In Arab and Muslim countries, defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammad is still defined as an offense against the shari'a that entails punishment. Recent examples of enforcement include the arrest of Saudi intellectual Dr. Turki Al-Hamad and Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari; another Saudi liberal, Raef Badawi, was sentenced to public flogging, and both Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir and Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi were even sentenced to death.
These recent cases were preceded by well-known assassinations or assassination attempts against individuals accused of insulting Islam or the Prophet, such as the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 against the author Salman Rushdie, which called to kill him for his book The Satanic Verses (this fatwa still holds in Iran); the assassination attempt against Nobel laureate Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz for irreverent allusions to Allah and the Prophet in his book Children of Our Neighborhood; the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for his film Submission, which shows Koranic verses written on the body of a woman; and fatwas permitting the killing of the artists responsible for the Danish cartoons published in 2005.
Historic Perspective: Punishment Of Prophet's Defamers Based On Koranic Verses, Hadith, Authoritative Sirah Literature (Biographies Of The Prophet)
According to the shari'a, defaming the Prophet is an act of blasphemy, the punishment for which is death even if the blasphemer repents. This law is Koranic, for Koran 9:61 says: "Those who hurt Allah's Messenger will have a painful punishment." The same Surah also states: "...Say: "(Go ahead and) mock! But certainly Allah will bring to light all that you fear. If you ask them (about this), they declare: 'We were only talking idly and joking.' Say: 'Was it at Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking? Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after you had believed. [Koran 9:64-66]." In addition, the Sirah literature (biographies of the Prophet) and the Hadith include many instances in which Muhammad ordered to kill his maligners or praised his followers for doing so. In the Muhammad's era, writing poems against him was considered an unforgivable crime, and many poets were killed for this, including the Jewish poet Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf, who would ridicule the Prophet. According to a hadith, he was killed by Muhammad bin Maslama at the behest of the Prophet himself and with his blessing. Al-Waqidi's The Book of History and Campaigns mentions that another poet who composed a poem against Muhammad, the Jewess 'Asma bint Marwan, was assassinated by 'Umayr bin 'Adiy, and the Prophet later praised him for executing her. In his biography of the Prophet, Ibn Hisham relates that Muhammad asked who would kill this woman on his behalf, and a member of her tribe volunteered. Two more poets killed for this crime were Abu 'Afak, who, according to Ibn Sa'd, was assassinated by Salem bin 'Umayr, and the Meccan poet Sarah, whom the Prophet ordered to kill on the day Mecca was conquered, according to Al-Waqidi.
Prominent medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya, considered by many to be the father of the modern fundamentalist Islamic movements, wrote on this issue: "Mocking Allah, His verses or His Messenger is blasphemy." He wrote further: "Whosoever curses the Prophet, be he a Muslim of an infidel, must be put to death. All [religious] scholars take this view." The late Saudi mufti 'Abd Al-'Aziz Ibn 'Abdallah Ibn Bazz said: "Anyone who curses Allah or His Messenger Muhammad in any way is a heretic apostate."
Since criticism of Muhammad is still taboo in the Muslim world and cases of it are fairly rare, this act and the punishment it merits are not major topics of debate in Islamist discourse. However, when it does occur - as in the case of Rushdie's book or cartoons lampooning Muhammad - it is regarded as a "crime" whose perpetrator must be punished. Governments in the Muslim world, as well as the sheikhs of the religious establishment, handle this matter according to political considerations, sometimes enforcing strict punishments and sometimes lenient ones, according to the political interests of the moment.
The following are some recent examples of citizens of Muslim countries punished for harming Islam or the Prophet.
Mauritanian Blogger Sentenced To Death For Insulting The Prophet
On December 24, 2014, a court in Mauritania convicted blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of ridha (apostasy) and sentenced him to be shot to death for "insulting the Prophet" in a January 14, 2014 article on his blog. In the article he criticized some decisions that the Prophet and his Companions took during their military conquests, using these examples to implicitly criticize Mauritania for allowing a discriminatory caste system. Arrested shortly after posting this entry, he denied the charges against him, clarifying that he had not meant to insult the Prophet. In one of his court hearings he said: "If my article implied any insult to the Prophet, peace be upon him, then I publically express my regret." He also said: "Insulting the Prophet is inconceivable..."
