Blasphemy: Perspectives of Christian, Islam and Traditional Religion

By Gabriel Omonhinmin

Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, were shocked when they watched the video clip of Deborah Yakubu Samuel, a 200 level student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto that went viral on social media. She was killed and her remains set ablaze, on Thursday, May 12, 2022, by her schoolmates over an allegation of blasphemy.

Deborah, killed for alleged Blasphemy in Sokoto
Deborah, killed for alleged Blasphemy in Sokoto

As the controversy surrounding Deborah’s death rages, Trumpet Religious Desk decided to look at the pros and cons of blasphemy from the Christian, Islam and Traditional religions’ perspectives.

Although some alleged culprits in the gruesome murder of Deborah have been arraigned before a court in Sokoto, a Lagos based Human Rights Lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegoruwa, in a press statement dated 16th May 2022 titled; “The Conspiracy in Sokoto” said, “for there to be genuine reconciliation in this matter of Deborah, the charge of Criminal Conspiracy and Inciting Public Disturbance as framed by the Sokoto State Government against hardened murderers is an insult to the sensibilities of the parents of the deceased, the people of Nigeria and God, who created Deborah.

“This crime took place in an enlightened environment in a higher institution, under the watch of security men, who were said to have been overpowered. It all started from a Whatsapp group, which has identified leaders.

There are students who send messages and threats of death on that platform. Their phone numbers are registered with NIN identification. They belong to a class in the school so they are known individuals.

“Images of persons, who openly and boastfully confessed to partaking in the murder abound, with one displaying the match stick with which the deceased was set ablaze.

“The government of Sokoto State has by these charges shown itself complicit in this whole drama and it is most unfortunate, for a State that is headed by a lawyer, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and who is aspiring to rule Nigeria as its President.

Parents of Deborah who was killed for alleged Blasphemy in Sokoto
Parents of Deborah who was killed for alleged Blasphemy in Sokoto

He stressed, “It is most uncharitable of His Excellency to have condoned this baseless charge. It is better to set the suspects free rather than claim to try them. The aftermath of this gruesome murder, the watery charges filed and the consenting attitude of those concerned have depressed me more than the act itself.

“Nigeria cannot work this way at all. I’m truly saddened by this development.” He added.

Adegoruwa said, “I expected the Governor as the Visitor to that school to have visited the parents of the deceased, who trusted the authorities and sent their ward to school from Niger to Sokoto State, in furtherance of the mantra of a United Nigeria.

“If the impression we get with all these charges is that the State itself endorsed the murder of the deceased, then we are sowing the seeds of discord and fragmentation.

“The political ambition of Governor Aminu Tambuwal should not override the life of a citizen entrusted to his care but who was murdered in cold blood.

It is better for His Excellency to resign now, rather than go down in history as the Governor under whose watch a citizen was murdered and the Governor could not enforce the laws of the land but rather aided and abetted its cover-up. It is Governor Tambuwal, who is actually on trial in this case”, he concluded.

Professor Farooq Kperogi, who is saddened by the gruesome murder of Deborah, reacted on his Twitter handle while taking a wipe no the large number of Northern lawyers, who are representing the alleged murderers in the case, he writes, “That such a large number of highly credentialed, full-grown northern Nigerian Muslim adults in full control of their mental faculties (who repeat the mantra that “Islam is a religion of peace,” no less) would countenance, defend, justify, and even revel in the insensate slaughter of Deborah Samuel Yakubu because of “blasphemy” makes me question my entire existence.”

Another Nigerian, Utaz Abu Jabir Abdullah Penabdul said, “Insulting our beloved Prophet, SAW, is A-No-Go-Area. Muslims and non-Muslims must be aware of this.

“However, Mob action against one that is guilty of blasphemy is not Islamic.

Leader of the mob that killed Deborah for alleged blasphemy
Leader of the mob that killed Deborah for alleged blasphemy

“If the door of mob action is generally opened in Islam then people will claim the lives of others at the slightest provocation. People could also be killed innocently. The ruler or the Judge or their representatives carry out the ruling once it’s proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“As much as we stand by the rule that the ruler or the judge or their representatives are those to carry out the capital punishment for the one that insults or denigrates the personality of our beloved Prophet, SAW, we want the WHOLE WORLD to know that it is not a light matter to joke with. Why will anyone deem it normal to insult the Prophet, SAW? Of what benefit? Alas! Some non-Muslims are careless about this and it is a great matter in the sight of the Muslims and the Shariah. When we talk of tolerance, we should be circumspect about it.

“The intoxicating effect of liberalism coupled with the arrogance of an ignorant for what is sacred to us, the Muslims, are responsible for the blasphemy that some non-Muslims have taken as a past-time. We love the Prophet, SAW, more than ourselves.

He warned, “People must stop being insensitive to the sensitivity of others. DO NOT CONTEMPLATE INSULTING the Prophet. Allah prohibited us from insulting what others worship besides Him. This shows the world our standard. If everyone desists from insulting the Prophet, we won’t be debating mob actions. Governments at all levels have to do something by strengthening and establishing existing Laws to deter people from insulting our beloved Prophet, SAW. I believe this type of action, when taken, will equally prevent mob actions”.

In his reaction, a Traditional religious practitioner, Chief Shamsudeen Gbadamosi, said, “Just like Christianity and Islam, the traditional religion also frowns at blasphemy. This is the reason why children, who are not of age, people who are not properly schooled in traditional religion and traditional matters, are oftentimes, not admissible into the inner circle of traditional religion worship unless and only when they come of age. People who are flippant and have anger problems are never allowed to take leadership positions in traditional religious matters. As traditional religion worshipers, we are daily being confronted and insulted by some Christians and Muslim adherents.

