Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, born in 1925, in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, is an Islamic spiritual scholar who is well-versed in both classical Islamic learning and modern disciplines. The mission of his life has been the establishment of worldwide peace. He has received the Padma Bhushan, the Demiurgus Peace International Award and Sayyidina Imam Al Hassan Peace award for promoting peace in Muslim societies. He has been called ’Islam’s spiritual ambassador to the world’ and is recognized as one of its most influential Muslims . His books have been translated into sixteen languages and are part of university curricula in six countries. He is the founder of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality based in New Delhi.


ON 9 May 2017, the Christian Governor of Jakarta was jailed for two years for blaspheming against Islam. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, reportedly told fishermen in the Thousand Islands province in September 2016 that his opponents were using Chapter Five (Al-Maidah) of the Quran to deceive them into not voting for him. Some interpret verse 51 of Al-Maidah to mean that Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim ruler. Ahok subsequently apologized but the comments were seized upon by his political foes and conservative Islamic groups that had long argued that Jakarta should not be led by a non-Muslim. The five-judge panel of the North Jakarta District Court ordered the arrest of Ahok, saying he had been found convincingly guilty of blaspheming against religion. Ahok’s supporters had hoped he would be acquitted or given a light sentence after prosecutors concluded he did not intend to insult Islam. (“Jakarta’s Christian Governor Ahok jailed for two years for blasphemy,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2017).

Punishment for blasphemy is surely not a teaching of the Quran or the Hadith. It was the Muslim jurists of the later period who made these laws. This is why this law is in itself controversial: it has no authentic basis in the religion of Islam. The making of law in Islam is solely the right of God and His Prophet, and not of any jurist. 

The second point here is that the remark given by Jakarta’s Christian Governor was certainly not on a verse from the Quran, rather it was on a self styled interpretation of that verse by some Muslims. For this reason, the matter cannot be called a case of blasphemy, but rather it is a case of difference of opinion. According to Islam, difference of opinion is a right of every human being. One’s difference of opinion can be addressed only through reason and logical argumentation: it is definitely not a matter of punishment.

Difference of opinion marks every phase in the history of Islam. In Muslim literary history, there have been numerous instances of differences between scholars with regard to the interpretation of the Quran or Hadith. Difference was never made a matter of punishing the person who expressed his opinion, rather it was always a matter of discussion between the parties involved. This is why if some Muslims of Indonesia had differences with the opinion of the above Christian Governor, they should have presented their argument explaining why they differed with him. No court or judge has the right to issue a verdict declaring the person who has expressed difference as a criminal liable for punishment. 

It is with reference to such cases that the British author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has said in his book, The God Delusion that Islam believes in the concept of thought crime. However, this is a completely unfounded assertion. There may be some Muslims who hold beliefs and ideas to be punishable, but there is no such injunction in the Quran or Hadith that enjoins Muslims to punish people simply for the opinions they express.

During the life of the Prophet, there were some opponents who would often pass negative remarks about the Prophet and his mission. But the Quran never laid it down that Muslims should punish such persons. Instead one of the Muslims of the time, Hassan ibn Thabit, was given permission by the Prophet to respond in a literary method to the opponents. This shows that in Islam words are responded to by words, and not by sword.

Those Muslims who are involved in the above case are themselves engaged in distorting the image of Islam. 

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

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