Already in March 2014, dozens of Mauritanian extremists called to execute Mkhaitir for his article, and clerics pressured his wife's family to have their marriage annulled over his crime of apostasy. In a demonstration against him in Nouadhibou, a businessman promised a Ôé¼10,000 reward to whoever killed him. Conversely, Mauritanian human rights organizations opposed sentencing him to death, while clarifying that they did not share his views.
Mauritania has not carried out a death sentence since 1987.
Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir (image: Rimtoday.net)
Iranian Blogger Receives Death Sentence For Insulting The Prophet
In January 2014, Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for insulting the Prophet on his Facebook page. He has been incarcerated in Evin prison for about a year. An Iranian court sentenced him to death, but in December 2014 the sentence was suspended, possibly due to pressure by Iranian human rights activists abroad. On January 6, 2015, Iranian human rights activists reported that the sentence may be carried out after all, and that Arabi has been threatened not to disclose any information about his legal status.
Soheil Arabi (image: Hra-news.org)
Saudi Blogger Arrested For Tweeting "There Are Things About The Prophet That I Hate"
Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari was imprisoned for tweeting on the festival of the Prophet's birthday on February 4, 2012: "On your birthday, I see you everywhere I go. There are things about you I love, there are things I hate, and there are many things I do not understand. On your birthday, I will not bend towards you and I will not kiss your hand. I will shake your hand as an equal, return your smile, and address you as a friend, nothing more."
Hamza Kashgari (image: Al-Arab, Saudi Arabia, August 2, 2012)
Kashgari's tweets sparked an uproar in the media, on the social networks, and in regime circles. Facebook pages denouncing and calling to prosecute him were launched, as well as Facebook pages and blogs that defended him. The Permanent Fatwa Committee, headed by the Saudi Chief Mufti, proclaimed him an infidel and an apostate for disdaining Allah and His Messenger and called to punish him according to the shari'a. It also warned all the Muslims to shun him. Prince Khaled bin Talal denounced Kashgari on television, saying that the young man's offensive remarks could not be tolerated as part of freedom of expression, and that he was part of a fifth column trying to drive a wedge between religion and politics and between the authorities and the people, and to spread hate and fitna in the name of freedom of opinion. Therefore, he said, Kashgari and anyone who supported him deserved to be punished.
Conversely, there were those who denounced the campaign against Kashgari and called to forgive him. International human rights organizations condemned his arrest by the Malaysian authorities and urged them not to extradite him to Saudi Arabia, for fear that he would be sentenced to death. In the wake of these furious responses, Kashgari apologized for his comments. He tweeted that he had not meant to hurt anyone and that he was asking Allah's forgiveness.
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After receiving death threats because of these tweets, Kashgari fled to Malaysia but was extradited to Saudi Arabia and spent some two years in prison. In a March 6, 2013 hearing before the criminal court in Riyadh, he expressed regret for what he wrote. He was released in October 2013.
For more on this affair, see MEMRI report.
From an anti-Khashgari Facebook page: "We want to take revenge on this despicable infidel" (Facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150537016429064&set=o.212405718856466&type=3&theater)
Saudi Intellectual Dr. Turki Al-Hamad Arrested For Calling To "Correct The Faith Of Muhammad"
Dr. Turki Al-Hamad, a liberal Saudi journalist and writer known for his criticism of extremist Islam, was arrested for some statements he made via Twitter on December 22, 2012, which were interpreted as an insult to Islam and the Prophet and sparked an uproar in Saudi Arabia. Al-Hamad tweeted: "A new Nazism has arrived in the Arab world, named Islamism. However, the age of Nazism has passed and the sun will rise again"; and "Our honorable Messenger [the Prophet Muhammad] came to correct the faith of Abraham, and now we need someone to correct the faith of Muhammad."
