Egypt: Christian Teenager Imprisoned for “Blasphemy”

(Hat tip TROP)

A 17 year old Coptic Christian boy, Gamal Massoud, was sentenced yesterday (Wednesday, 4/4/12) to a three year prison term for allegedly publishing cartoons on his Facebook page that lampooned the Muslim creed, and its prophet.

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reported (on January 18, 2012) the circumstances surrounding the initial allegations against Massoud, and his resultant apprehension.  Massoud, a resident of the village of Bahig and Adr in Assuit province,

…was assaulted by his fellow students after the school social worker had printed and hung on a wall a web page from Facebook with the photo of Gamal and a drawing which Muslims regarded as that of their prophet. Although he denied the charge, violence and protests broke out in three villages. Muslims from the surrounding villages protested for two days. They torched his home, together with four other homes of friends and relatives.

The AINA report from January 2012, continued by noting that in an effort to halt the unidirectional Muslim on Christian violence, “…the head of security promised them [the Muslims] that Gamal and his family would be evicted.” As the investigation of the allegations against Gamal Massoud continued,

…a meeting was held on December 31 [2011] at the Assiut governor’s office, attended by representatives from Al-Azhar, Salafists from the area who won the last parliamentary elections, church representatives and the authorities, where it was decided that Gamal, also accused of causing sedition, would be handed over to prosecution, and he and his entire family would be expelled from the county. Moreover, it was decided that the priests in the area had to publish an official apology in all the media.

Gamal Massoud was detained and put on trial. The following statement on the judgment was issued yesterday, 4/4/12, by a children’s court in Egypt, as reported by Reuters:

Assiut child’s court ordered the jailing of Gamal Abdou Massoud … for three years after he insulted Islam and published and distributed pictures that insulted Islam and its Prophet

This draconian punishment may foreshadow even stricter—including lethal—punishment for the “crime” of blasphemy should Egypt fully retrogress and re-institute the Sharia, unalloyed by non-Muslim legal principles, as recently supported by Muslim Brotherhood Presidential candidate, Dr. Khairat Al-Shater.

“Rising Restrictions on Religion,” a report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life issued August 9, 2011, examined the issue of “defamation” of religion, tracking countries where various penalties are enforced for apostasy, blasphemy or criticism of religions. “While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical,” the report noted. The Pew report found that application of the Sharia at present resulted in a disproportionate number of Muslim countries, twentyone—Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco,Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Western Sahara and Yemen—registering the highest (i.e., worst) persecution scores on their scale. Furthermore, the Pew investigators observed,

Eight-in-ten countries in the Middle East-North Africa region have laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion, the highest share of any region. These penalties are enforced in 60% of the countries in the region.

As a predictable consequence of this Sharia-based application of apostasy and blasphemy laws by Islamic governments, the Pew report also documented that,

…the share of national governments that showed hostility toward minority religions involving physical violence was much higher in countries where laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion are actively enforced than in countries without such laws (55% versus 22%).

Such abundant contemporary evidence demonstrates that Islamic law and mores regarding blasphemy, today, remain distressingly incompatible with modern conceptions of religious freedom, and human rights. Thus writing in the early 1990s, the esteemed Pakistani scholar Muhammad Asrar Madani, whose opinion was accepted by Pakistan’s Shari’a Court, defined “blasphemy,” focusing on the Muslim prophet, as:

Reviling or insulting the Prophet (pbuh) in writing or speech; speaking profanely or contemptuously about him or his family; attacking the Prophet’s dignity and honor in an abusive manner; vilifying him or making an ugly face when his named is mentioned; showing enmity or hatred towards him, his family, his companions, and the Muslims; accusing, or slandering the Prophet and his family, including spreading evil reports about him or his family; defaming the Prophet; refusing the Prophet’s jurisdiction or judgment in any manner; rejecting the Sunnah; showing disrespect, contempt for or rejection of the rights of Allah and His Prophet or rebelling against Allah and His Prophet.

And in accord with classical Islamic jurisprudence (for example, The Risala of al-Qayrawani [d. 996]), Madani argues that anyone who defames Muhammad—Muslim or non-Muslim—must be put to death. Here is Qayrawani’s classical formulation, representative of the Maliki school of  Sunni Islamic jurisprudence—the same school of Islamic law which prevailed in mythically “tolerant” Muslim Spain:

If someone curses the Rasulullah (i.e., the Muslim prophet Muhammad) he is killed and his repentance is not accepted. If one of the people of dhimma [non-Muslim Christians and Jews etc., subjugated by jihad] abuses him outside of that which constitutes his disbelief or curses Allah other than what constitutes his disbelief, he is killed unless he becomes Muslim.  When he says something to deprecate him. His execution is a hadd [mandated punishment] and hence it is of no use if he repents or denies it when there is clear evidence of it. Repentance does not cancel a hadd. This is why he says that his repentance is not accepted.

Professor Carl Brockelmann (1868-1956), the renowned scholar of Semitic languages, and arguably the foremost Orientalist of his generation,  made these candid observations in 1939 about the Sharia’s injunctions pertaining to penal law in general, and so-called “blasphemy and apostasy,” specifically—Islamic Law being “valid” eternally, and all too widely applied in Brockelmann’s era, till now.

The penal code of Islam has remained on a rather primitive level… Blasphemy with respect to God [Allah], the Prophet, and his predecessors is punished by death, as is defection from Islam, if the culprit persists in his disbelief.

If and when the last vestiges of non-Muslim legal codes are stripped away in Egypt, the full unfettered application of the Sharia would result in the lethal punishment of a 17 year old Copt such as  Gamal Massoud, rather than his “mere” three year imprisonment, for the “crime” of blasphemy.


Comments are closed.