A Muslim man arrested for the killing of Asad Shah, a Glasgow shopkeeper and leading member of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in that city has issued a statement that he had not killed the man because of his reported respect for Jesus but for his disrespect to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be with him. He understood (wrongly)that Shah claimed to be a prophet of Allah, and therefore executed him for not accepting Mohammed as the last prophet of God.
In fact Asad Shah did not think he was a prophet but, along with all Ahmaddiyya Muslims, believed that in fulfilment of a Qur’anic prophecy, one Mizra Gulam Ahmad, born in 1835, was the final messenger of God. There has been some evidence in Glasgow of tension between the Ahmadiyyas and the “orthodox” Mosque, which may have influenced the killer.
Qur’anic scholars are divided on the witness of their holy book about the treatment of heretics and apostates. My own inexpert view is that there are sufficient passages which condemn such persons to death to justify the wariness of non-Muslims towards this often beautiful set of teachings. Certainly Muslim Religious Law would insist that any offender would have to be tried and convicted before he could be sentenced, or at least named in a proper fatwa as deserving of death.
So, yes, the killer who issued this statement was wrong about his victim’s beliefs and about his right to take the Law into his own hands, but he may well have been right about the verdict of the noble Qur’an on heretics and apostates. That is my uncomfortable conviction: Islam teaches that disrespect of the Prophet is punishable by death. No doubt there must be due investigation, due process of trial and conviction, but the brute fact is that you’d be daft to make a joke about Mohammed in a Mecca bar …… except there wouldn’t be a bar…
No Christian should find this strange. After all, with absolutely no encouragement from Jesus, Christians persecuted and in some cases killed those they defined as heretics, and fought savage wars of religion against their fellow believers. This is proof that religion itself, unless very specifically committed to nonviolence, needs no authorisation from its founder to murder those it considers as enemies. When religion permits no access to reason, the only way of settling disputes is by force.
That is why I urge all people of faith to respect human reason: facts, rational argument, and a grasp of the uncertainty of all human judgement, are as essential in religious debate as they are in any other sphere of knowledge. Just as I am utterly opposed to a Christian fundamentalism which claims to be loyal to the literal sense of the Bible but in fact wants to impose its interpretation of the Bible on everyone, so also I am opposed to all Qur’anic scholarship that refuses a historical examination of the origins of the Qur’an and the myths that surround it. Only by exposing their holy traditions to the light of reason can Islam and Christianity rid themselves of bigotry and prejudice.
But there is a difference between the two faiths about disrespect of their founders. It would appear that anyone disrespecting Mohammed, peace be upon him, must be punished to defend the honour of the prophet; whereas Messiah Jesus died forgiving those who not only dishonoured but also tortured and killed him, thus living out his own instructions about loving your enemy. Disrespect was not a problem to Jesus; he thrived on it. That’s why, with all my respect for Islam, I’m happy to be a disciple of One much stronger than Mohammed, who didn’t need to waste his enemies.
Any serious response to the Glasgow tragedy requires a fundamental examination of violence in the light of the teachings of Jesus and Mohammed.