These tweets sparked a fierce debate on Twitter, in the Saudi press, and among Saudi clerics and intellectuals. The clerics called to punish Al-Hamad for his "heresy," while liberal Saudi intellectuals came to his defense. On December 24, 2012, only two days after the tweets were posted, Saudi Interior Minister Emir Muhammad bin Naif ordered Al-Hamad's arrest.
Al-Hamad's opponents, who included pundits and academics, claimed on social networks that his statements harmed Muhammad and other sacred symbols of Islam, with some even calling to prosecute him. Saudi cleric Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Tarifi called to punish Al-Hamad, and Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh Al-Luhaidan called to place him under house arrest for life, provide him with psychological treatment, and ban the publication and distribution of his books. Dr. Muhammad Al-Barrak, a professor at Umm Al-Qura University and a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), said: "We expect the Senior Clerics Council [Saudi Arabia's top religious institution] to issue a fatwa against the infidel Turki Al-Hamad, who claimed that the religion of our Prophet Muhammad needs someone to fix it."
Dr. Turki Al-Hamad (image: Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, December 24, 2012)
The head of the Lawyers for the Prophet Muhammad Association, Dr. Muhammad Al-Awlaki, said that Al-Hamad's past suggested that his statements were indeed meant to harm Islam, and that the association would file legal charges against Al-Hamad.
Deputy chairman of the World Association for Acquainting People with the Prophet, Dr. Khaled Al-Shay', praised Saudi Interior Minister Emir Muhammad bin Naif's decision to arrest Al-Hamad, and said that, with this move, he had fulfilled his duty to defend Muslim law. Al-Shay' added that Al-Hamad's statements were deviant and despicable.
Saudi Liberal Sentenced To 1,000 Lashes, Prison And Fine For Harming Islam
Last Friday (on January 9, 2015), the Saudi authorities began carrying out the punishment of Raef Badawi, cofounder of the Saudi Liberal Network online forum. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and (to be meted out in weekly installments of 50 lashes, every Friday after the prayer in front of a Jeddah mosque), in addition to 10 years in jail and a fine of 1,000,000 riyals (about $267,000), for "harming Islam" and committing Internet crimes. Human rights organizations criticized the sentence, and U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki even called it "brutal" and urged the Saudi authorities to cancel it.
Raef Badawi (image: English.alarabiya.net)
Crowd gathers to watch Badawi's flogging (source: youtube.com/watch?v=ISRaSduJNOI&app=desktop)
 On the Danish cartoons affair, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 313, "A Retrospective Study of the Unfolding of the Muhammad Cartoons Crisis and its Implications," January 5, 2007.
 See e.g., article by Sheikh Muhammad Sa'd Al-Daym, "The Islamic Ruling regarding Those Who Curse the Prophet" (saaid.net); a fatwa on Ibn Bazz's website (binbaz.org.sa); article by Yaara Perlman, Pe'amim 132, pp. 149-169.
 Yanair.net, December 24, 2014.
 Al-Arab (London), March 20, 2014.
 Justice4iran.org, December 16, 2015.
 Hra-news.org/fa/execution/b-409, January 6, 2015.
 Al-Sabq (Saudi Arabia), February 8, 2012.
 Al-Azad (Saudi Arabia), February 13, 2012.
 Moheet.com, February 12, 2012.
 Supporthamza.wordpress.com, accessed February 21, 2012.
 Freedomhouse.org, October 29, 2013.
 The incident was widely covered in the Saudi e-newspaper Sabq (December 23-24, 2012), and more briefly on the government Saudi daily Al-Medina (December 23, 2012).
 Sabq (Saudi Arabia), December 24, 2012.
 Almoslim.net, December 26, 2012.
 Almoslim.net, December 24, 2012.
 Slaati.com, December 24, 2012.
 Sabq (Saudi Arabia), December 24, 2012.
 Bbc.co.uk/Arabic, May 6, 2013.
 Sabq.org/Home, January 9, 2015.
 Bbc.co.uk/Arabic, January 9, 2015.