Blasphemy outrage has no basis in Islamic law says Aziz Al-Azmeh
Aziz Al-Azmeh, a leading scholar in Arab and Islamic history, said Thursday 17 October at a Graduate Institute event that there is no precedent for blasphemy as a legal category in classical Islamic jurisprudence.
Blasphemy was considered to be related to the legal category apostasy and public order in Islamic law. It is used to induce the public manifestations of rage we have seen in recent times, and is a political phenomenon to which Muslim jurisprudence is irrelevant, he said.
Director of the Centre for Religious Studies at the Central European University in Budapest, Aziz Al-Azmeh gave his comments during the keynote lecture of a three-day conference, “Blasphemy as Political Game”, organised by Professor Martin Riesebrodt, Yves Oltramare Chair of Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World at the Graduate Institute, Geneva.
Discussing cases where so-called blasphemy has led to public outrage and violence in Europe - such as the Salmon Rushdie affair, the Danish cartoons controversy, or the killing of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh - Al-Azmeh said Muslim rage in this area is a new phenomenon that has particularly emerged since 1989 when socialism and Keynesianism effectively disappeared and novel social and economic stresses resulted from neo-liberal reforms.
“There is no authority to decide on what blasphemy is in Islam but certain bodies have come to constitute themselves as communal and political leadership,” Al-Asmeh said. “Public manifestations of rage seek to replace national citizenship with questions of identity,” he added. Al-Azmeh also said that there was traditionally very little taboo in producing likenesses from Islam and many classical examples exist in the Ottoman Empire, for example. Depictions of Ali can be bought and sold commonly at markets in Iran today, he said.
Answering questions from the audience, Dr Al-Azmeh said that in Europe there has been a lack of serious effort to integrate Muslims into society, particularly for the generation that came into adulthood over the last 20 years. Some groups in Europe have even been re-socialised by Muslim communal leaderships, moving away from the traditions of their countries of origin to take more stringent approaches to following Islam than their parents, he said.
Giving the welcome remarks at last Thursday's lecture, Professor Riesebrodt said: “This is not a conference on Islamism, right-wing populism, or media headlines. But we will analyse ‘spectacular’ cases in order to better understand structural tensions between religion and politics in the contemporary world”. Topics discussed at the conference include blasphemy in Judaism, Eastern religions and Western democracies. “Ireland introduced a new blasphemy law in 2010,” Riesebrodt said. Thanking Yves Oltramare, who was in attendance, for sponsoring the conference Riesebrodt said: “You are an inspiration to all of us”.
More information on the conference Blasphemy as Political Game.