Justification Of Death Penalty For Blasphemy

Published on: September 22, 2020 (Updated on: May 1, 2024)


The word blasphemy" in Arabic means "sabba", that is an abuse or insult. It also means "shatama", which means to abuse or vilify. Under Islamic Law, it simply means insulting words and denial of faith and a war against the Islamic community. Blasphemy overlapped with deliberate rejection of Allah, His Messengers and any divine revelation. Blasphemy has received Islamic definitions by Ulama (Islamic jurists). For instance, Imam Malik defined and treated it as apostasy. While Imam Abu Hanifa defined it as an act of infidelity, that is lack of belief in a religion.

The law governing blasphemy, under Islamic Law, has built a notion that the conditions and nature of speaking ill against the holy prophet is an intolerable act and whoever commits it must be put to death. Because the prophet is no longer in a position to avenge the blasphemous act, the offense of blasphemy can morph into the offense of apostasy or an emblem to apostasy, because insulting or defaming the holy prophet or any religious icon publicly is perceived and interpreted as renunciation of the Islamic religion. That is why the Islamic consensus of juristic opinion began to step on backing upon harsh penalties, among which is death. The Muslim jurists have interconnected the offense of blasphemy with apostasy and grouped them together. As regard to denigration of the holy prophets, both Islam and other religions have identical standpoint. Any polemic act upon all the prophets is unacceptable as it incur a serious penalty because it is not creating a congenial atmosphere; rather, it always generates a serious unrest and turmoil as well as infuriation in the Islamic society. Muslims always show reverence and respect for all the prophets of Allah. They do not vilify any of them, as well as the leaders of other religions and their symbols. Muslims have respect, love and affection for their noble prophet. Their reverence for prophet MUHAMMAD (S.A.W) can hardly be mentioned in words. In their minds, none is dearer, respectable and sacred than the holy prophet. They are ready to put everything, including their lives, at stake for the sake of the holy prophet. That is why whatever they show and do about him may be deemed to be an exaggeration by some non-Muslims.

Islam is undoubtedly a complete code which covers all aspects of human life. It provides solution to all problems. For that, Islam is itself a comprehensive law to govern the rights and obligations of all individuals. Islamic law control Muslims and acts as guidance to the society. It serves as Muslims personal law; hence, it is applicable only to Muslims. This explains that any person who accepts the religion is subjected to the Muslims personal law. The Islamic law differs from other laws, including man-made law. It was revealed from Allah, Who has the absolute supreme power to command on His messengers, as sovereignty belongs to Him alone. He legislate various laws for mankind. The laws are universally accepted and free from all the shackles of defects, as they are applicable to all times and everywhere in the world. Parts of the laws are justified punishments, generally accepted irrespective of period, state or jurisdiction. They vary with other laws as regard supremacy, universality, uniformity, enforceability, amendment, territorial jurisdictions and punishments.

Islamic Law criminalizes the act of blasphemy in order to protect religious practice and worship and tends to punish any individual or group speaking, writing or acting in a way deemed offensive to Islamic religion or showing contempt or lack of reverence for Allah, His messengers and other religious icons. Looking at the danger, unrest and turmoil the act of blasphemy would pose to the Islamic community, the Islamic compendium of laws set to provide harsh punishment. As long as Islamic law (Sharia) is practiced in the Muslims' Countries or States, this harsh punishment had continued to be enforced as divine law. Thus, any person who blasphemes the holy prophet comes under the unquestionable punishment of death.

The punishment for the offense of blasphemy had been accommodated within the criminal justice system of many Shari'a compliance states in Nigeria, among which is KANO. Kano State has criminalized the act of blasphemy with reference to the provision of section 382(B) of Kano State Shari'a penal code 2000. In the state, blasphemy against the holy prophet MUHAMMAD (S. A. W) is recognized as criminal offense carrying death penalty. This punishment is based on Islamic law and subjective understanding of Shari'a, and not any other established legal system. This is because Islamic law places its reliance and sole validity on the Qur'an and Sunnah, as well as varying degrees of other sources.Within the Islamic law, blasphemy is regarded and acknowledged as one of the serious offences, and for that, it remains unacceptable under Islamic law. The Islamic scholars, in support of the notion of deterrent effect that the punishment may implies on the mind of potential offenders, set to provide the authorities for justification of death penalty upon anyone who puts a blasphemous word against the holy prophet from Qur'an and Sunnah.

