In the wake of the anti-U.S. protests and violence across the Islamic world in opposition to the anti-Muhammad movie "The Innocence of Muslims," renowned Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan published an article titled "Blasphemy," in which he notes that Koranic verses do not stipulate punishment for committing an act of blasphemy against the prophet. The author of more than 200 books on Islam, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is the editor of Al-Risala, an Islamic monthly magazine in Urdu, English, and Hindi. The magazine has published regularly since 1976, when it was first released in Urdu language.
Known for his Gandhian views and advocacy of peaceful means for debating Islamic issues, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan currently lives in New Delhi where he heads the Islamic Centre, a center of research on Islam. Khan is known for his reasoned arguments and an interpretation of Islam based on the Koran and Sunnah (deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad).
In the article, he cites verses from the Koran and argues that Prophet Muhammad and his followers are required to adopt a peaceful approach toward cases of blasphemy.
The following are excerpts from the article:
"The Koran Mentions... Words Of Abuse Used By Prophets' Contemporaries But Nowhere Does The Koran Prescribe The Punishment Of Lashes, Or Death, Or Any Such Deterrent Punishment"
"The Koran is the most authentic source of Islam. The Koran clearly states which actions are crimes and specifies what kind of punishments are to be meted out for them. One notable example is what is called 'qazaf.' The following is the verse of the Koran in this regard: 'Those who defame chaste women, but cannot produce four witnesses, shall be given eighty lashes.' (24:4).
"We learn from this verse of the Koran that if a pious woman is defamed without any proof, such a person, in the eyes of the Koran, becomes a criminal who deserves physical punishment by a court of law. When the Koran mentions this crime, it also mentions the specific punishment along with it.
"Now let us look into this matter from another aspect. The Koran states that since ancient times God has sent prophets in succession to every town and every community. It says, moreover, that the contemporaries of all of these prophets adopted the same negative attitude – but with far greater intensity – as has been mentioned in the Koran with regard to chaste women. For instance, the Koran says: 'Alas for human beings! They ridicule every messenger that comes to them.' (36:30)
"There are more than two hundred verses of this nature, which reveal that the contemporaries of the Prophet repeatedly perpetrated the same act which is now called 'abuse of the Prophet' or 'using abusive language about the Prophet.' Prophets down the ages have been mocked and abused by their contemporaries (36:30), some of the epithets cited in the Koran being 'a liar' (40:24), 'possessed' (15:6), 'a fabricator' (16:101), 'a foolish man' (7:66). The Koran mentions these words of abuse used by prophets' contemporaries but nowhere does the Koran prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any such deterrent punishment."
"[Koranic Verses Show] That 'Abuse Of The Prophet' Is Not A Subject Of Punishment, But Is Rather A Subject Of Dawah [Preaching]"…; Koranic Verses "Tell Us About What Approach The Prophet Was Required To Adopt … That People Should Be Addressed By Arguments"
"This clearly shows that 'abuse of the Prophet' is not a subject of punishment, but is rather a subject of dawah [preaching]. That is, one who is guilty of abusing the Prophet should not have corporal punishment meted out to him: he should rather be given sound arguments in order that his mind may be addressed. In other words, peaceful persuasion should be used to reform the person concerned, rather than attempting to kill him.
"There is a verse in the Koran to this effect: 'God knows all that is in their hearts; so ignore what they say, admonish them and speak to them in such terms as will address their minds.' (4:63) This verse means that those who adopt a negative stance towards the Prophet will be judged by God, who knows the innermost recesses of their hearts.
"The responsibility of the Prophet and his followers is to observe the policy of avoidance, and, wishing well, convey the message of God to them in such a manner that their minds might be properly addressed.
"This case is made out in the [Koran's] Chapter entitled Al-Ghashiya: 'Do they never reflect on the camels and how they were created, and on the sky, how it is raised aloft, and on the mountains, how they are firmly set up, and on the earth, how it is spread out? So, exhort them; your task is only to exhort, you are not their keeper. But whoever turns back and denies the truth will be punished by God with the greatest punishment. Certainly, it is to Us that they will return.' (88:17-26)
"These verses of the Koran tell us about what approach the Prophet [Muhammad] was required to adopt. This approach was that people should be addressed by arguments. Attempts should be made to satisfy them rationally as to the veracity of the religion. And notwithstanding any negative reaction on the part of those addressed, this same positive style of dawah (conveying the message of God to people) has to be adhered to. It is not the task of the dayee [preacher] to assume the role of a keeper. So far as punishment and reward are concerned, that is a subject wholly in the domain of God. God will gather together everyone on the Day of Resurrection and then, according to their deeds, will reward or punish them."
"The Koran Makes It Plain That It Is Not The Task Of The Believers To Establish Media Watch Offices And Hunt For Anyone Involved In Acts Of Defamation Of The Prophet, And Then Plan For Their Killing… The Stance Of Present-Day Muslims Goes Totally Against The Teachings Of The Koran"
"Another important aspect of this matter is that at no point in the Koran is it stated that anyone who uses abusive language about the Prophet should be stopped from doing so, and in case he continues to do so he should be awarded severe punishment. On the contrary, the Koran commands the believer not to use abusive language directed against opponents: 'But do not revile those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they, in their hostility, revile God and out of ignorance.' (6:108)
"This verse of the Koran makes it plain that it is not the task of the believers to establish media watch offices and hunt for anyone involved in acts of defamation of the Prophet, and then plan for their killing, whatever the cost.
"On the contrary, the Koran enjoins believers to sedulously refrain from indulging in such acts as may provoke people to retaliate by abusing Islam and the Prophet. This injunction of the Koran makes it clear that this responsibility devolves upon the believers, rather than that others be held responsible and demands made for them to be punished.
"Looked at from this angle, the stance of present-day Muslims goes totally against the teachings of the Koran. Whenever anyone – in their judgment – commits an act of 'abuse of the Prophet,' in speech or in writing, they instantly get provoked and their response is to start leading processions through the streets, which often turn violent, and then they demand that all those who insult the Prophet be beheaded.
"All those who initiate such provocative processions and demand the killing of supposed 'abusers of the Prophet' are instead themselves the greatest culprits when it comes to abuse of the Prophet. Their violent conduct has resulted in the public being led into believing that Islam is a religion of a pre-civilized era, that it imposes a ban on free thinking, that it is a religion which believes in thought crime, and that it is a religion of violence, etc.
"It is Muslims themselves who are entirely responsible for the formation of this negative image of Islam. Distorting the image of Islam in this way is, indeed, the greatest of all crimes."