certain religious tenets even if this is considered blasphemy by the religion and denigrating in a very offensive way the tenets of that religion. I think that’s where you draw the line.
(J) Ebrahim Desai, very good morning to you and welcome sir.
(Mufti Desai) Good Morning to you and also good morning to the members of your panel.
(J) Now, this is what I read as far as Islam is concerned; interjections such as God, Good Lord and for God’s sake are not considered blasphemy unless the word God, in Islamic belief, is replaced with another name that implies worship to something or something other than God. Does that about sum it up?
(Mufti Desai) No it does not. Let me be more clear on this point. It is important to understand that Islam is all about respect to God and it is about obeying the laws of God. In that context, blasphemy would mean that anything that reviles God whether it is by conduct or speech. that includes God as well as all the symbols of God. so if a person has to revile any Prophet of God, whether it be Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Isaac, or Ismail, or if anyone reviles the Qur’an which is one of the salient symbols of Islam or any of its core values, all that would be regarded to be blasphemy simply because Islam and it’s salient features belong to God.
(J) Mr.Ebrahim Desai, did the Sudanese authorities overstep the mark?
(Mufti Desai) As far as our information is concerned we would rely on what the media has conveyed to us.if anybody has the transcript of the actual ruling, then only will we be able to make a fair judgement on that matter. At this time and point we would be relying on assumption
In terms of Islamic law the procedure is if a Muslim or a non-Muslim citizen had to revile God or any symbols of God; if such an accusation has been made against an individual, first and foremost, we will research the matter. We will enquire whether the person is indeed guilty of that or not. If that person is not guilty, he denies it, there is nothing we can do about it. But if the person acknowledges it, then in that case we will then make available to him all our resources to remove any possible misconceptions for him. Probably three days will be given to him, and if need be we will increase the time and give more time to the individual. But if the person is adamant and he feels that what he has done was correct, he reviled God, he reviled the symbols of God, then in that case we would interpret that as malicious intent.
Now, in order to define this more appropriately and correctly, there are three steps here. One is that you will either consider whether the persons speech and conduct was dolis directus or whether it was dolis indirectus or whether it was dolis eventualis. What I mean by this is whether the person had a malicious intent to revile religion and any symbols of religion. Or maybe it was something that was indirect, he didn’t directly do it but behind the scenes, he was responsible for reviling religion or the symbols of religion. Or it could be dolis eventualis which means reckless behaviour. In this particular instance, I would think that if there is a person living in a Muslim country, a person knows the values of a Muslim country; he knows Muslims are sensitive to God and what the Muslims believe in. In such a situation, if a person had to speak negatively about Muhammad (Peace be upon him) or revile Muhammad (Peace be upon him), intentionally or unintentionally, we may not regard that as dolis directus or dolis indirectus but most certainly it would be regarded as dolis eventualis and reckless behaviour.
(J) Patently, the Islamic religion has a rule book, as (Mufti) Ebrahim Desai has unpacked for us.how would the Jewish religion sit in judgment of something like this?
To be continued in the next issue ………..