In the Qur'an, Allah (S.W.A) said:وإن نكثوا أيما نهم من بعدعهدهم وطعنوافى دينكم فقاتلوا أئمة الكفر إنهم لاأيمان لهم لعلهم ينتهونAnd if the break their oath after (they have ratified) their pledge and revile and commit aggression against your faith, then fight such leaders of disbelief that they desist. Indeed, solemn (binding) oaths have no value with them.1

Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir says:ومن ههنا أخذ قتل من سب الرسول صلوات الله وسلامه عليه From this, the death penalty for whoever insults the holy prophet has been found.Imam Qurdubi says: إستدل بعد العلماءبهذه الايةعلي وجوب قتل كل من طعن فى الدين إذهوكافرSome of the "uluma" (Islamic jurists) have reached a conclusion base on this verse for justification of killing the blasphemer against the religion of Islam.Ibn Munzir says: أجمع عوام أهل العلم على أن حد من سب النبى صلىاللهعليه و سلم القتل وممن قاله إمام ماك، والليث، وأحمد ابن حنبل وإسحاق وهو مذهب الشافعىAll the Islamic jurists have opined that, the punishment for blasphemer against the holy prophet is death. Among who say that; Imam Malik, Imam Lais, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ishaq Ibn Rahawaih, and it is the opinion of Imam Shafi'i.Ishaq Ibn Rahawaih says:أجمع المسلمون على أن من سب الله أو سب رسوله صلى الله عليه و سلم أنه كافر بذلك وإن كان مقرا بكل ماأنزل اللهMuslims have round up on who insult Allah, or insult His messenger, he is non-Muslim (Kafir), even though he has believed with all what Allah has revealed.Imam Kaddabi says:لاأعلم أحدا من المسلمون إختلف فى وجوب قتلهHe knows no body from the Muslims scholars who disagreed with justification of killing the blasphemer.Allah (S. W. A.) says:ولئن سألتهم ليقولن إنما كنا نخوض ونلعب قل أبالله وءايا ته ورسوله كنتم تستهزئون. لا تعتذروا قد كفرتم بعد إيمانكم إن نعف عن طائغة منكم نعذب طائفة بأنهم كانوا مجرمينAnd if you ask them (to explain their conduct), they will certainly say, we were talking idly and just making a jest. Say is it of Allah and his revelations and his messenger that you dare to talk so lightly (could you find none else for the purpose.).Make no excuse, you have certainly disbelieved after your confession of belief. Even if we forgive one party of you, we will punish the other party for they are steeped in sin.2

Ibn Taimiyya says:وقد دلت الاية على أن كل من تنقص رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقد كفر. فقد أخبر أنهم كفروا بعد إيما نهمThe verse has reveals that whoever denigrate the holy prophet has certainly disbelieved. And it was said in the verse, you have certainly disbelieved after your confession of belief.3

It is well evident from the Hadith of the holy prophet (S.A.W.) that the punishment for blasphemy against the holy prophet is death. Imam Bukhari has narrated from Jabir a Hadith when Jabir was saying:قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من لكعب بن الأشرف فإنه اذى الله ورسوله. فقام محمد بن مسلمة فقال يا رسول الله أتحب أن أقتله قال نعم. The messenger of Allah says: "who is willing to kill Ka'ab bin Ashraf, was hurt Allah and His messenger? Thereupon, Muhammad bin maslama stood up saying, O Allah's messenger would you like that I kill him? The prophet said yes." 4

