What is Blasphemy Muslim Matters America Matters

By Shireen Qudosi

By now, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this word: blasphemy. It’s the sort of word you might expect to have come across in the Middle Ages, as religious zealots fought over who said the most offensive thing.

That’s essentially what blasphemy is today in a modern context: the idea that something you’ve said or done is so egregious that it not only warrants shock, but also anger and punishment.

Blasphemy is a concept that’s been around since before Islam. However, most civilizations adapted, evolved, and grew, becoming more tolerant. Most civilizations grew to understand that freedom of thought and expression were cornerstones of the best societies. Most world religions also adapted alongside this social development, tailoring their interpretations and embracing reformations so that the evolution of man was reflected in the way man saw faith.

Islam is the last of the world’s major religions, the last of the monotheistic faiths, that has still to undergo an evolution. This is what Islam and it’s followers are dealing with at the moment. We’re dealing with a global conflict over outdated interpretations of faith and the belief in things like blasphemy. There are millions of Muslims who still believe that saying the “wrong” thing warrants physical punishment and/or death. In other cases, there are millions more who still believe that freedom of speech is only acceptable if that speech falls within the acceptable framework of religious mandates.

Yet, that’s not what American values are about. We don’t curtail free thought, the very thing that has allowed us to flourish, just because a group of people still haven’t stepped out of the Medieval era. We don’t stop advancing because we’ve gone back to make one small group of people happy.

We Americans have advanced our society by finding what works and building on that—the core values found in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

This month alone a Christian governor in Indonesia was jailed for blasphemy. His “offense” was telling Muslims that it was religiously permissible for a Muslim to vote for a non-Muslim. Last month, a brilliant university student in Pakistan was brutally killed by an on-campus mob for allegedly believing the wrong thing, though it is still unclear what was his act of “blasphemy”.

While in the U.S., we’re protected by the First Amendment. However, there are other ways the spirit of blasphemy laws affect us here at home. Politically correct culture is one way the idea of blasphemy is alive and thriving in America. It started with denouncing a person simply because they don’t believe in the idea embraced by a larger society. After the election, that denouncement turned to violence in pockets of American society. It has now mutated into destroying our ability to have real conversations, because if someone doesn’t believe the popular view, they’re slandered as racists, bigots, or even Islamophobes. Further still, using our laws of the land as a bridge to bring blasphemy to America, at least three American cities (including Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia) have passed hate speech laws that allow for prosecution if you say the “wrong” thing.

As I always say, these are not problems quarantined to a far away land plaguing people we might never know. Ideas travel. They’ve traveled through time and they can certainly travel across borders. When we factor in our hyper connected digital world, ideas can travel even faster. This is why it’s so important to be aware of what damaging ideas are still rooted in societies, and how those ideas are adapting right here at home.