According to the UK Telegraph and BBC News (Nov. 12, 2010) Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman and mother of five, has been condemned by a Pakistani court for blaspheming the prophet Mohammad.
Mrs. Bibi insists no such blasphemy took place. Her relatives are appealing the ruling.
Whatever she may have truly said or not said, keep in mind that for many Muslims, adherence to Christianity is itself blasphemy since Christians do not view Mohammad as a prophet of God. How can they, when the Koran denies the deity of Jesus and salvation through Jesus? (Surah 3-5) Those are two non-negotiable theological pillars for any follower who takes Biblical authority to heart.
Exclusive claims in the name of Jesus are no more dogmatic than the Koran’s insistence that Allah alone is God or that heaven is forbidden to any who doubt Mohammad’s revelations (Surah 4). Therefore, “blasphemy” is often in the eye of the beholder.
Being a Christian need not translate into disrespect for other religions, merely disbelief in other religions. Then again, when a Christian is sentenced to death in the name of Islam, respectful faces drop their jaws. They also remember that these days, it does not take much to “blaspheme Mohammad.”
When a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of Mohammad, riots and burnings broke out all over the world. When Dutch film director, Theo Van Gogh made a movie about the mistreatment of women in Muslim countries, he was stabbed to death on the street in broad daylight. (Gee, that ought to teach us to stop calling Islam a violent religion!) When it was falsely reported that an American prison guard in Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down the toilet, Muslims committed murders in retaliation. But that’s nothing: Some Muslims have threatened violence if an infidel so much as touches the Koran. (Ironically, there did not seem to be much Muslim outrage when Jewish synagogues were burnt down immediately after Israel turned Gaza over to the Palestinians.)
Hopefully, American citizens are praying for Asia Bibi. Hopefully, they are also outraged enough to write their congressmen so that public opinion might encourage President Obama to put some kind of pressure upon our ally, Pakistan.
Obama certainly spoke up enough about human rights while running for president. He also expresses terrific enthusiasm for “international law.” A word or two about a Christian woman sentenced for execution by a government we work with is not out of order. Still, don’t hold your breath. Obama has already gone around the world on his Magical Mystery Apology Tour, explaining to Muslims how America has its own share of guilt. Those same speeches reinforced popular notions that Islam is a wonderful religion, mostly peaceful, yet distorted and misrepresented by a few terrorists.
Asia Bibi’s sentence challenges such a religious interpretation. After all, her condemnation comes from the highest court in a Muslim country, not some renegade band.
Undoubtedly, many readers are arming themselves with defensive questions about now.
“Are you denying the existence of peaceful Muslims?”
Of course there are peaceful Muslims! I’ve personally participated in warm talks and exchanges with wonderful, loving Muslims. OK? However, where as every Muslim must be judged on an individual basis, evaluating the Koran itself is quite another matter. This collection of scripture really does call upon Muslims to conquer the world, offering “infidels” the choice of converting or dying (Surah 9).
“But only terrorists take those words seriously.”
Not so. It is true that terrorists (sadly) are interpreting the Koran accurately, but many Muslims who do not identify themselves as terrorists still abide by their own book, which makes sense. After all, to them, the Koran is sacred scripture.
“Are you saying there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim?”
To answer your question with carefulness and delicacy, certainly there are numerous Muslims who call themselves moderate. At the same time, many people who have not studied the religion rush to defend Islam and end up speaking in a vacuum. If the Koran is read word for word and cover to cover, a cold, painful truth sets in: There are many nominal Muslims who would be surprised at what their own holy book says.
What does nominal imply? Just as there are people who live in America or Europe, who know absolutely nothing about the Bible other than a few choice sections taken out of context, people who nevertheless call themselves Christians because they were raised with some kind of church background, there are likewise many people born into Muslim countries or raised by Muslim families. If you asked them if they believed in the Koran, they would say, “Yes.” If you asked if they believed in Jihad, they would deny it and they would be telling the truth! There are millions of such people and yes; we can call them peaceful Muslims.
Meanwhile, another faction of Islam demonstrates deep familiarity with the Koran but chooses to reinterpret some of the Jihad verses. Iranian doctor, Mehdi Bazargan once made a famous claim that for him, Jihad meant a war against bacteria. That’s a nice idea and certainly the kind of Koran application most Americans would welcome (even if it does force objective literary criticism to stand on its head.)
Let us be grateful for countless Muslims who reinterpret their own holy book but not at the expense of being naïve as to what those scriptures truly say.
“Isn’t it possible that the “literal” Jihad verses are being taken out of context?”
Yes, in all literature, there is always a danger of misunderstanding context, but authentic context is verified by asking what a book’s original author honestly meant to say. Mohammad himself conquered with a sword. How do you think he took Mecca? Therefore, it is fairly obvious (albeit not Politically Correct) to understand that such Jihad commands were intended by Mohammed to be taken literally and not figuratively.
Many Americans have difficulty embracing this uncomfortable idea. Pakistani courts find it more palatable. Just ask Asia Bibi.
Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and columnist. Information about his radio show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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