“We are cursed and insulted and called names such as pagans, infidel and unbelievers by these groups of people. We have never attempted to pull down heaven because of these affronts. We ignore all these insults and move on with our worship. Some of them even go the extra mile of not only insulting our cherished and revered deities but also attempting to destroy them. All we do, in extreme moves like this, is to prevent them from carrying out their intentions. We take all these nonsensical acts because we want to maintain a harmonious relationship with other religions.

 “This sad experience is the bitter pill of medicine some of these Christian and Muslim adherents administer on us, the traditional worshipers. Sadly, most of them can’t take what they try to administer to other people, when it is their turn, to take these types of treatments.

“A classic case of how liberal and tolerance the traditional religion practitioner is, is a case, in the mid-50s in Lagos, when a man then, who called himself a Muslim cleric kept on insulting our religious practitioners in Mushin, Oshodi, Agege, Shomolu and Ebute Metta just to mention a few. He was daily insulting, denigrating our deities in the process. When his behaviour was becoming intolerable to some of our members, a representation was sent to advise him to stop. Instead of heeding to our advice, he became more aggressive like most Muslims and Christians today behave.

“He did not take us seriously, invariably he was killed. The Colonial Masters, thereafter, waded into the case. We did not have the type of cover-up, which is so obvious in most of the religious murders in the Northern part of Nigeria today. To cut a long story short, the Colonial Masters were able to arrest, prosecute and sentence to death all the people, who were involved in that man’s killing, just because members of our sects co-operated with them. The Police officer who investigated the case was our member. The judge that pronounced judgment in the case was also our member. They did not use their offices to protect, or aid and abet all the people that carried out that dastard act, as it is the case today, just because they were our members and because they belong to our religion. The reason why we cooperate with the police then is because we did not want to embolden our members to carry on more killings or people opposing their religion. If we had covered up those people then, there would have been numerous other killings. That was what we did then, which they are no longer doing now. Just look at the number of high calibre Northern lawyers, who made appearance in court to defend the people, who allegedly murdered Deborah in cold blood in the name of religion. What signals are they sending to other people “Go ahead and kill and maim, we are solidly behind you people? Shameful.”

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Nigeria National Law on Blasphemy

Nigeria has general laws against blasphemy for the Muslim north and Christian south adjudicated by Customary Courts as well as specific Islamic laws against blasphemy adjudicated by Sharia Court in the twelve northern states of the country.

The Customary law against blasphemy is found in Section 204 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits any act that publicly insults any religion and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years. The Sharia Court, on the other hand, is exclusively concerned with acts considered insulting to Muslims, the punishment for which can be as severe as execution. Most blasphemy accusations are made by Muslims against Christians and frequently trigger mob violence before any official actions like police arrests and judicial trials can be taken. Blasphemy is thus primarily a driver of sectarian violence rather than legal proceedings in the Nigerian context.

The word blasphemy is derived from a Greek term meaning “speaking evil,” but in the Christian religion, the word refers to verbal offences against sacred values or beliefs. A seventeenth-century Scottish jurist epitomized blasphemy by calling it, “treason against God.”

The concept of blasphemy has never remained fixed. It has ranged from the ancient Hebrew crime of cursing the ineffable name of God to irreverent statements that outrage the religious sensibilities of others. What is deemed blasphemous varies from society to society and may differ with time and place, but what is condemned as blasphemy is always regarded as an abuse of liberty and reveals what society cannot and will not tolerate. Blasphemy, therefore, constitutes a litmus test of the standard a society feels it must be enforced to preserve its religious peace, order, morality, and above all, salvation. Wherever organized religion exists, blasphemy is a taboo.

Every society will punish the rejection or mockery of its gods because blasphemy is an intolerable verbal violation of the sacred entity. It affronts the priestly class, the deep-seated beliefs of worshipers, and the basic religious values that a community shares.

Punishing blasphemer may serve any one of several social purposes in addition to setting an example to warn others. Punishment is also supposed to propitiate the offended deities by avenging their honour, thereby averting their wrath in the form of earthquakes, infertility, lost battles, floods, plagues, or crop failures. Public retribution for blasphemy also vindicates the witness of believers, reaffirms communal values and avoids the snares of tolerance.

 Islam and Blasphemy

Blasphemy in Islam is an impious utterance or action concerning God, but broader than in normal usage, including not only the mocking or vilifying the attributes of Islam but denying any of the fundamental beliefs of the religion. Examples include denying that the Holy Qur’an was divinely revealed; the prophet hood of one of the Islamic prophets, insulting an angel or maintaining God had a son.

The Qur’an curses those who commit blasphemy and promises blasphemers humiliation in the Hereafter. However, whether any Qur’anic verses prescribe worldly punishments is debatable. Some Muslims believe that no worldly punishment is prescribed while others disagree. The interpretation of the hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, is similarly debated. Some have interpreted the hadith as prescribing punishments for blasphemy, which may include death, while others argued that the death penalty applies only to cases where the perpetrator commits treasonable crimes, especially during times of war.

Different traditional schools of jurisprudences prescribe different punishments for blasphemy, depending on whether the blasphemer is a Muslim or non-Muslim, man or a woman.

In the modern-day Muslim world, the laws about blasphemy vary from country to country. While some countries prescribed punishments, consisting of fines, imprisonment, flogging, hanging, and beheading.

It is however imperative to note, that capital punishment for blasphemy was rare in pre-modern Islamic societies. This could be the possible reason why Sheikh Gumi said, “The Holy Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was insulted severally while on earth, yet he did not kill anybody.” In the modern era, some states and radical groups have used charges of blasphemy to garnish their religious credentials and gain popular support at the expense of liberal Muslim intellectuals and religious minorities.

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