Prohibited Speech and the Sacred: Critically and Constructively Engaging Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī’s (d.756/1355) al-Sayf al-maslūl ‘alā man sabba al-rasūl
Anderson, Matthew Mitchell
Heck, Paul L.
Tensions over blasphemy, religious offense, and the freedom of expression first surfaced powerfully on a global scale in 1988 following the publication of The Satanic Verses by the British-Indian author, Salman Rushdie. Since that time, a series of high-profile incidents in Europe have ignited impassioned public debates about the limits of free expression and the place of religion in the modern world. At the same time, sensitivities around blasphemy continue to play a more systemic role in several Muslim-majority countries. Given the salience of these incidents and the recurrent international headlines, it is remarkable that most academic studies and media reports have focused almost exclusively on the modern context, leaving the traditional Sunnī legal discourse on blasphemy against the Prophet Muḥammad largely unexamined and poorly understood.This dissertation addresses this lacuna by examining an influential treatise devoted to explicating the legal discourse which formed around the question of blasphemy against the Prophet Muḥammad authored by the prominent Egyptian cleric, Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī (d.756/1355). As a luminary of the Shāfi‘ī tradition and an important jurist at work in Cairo and Damascus during the Baḥrī Mamlūk period (c.1250-1390), al-Subkī made significant contributions in the fields of jurisprudence, theology, and spirituality. Along with the fourth and final part of al-Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ’s (d.1149) Kitāb al-shifā’ bi-ta‘rīf ḥuqūq al-muṣṭafā (The cure in knowing the rights of the chosen one) and Ibn Taymiyya’s (d.1328) al-Ṣārim al-maslūl ‘alā shātim al-rasūl (The drawn sword against the one who vilifies the Messenger), al-Subkī’s al-Sayf al-maslūl ‘alā man sabba al-rasūl (The drawn sword against the one who curses the Messenger) presents one of the most detailed and important expositions of the way the criminal offense of blasphemy against the Prophet, often referred to in Arabic as sabb or shatm al-rasūl, was analyzed and regulated by medieval Sunnī jurists. By carefully examining al-Sayf al-maslūl, the present study introduces the essential contours of traditional Sunnī legal discourse on blasphemy against the Prophet Muḥammad. However, it does more than offer a merely descriptive or historical account of al-Sayf al-maslūl. The dissertation also critically engages and evaluates several of the central arguments advanced by al-Subkī and other medieval jurists to support severe penalties for those guilty of the offense. Most often, this critical engagement utilizes recognizable categories of Islamic law and legal interpretation in order to expose ambiguities in al-Subkī’s argumentation and constructively propose alternate interpretive and legal possibilities. By critically and constructively engaging al-Subkī’s important treatise, this study attempts to open new possibilities not only for the Islamic legal tradition, but also for the still emerging global conversation on blasphemy and free expression.
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