A self-identified Birmingham Muslim has told the BBC that those who “insult Islam” should be subject to the death penalty, during a discussion on blasphemy organised by the broadcaster’s Asian Network.
Presenter Shazia Awan framed the discussion in the context of Pakistan cracking down on blasphemy on Facebook, with the social media giant’s willing assistance.
The Islamic Republic still puts blasphemers to death, and many others accused of the so-called crime, including members of the small Christian minority, are murdered by angry mobs, or even state officials such as police and prison guards.
Awan takes a particularly striking call from a caller from Birmingham named Wajid Ali, who begins with a warm greeting to “the BBC listeners”.
“Than you for joining us; such a warm friendly hello from you!” says Awan, before asking him his views on “the right punishment for blasphemy”.
“Islamically,” replies Wajid, “if somebody insults Islam, that is a capital punishment [offence].”
“But Wajid, do you think that there is just an argument for freedom of speech? Should people just be able to say and write what they want? We are in 2017, we’d like to think we’re a liberal, modern society,” she responds, clearly taken aback.
“Yes Shazia, I mean, you’re asking a Muslim. As a Muslim I would say that if a person commits blasphemy, they should have capital punishment.”
“You agree that if somebody commits blasphemy that they should be sentenced to death?”
“Absolutely, as a Muslim,” he confirms matter of factly.
What is the right punishment for blasphemy?
— BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork) March 17, 2017
“When Salman Rushdie committed blasphemy, he wrote certain things about our prophet,” he continues, by way of example. “And Iran spoke out. Ayatollah Khomeini, he said that this person should be murdered, or assassinated, or brought to justice and hanged and that he will pay x, y, z, reward for it.”
“So do you agree that Salman Rushie should have been hanged then, in that case?” asks Awan.
“Absolutely,” he replies.
“So how does it make you feel that Salman Rushdie had a fatwa put against him and that he’s still walking around? Does that upset you?”
“It does, yes, absolutely … He should have been punished, one way or another.”
The BBC has apologised online for phrasing its question the way it did.
We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong 2/2
— BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork) March 18, 2017
“We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished” the broadcaster tweeted on March 18th. “Provocative question that got it wrong”.