Saudi writer Hamza Kasghari is sitting in a holding cell in Malaysia. He’s not a murderer. He's not a rapist. His only crime is that he sent three tweets to a man who died more than a millennia ago, expressing his dissatisfaction with the deification of that man --- Mohamed, the prophet of Islam.
Those who have elevated that mortal man to the status of a living god want Kashgari's head. And they might get it.
Calls for Kashgari’s execution have been made because he dared to address Mohamed directly and shake his hand virtually. He fled to Malaysia, but since his detainment on Wednesday, it is looking increasingly likely, that he will be extradited back to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy, which t carry the death penalty.
Kashgari's plight is not unique to Saudi Arabia. Several Muslim countries have laws against blasphemy. You do not have to commit it directly. Anything you do or say that might be interpreted as a break with the rigidly-guarded form of Islam, as agreed by the clerics, could cost you, as well as your family of friends.
Islam is the religion of peace? Well, it kinda is, but this is where the duality of Islam and many other religions is exposed. Strictly speaking, there are two Islams. There is an Islam for humans, adhered to by humans. Then, there’s the Islam for the superhuman, adhered to only by adventuring mythical heroes you read about in religious books.
Allow me to explain.
Superhuman Islam is the religion of peace. Its adherents remind you of angels. Its propagators are messiahs onto themselves. I still remember the tales when I was a kid, sitting on a dirty mat in an open air classroom in Pakistan, listening to pious teachers. Here are a couple of the stories
After years of persevering in Mecca, his place of birth, Mohamed was unable to convince more than a few of his friends to convert to Islam. He decided that he should travel to the city of Taif and see if he could convert the leaders of that city to Islam. That would give both Mohamed a foothold to shield himself and his followers from attacks by the Meccans and also find a means to spread Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Not only did the leaders of Taif reject Mohamed's proposal, they instructed the people of Taif, especially the children, to mock him and throw stones at him. The stoning injured him to the point that his shoes were filled with blood by the time he was out of the city. It is said that Allah sent the angel Jebreel (Gabriel), who asked Mohamed to command him and he would destroy the city in an instant. Mohamed only said, “Forgive them, My Lord. They do not know.”
Another tale is of Wahshi bin Harb. Wahshi, a slave of Hind bint Utbah, was promised his freedom by his mistress if he avenged her father’s death by slaying Mohamed, his cousin Ali bin Abi Talib, or his uncle Hamza bin Abdul Mutalib. So Wahshi found Hamza in the Battle of Uhud and struck him from behind with his short lance. Not only that, he desecrated his body parts for Hind’s pleasure.
Years later, a free man, Wahshi converted to Islam before Mohamed, who was by now the master of the whole of Arabia. Even though Hamza and Mohamed had been extremely close, the Prophet forgave Wahshi and accepted his conversion to Islam. Mohamed only instructed Wahshi to not come close to him as he reminded the Prophet of his uncle's death.
I remember my teacher weeping as she told us these stories. I remember us kids, huddled together in the cold, rubbing our hands, thinking of this hero and how each of us might learn such patience, love, kindness and forgiveness.
Little did we know that this was only the side of the religion that was convenient. The side that sounds wonderful. The side that is reserved for warming the hearts of kids and to attract others into joining our ranks.
There is a more human side to Islam. For instance, the same Mohamed who forgave the man who killed his beloved uncle also ordered the murder of people who criticised. Two years ago I wrote:
Take the examples of Al-Nadr bin al-Harith and Uqba bin Abu Muayt, captured in the first battle between Muslims and the people of Mecca at al-Badr. They were both beheaded by the order of the prophet. Uqba begged for his life and pleaded by reminding Mohamed that he had very young children, saying, "O Mohamed, who will look after my children?" The prophet replied, "Hell!"
Asma bint Marwan, a poetess from Medina who wrote verses denouncing Mohamed, was another victim of Mohamed’s humanity. He sent a man to kill her. Asma had several children, the youngest of whom was sleeping on her chest when Mohamed’s hit-man entered her house. He quietly removed the child from the mother's chest, and then slew her in cold blood. Her story is recounted by Muslim historians time and time again as a warning.
This is the side of Islam that has targeted Hamza Kashgari.
This is the Islam reserved for the rulers of countries to stamp out resistance, to curb freedom of speech, to subjugate women, and curtail basic human rights.
If Kashgari is condemned, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will kill two birds with one stone: he will appease the conservatives by portraying himself as a defender of Islam --- under threat from three tweets by a 23-year-old writer -- and he will ensure that other liberals are scared into self-censorship.
If Kashgari can be punished for his brief, imagined exchange with the Prophet, imagine what would happen to someone who stands up to defend the rights of women. Of children. Of minorities. Or what what would happen someone who would declare his apostasy instead of discussing a human who has been deified for the interests of a country's rulers.
If Hamza Kashgari is sent back to Saudi Arabia, there is unlikely to be mercy, let alone escape, for him. And in that example, there will be no mercy or escape for all those who must think about the "human Islam" before they type or utter a word.
I’m not sure that superhuman Islam will make an appearance again. My hope is that there is a superhuman humanity which will make a difference in the life of a young man whose only crime is that he tweeted.
We should act now.