Blasphemy in the West

The latest vulgar display of Islamic violence illustrates once again the seriousness with which Islam takes blasphemy and the utter incomprehension that secular Westerners have for this seriousness. The YouTube video that provoked the mobs this week is a vile piece of foolishness. It clearly does blaspheme Muhammad, although this is not troubling in and of itself because Muhammad was a false prophet. It is distasteful on many levels and designed to inflame.

From the Muslim point of view, it is obvious blasphemy, which will be punished in the hereafter: “Who, then, doth more wrong than one who utters a lie concerning Allah, and rejects the Truth when it comes to him; is there not in Hell an abode for blasphemers?” (Surah 39:32). In the Hadith, we find:

A Muslim who blasphemes against God or the Prophet or any of God’s messengers is guilty of denying the Prophet. This is apostasy, which entails that repentance be demanded of the offender. If he repents, he shall be released; if not, he shall be killed. Similarly, if anyone from amongst non-Muslims protected under pact becomes hostile by openly blaspheming against God or the Prophet or any of God’s messengers, he is guilty of violating the pact; you shall kill him too. [1]

Finer points of Islamic law aside, Srdja Trifkovic puts the Islamic definition of blasphemy in Islam this way: “Their definition of “blasphemy” is any irreverent behavior toward persons, objects, rites, and beliefs that Muslims revere. To put it succinctly, being non-Sharia compliant is blasphemous. Not accepting the divine origin of the Quran is blasphemous. Applying the standards of natural morality to Muhammad’s illustrious career is blasphemous. Resisting the imposition of Sharia is blasphemous. In the end, being a non-Muslim is blasphemous.”

Westerner liberals, which include most Christians who think that freedom of speech is sacrosanct, cannot understand why people would take blasphemy seriously. You saw this in Russia when the members of Pussy Riot were jailed for sacrilege in an Orthodox cathedral. The West was indignant that anyone should suffer for insulting God.

Christians are expected to take things like The Last Temptation of Christ or whatever other insult to God is offered up and smile. God’s name is publicly profaned constantly. This is the reality of a post-Christian society. Rushdoony puts it this way, “When all the world is in blasphemy, no definition of blasphemy is possible: everything is the same. As the world moves towards total blasphemy, its ability to define and recognize anything diminishes.”

The Church also used violent methods at times in the early destruction of idolatry. MacMullen cites John Chysostom, who “learnt that Phoenicia remained still within the cult of the demons…[and] he assembled ascetics afire with holy zeal, and, arming them with imperial laws on idolatrous shrines, sent them forth.” They proceeded to demolish these idol shrines. While we don’t see such violence today, it may be from a lessening of faith rather than an increase of knowledge.

The Justinian Code punished blasphemy. Novel 77 said:

For because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences; wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unlawful acts, that they may not loose their souls. But if, after this our admonition any are found persisting in such offenses, first they render themselves unworthy of the mercy of God, and then they are subjugated to the punishment enjoined by law.
For we order that most illustrious prefect of the Capital to arrest those who persist in the aforesaid lawless and impious acts after they have been warned by us, and to inflict on them the extreme punishments, so that the city and the state may not come to harm by reason of such wicked deed. And if, after this our warning, and be found who have concealed their crime, they likewise shall be condemned by the Lord God. And if the most illustrious prefect find any who have committed any such offense. And shall omit to punish them according to out laws, first he will be liable to the judgment of God, and he will also incur our indignation.

This attitude has collapsed in our time. A future society that has been re-evangelized might think of excluding offenders from certain public goods, or issuing a public reprimand. My conclusions are:

  1. It is not possible to blaspheme Muhammad because he was not a prophet.
  2. Nevertheless, this YouTube video is crass, in poor taste and generally vulgar.
  3. The West no longer has any concept of blasphemy.
  4. Christians should consider what blasphemy really is and think about how to deal with it in future Christian nations.


[1] Abū ‘Abdullāh Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr ibn Qayyim, Zād al-ma‘ād fī hadyi khayr al-‘ibād, 1st ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1998), 379. cited here.

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