Accused of blasphemy against Muhammad [PBUH] the Prophet of Islam in a song, the death sentence handed down to Yahya Sharif-Aminu, a 22-year-old Muslim singer, by an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State has once again renewed the conversation over the unresolved conflict between the state and religion in Nigeria. By the time of his conviction in early August, Sharif-Aminu was an obscure figure that was little known outside the fold of his Tijaniya Sufi order in Kano, just as the details of his alleged blasphemous song remain in short supply.
Enraged by his alleged blasphemous song, which was said to have been released in March and circulated by electronic means, an angry mob besieged his family house, razed it to the ground and called on the relevant authorities to bring Sharif-Aminu to the ultimate justice of death for blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam, in accordance with Muslim Sharia law. The outrage over this incidence was so enormous that Hisbah, the Kano State Sharia enforcement outfit, arrested, detained and eventually charged the singer to a Sharia court, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Blasphemy in Islam, which loosely approximates the denigration, abuse, insult, mockery, ridicule and humiliation of God, his Angels and messengers in utterances considered impious and laced with falsehood, constitute a grievous transgression against which Muslims are admonished. The act of blasphemy is such a serious one that Muslims are even admonished against blasphemy of the gods of idolaters [Baal, Huba, Amadioha, Ogun, Sango, etc] so that they in turn will not blaspheme against Allah SWT. In admonishing Muslims against blasphemy, Allah SWT said in Quran 6:108, “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.’’
While blasphemy is a transgression of enormous magnitude against which Muslims are admonished, there is no punishment recommended by the admonisher [Allah] to the admonished [Muslims] for the transgressing blasphemer. In the whole of the Quran, which is his divinely revealed words to mankind, Allah SWT did not decree death for a transgressing blasphemer in a single verse, just as there was no authentic record of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad PBUH, ordering the execution of a single creation of Allah SWT on account of blasphemy. On what Muslims should do when people are blaspheming against Allah SWT and his messenger as contained in Quran 4:140, “ When you hear Allah’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them.’’
Allah SWT, the most gracious, often forgiving, most merciful, all-knowing and all-wise, in his infinite mercy and grace towards mankind, could not have decreed death for blasphemy against him and his messenger. And the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad PBUH, an embodiment of the virtues of Allah SWT, who is described as the best of mankind, could not have ordered the execution of any soul on account of blaspheming him.
Religion is a subjective interpretation of faith. Whereas, faith [Islam], an inter-personal relationship between man and his creator, is constant, religion [Muslim] is man’s varied interpretation of faith subject to his limited understanding of the limitless knowledge and wisdom of the creator of heaven and earth. It is this subjectivity in matters of faith that has given rise to inter and intra-religious divisions into sectarian divides. The Muslim religion as presently practiced may not always represent the tenets of the Islamic faith, because religious doctrines and laws are essentially the creation of men who arrogate to themselves the status of higher knowledge and scriptural insight. This largely explains why there are various Sharia schools of thoughts with jurisprudence varying from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore, a Muslim law guiding the conduct of Muslims may not always be Islamic. One of such laws is the Muslim law of death penalty for blasphemy against Allah SWT and his Prophet, Muhammad PBUH.
Of the four principal sources of the codified body of Muslim laws, the Sharia, only the Quran is divine. The three other sources, the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, the consensus of opinions of eminent and scholars [Ijma] and analogical reasoning of jurists [Qiyas] are by no means divine and their theological doctrines emanating therefrom should be continuously interrogated and thoroughly cross-checked to ensure they don’t contradict the word of Allah SWT and his essence as the most gracious and most merciful. The aspect of the Sharia law prescribing capital punishment for blasphemy is in clear contradiction of the words of Allah SWT as contained in the Quran wherein he did not decree death or any other punishment for blasphemy. Allah SWT is the sole giver and taker of life, as the power over life and death is exclusively that of the creator of heaven and earth and not his Prophets, Scholars or Jurists.
Interestingly, the massive support for death sentence passed on Sharif-Aminu for his alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad [PHUH] and the condemnation of those opposed to this aspect of Sharia law as “hypocrites” that are worse than “infidels” and “unbelievers” is a rude reminder of the religious and cultural self-immolation in the Muslim North of Nigeria. The groundswell of support for the Muslim Sharia legal system and outpouring of violent emotions towards humankind in the stout defence of their cherished theocratic ethos is a clear illustration of the manifestly latent problem of radicalization in the Muslim North of Nigeria.
The Sharia movement, which started in Nigeria in the early 1970s with the introduction of Salafism into the Muslim North, was a precursor to the current Boko Haram insurgency that is ravaging the Nigerian state. Having weaponized religion as a potent tool of acquiring political power but failed to achieve the expected utopia of Islamic state through the introduction of the Sharia legal code in the early years of the 4th Republic in 1999, the leadership establishment of the Muslim North nevertheless succeeded in stoking the fire of extremism, which has resulted in the raging Boko Haram insurgency.
The attempt since 1999 by some states in the North to expand the jurisdiction of the Sharia legal code beyond personal and family matters as allowed by the Constitution of the multi-religious Federal Republic of Nigeria shares some semblance to Abu Shekau’s Boko Haram insurgent group. Similarly, those who support the death sentence for blasphemy passed on Sharif-Aminu and violently condemn those opposed to it as “infidels’” are themselves not so different from Boko Haram insurgents in their intolerance and extremism. And if the Muslim North insists on stoking the fire of extremism through their collective aspiration for a Sharia-governed Islamic state, then the time is right for the Federal Government of Nigeria to sit with Abu Shekau for a chat.