Another Hadith is that of Abu Rafi'in, also narrated by Bukhari that "the prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) was reported to have sent person to Abu Rafi'in who used to hurt Allah's messenger and appointed Abdullahi bin Atik, who entered the house of Abu Rafi'in at night while he was sleeping and killed him."5

In another Hadith of Ibn Abbas (R.A.), that a blind man had a slave-mother who used to abuse the holy prophet and vilify him. He forbade her but she did not stop. One night he took a dagger, places it on her belly, pressed it and killed her."6

In the Hadith of Sayyadina Aliyu (R.A.) also, "a Jewess used to abuse the holy prophet and vilify him. A man strangled her till she died. The messenger of Allah declared that no recompense was payable for her blood."7

Abu Barzat once stated that, "I was with Abu Bakr (R.A.) when he became angry at a man who uttered hot words to him. I asked, do you permit me to cut off his neck? Abu Bakr said NO."لا، والله ما كا نت لبشر بعد محمد صلى الله عليه وسلمNo, I swear by Allah, this is not allowed for any man after Muhammad (P.B.U.H)8

It is well known and trite position of Islamic law that a blasphemer should not escape the punishment of death, as it has been held by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the sisters cases of Shall a Vs State, Usman Kaza Vs State, Abdullahi Ada Vs State, and Yaro Vs State. The Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad puts it clear that and pronounced it in the case of Kaza Vs State (2008)7 NWLR part 1085 page 125 particularly at page 199 para A-B:the trite position of law under Shari'a is that, any Sane and Adult. Muslim who insult, defames or utters words or acts which are capable of bringing into disrepute, odium, contempt, the person of holy prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), such a person has committed a serious crime which is punishable by death. "

It is clear that the punishment of death for the offense of blasphemy has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the above mentioned Case and leaves no doubt in the mind of Nigerians. This punishment finds no difference in Bible for the Christians who blaspheme the holy Jesus.The word "blasphemy" in a generic sense according to Christian theology is to deny the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, or to Vilify the Jesus or denigrate and ridicule the Bible. Blasphemy law exists in almost all the religions and countries of the world, depending upon the belief and faith of the people. The law of Al-Taurah (Old Testament) has decreed death by stoning as the penalty for the offense of blasphemy. Under a New Testament, blasphemy against Jesus Christ is an unforgivable and unpardonable sin in this world and hereafter. This has been spelt out in the book of Matthew Chapter 12 verse 31 where it says: "Wherefore I say unto you, all manners of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the holy Ghost (Jesus) shall not be forgiven unto men." Verse 32 of the same Chapter also provides: " and whosoever speakth a word against the holy Ghost (Jesus) it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. "The Bible goes on saying in the book of St Mark Chapter 3 verses 29  30, where it provides thus: "But he that blasphemes against the Holy Ghost (Jesus) hath never forgiveness." In the book of St Luke Chapter 12 verse 10 also provides: "Blasphemy shall not be forgiven." The law of blasphemy was legislated on the basis and principle of these verses of the Holy Bible throughout the European Countries and enforced with hard punishment of death. This has been realized from the Deuteronomy Chapter 17 verse 12 and Leviticus Chapter 24 verse 16 of the Old Testament, it provides thus: "and he that blasphemeth the name of thy Lord. He shall be surely put to death, and all congregations shall certainly stone him. "The blasphemy law regarding Jesus Christ become the law of European Kingdom, because the United Kingdom has recognized it and takes it as one of the common law offends. At common law, blasphemy is defined as: "The polemics of anything which vilifies or which rejects or denies the truth of the Christian religion, or the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer and which is couched in indecent scurrilous or offensive terms likely to shock and outrage the feelings of the general body of Christian believers. "It is clear that the punishment of death for the offense of blasphemy has been abolished in England, in 1676 by the provision of Ecclesiastical jurisdiction Act, and also the decision in the case of R v Woolston (1729) 93 E.R 881. The proof of the offense of blasphemy under common law is that, there is no requirement that the accused should have recognized his word to be blasphemous in nature. The MENS REA of blasphemy requires only the words were found to be blasphemous and the evidence in the case of blasphemy under common law is that, in case of public utterance, two witnesses are recognized to prove the offense, and if it is blasphemous libel, the written words must be produced. All these were evidenced from the important cases of WHITE HOUSE Vs LEMON(1979) A.C 617 and EX PARTE CHOUDHURY's case reported in (1990) 3 WLR 986 respectively. The Lord Scarman has fairly dealt with the law of blasphemy in the case of White House Vs Lemon where he held that: "The offense of (blasphemy) belongs to a group of criminal offenses designed to safeguard the internal tranquillity of the kingdom in an increasingly pluralist society such as that of modern Britain, I think it is a case for legislation extending blasphemy law. It is necessary not only to respect the differing religious belief and feeling of all but also to protect them from vilification, ridicule and contempt." This judgement of Lord Scarman is in line with Islamic law of blasphemy which strictly prohibits Muslims from disrespect or vilifying the Jesus Christ and other prophets of Allah and refrain themselves in whatever form and manner from insulting and denigrating the leaders of different religions. The Muslims are not allowed to ridicule any living and dead person.

