Islam Wasatiyyah should lead defence of Kashgari’s rights


Introduction by CPI

The BBC, reporting on Hamza Kashgari’s deportation from Kuala Lumpur back to his native Saudi Arabia, said the charge hanging over the young man’s head of insulting the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous in Islam and punishable by death.

Kashgari, 23, fled his country was detained upon his arrival here on Thursday en route to New Zealand where he was planning to seek political asylum. A journalist, Kashgari was recently sacked by Saudi daily al-Bilad where he had a column.

Three allegedly blasphemous tweets were made about Muhammad on the prophet’s birthday (Maulidur Rasul) last week and sparked vociferous calls for the death penalty to be imposed on him.

The climate of fear and caution has been such that – even merely for the purpose of reference – it’s difficult to find Kashgari’s tweets reproduced in reputable websites (although some independent blogs have carried them). One website which initially reproduced them has withdrawn the tweets.

One tweet (out of the three) can be read in this article in the The Guardian.

Amnesty International’s deputy director for Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, warned that Kashgari “could be executed if his statements are deemed to amount to apostasy.”

An influential Saudi cleric Nasser al-Omar had called for him to be tried for apostasy, a crime punishable by decapitation. A committee of top clerics branded Kashgari “an infidel” and demanded he be tried in an Islamic court.

Nasser’s call elicited a massive and emotional response from supportive Muslims, including on Facebook and Twitter where campaigns began within 24 hours of the controversy erupting and with tens of thousands netizens demanding Kashgari’s head.

Another Islamic state hogging world headlines for its controversial death penalty under hudud law for the blasphemy offence is Pakistan.

Pakistani clerics have similarly engineered protests, that predictably turned violent, to entrench the enforcement of the blasphemy law. Two politicians – Pakistan’s minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer – have been assassinated for their opposition to this law.