The law of blasphemy has penetrates into the legal system of United States of America. The law of blasphemy in the United States of America finds no difference with that of the United Kingdom. The legal definition of blasphemy in the United States is: "reviling of God, wantonly attacking the Christian religion, or contumelious reproach of Jesu Christ or exposing the scriptures to contempt and ridicule. "Blasphemy is an offense and may be committed by spoken or written words, where a statue designated several ways of committing an offense. The doing of anyone of them constitutes the crime; the Supreme Court of the United States of America in its historical judgment of State Vs Mockus.9 The learned justices have this to say: "it is farthest from our thought to claim superiority for any religion sect, society or denomination, or even to admit that there exist any distinct, avowed connection between Church and State in the United States or in any individual state, but, as distinguished from the religions of Confucius, Gautama, Muhammad or even Abrahama, it may be truly said that, by reason of the number, influence and station of its devotees within our territorial boundaries, the religion of Christ is the prevailing religion of this country and of this state. With equal truth, may it be said that from the down of civilization, the religion of a country is the most important factor in determining its form of government, and that stability of government in so small measure, depends upon the reverence and respect which a nation maintain toward its prevalent religion."

The Supreme Court of U.S. while dealing with the offense of blasphemy declared that as the country is based on sure foundation of Christianity, no one is allowed to go beyond the constitutional freedom to undermine the foundation of the country by detracting or ridiculing the God of Christian religion.According to the Court, only vilification or contempt of God, Jesus Christ and Gospels constitute blasphemy. It is of the view that blasphemy against the other religion or the prophet of Islam is not an offense punishable under their law. This has ran afoul of the Islamic law which requires the Muslims to respect not only their own prophet, but all the prophets of Allah without any distinction and anyone who goes on contrary to this way, will be liable to the punishment of blasphemy under Islamic law. Because, there has been for long a consensus of opinions of the companions of the holy prophet and Ulama with the ability to exercise legal reasoning (Ijtihad) that the punishment of blasphemy is death.


Finally, a person who abuses the holy prophets (God Forbid); or slanders him or ascribes any defect or unworthy of him with the design to slander him or curses him or invokes a malediction upon him or talks in a way to make him look small, such a person comes under the law of blasphemy and is liable to death penalty. Both in Islamic and Christian religion. 


1.Surat Tauba ayat 12

2.Surat Tauba ayat 65-66

3.Al- Sarimul Maslul

4.Sahih Bukhari Hadith No. 4037

5.Sahih Bukhari Hadith No. 4038

6.Sunan Abi Daud Hadith No. 4361

7.Sunan Abi Daud Hadith No. 4362

8.Sunan Abi Daud Hadith No.4363

9.113A.39.422, 120ME14ALR 37


Ai Qur'an 

Sahihul Bukhari 

Sunanu abu Daud

Sarimul Masdul ibn Taymiya 

Muhammad the prophet and the law of blasphemy in Islam and the West by Muhammad Ismail Qureshi.