Derogatory Speech and Action
Derogatory speech or action against Allah Most High, His signs, rites (shaʿāʾir), prohibitions (ḥurumāt), boundaries (ḥudūd), or prophets, whether in jest or because of unbelief is mentioned in the Qurʾān using two terms: ilḥād (from the root l-ḥ-d) and sabb (from the root s-b-b). Such actions also include contempt, mockery, and insult; for discussion on these aspects, see Apostasy; Belying the Prophets; Mockery.
The root l-ḥ-d appears six times: thrice (Q 7:180; 16:103; 41:40) as the Form IV verb yulḥiduna; once (Q 22:25) as the Form IV verbal noun ilḥād; and twice (Q 18:27; 72:22) as the Form VIII passive participle multaḥad (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam). Linguistically both the Form I and Form VIII verbs (laḥada, iltaḥada) denote deviation from the right path and are synonyms of māla, “to turn away and to deviate,” while the agent of such deviation is called a mulḥid (al-Samīn al-Ḥalabī, ʿUmda; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs). In general, ilḥād is “deviation from the Truth (al-mayl ʿan al-ḥaqq)” (Zamakhsharī, Fāʾiq; ḥarf al-ṣād; 2:281). This can be through introducing into religion what is not part of it (Samʿānī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:180), whether “by way of addition or subtraction (bil-ziyāda wal-nuqṣān),” an example being of “those who make the divine Names commensurable with human traits (tamthīl), for they have added to the divine attributes, while those who divest Allah of His attributes (taʿṭīl) have subtracted from them (Qushayrī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:180). Abū-l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Fayyūmī (d. 770/1368) counted among the deviators (mulḥidūn) those esotericists who claim for themselves the inner meaning (bāṭin) of the Qurʾān, thus altering the Sacred Law (sharīʿa) and contravening the grammatical sense of the Arabic of the revelation (Miṣbāḥ).
The root s-b-b appears eleven times: twice (Q 6:108) as Form I verb yasubbu (“to insult”) and nine times as noun sabab (“means, course”) (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub s-b-b); only the verbal form is relevant to this article. Abū-l-Ḥusayn al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. al-Mufaḍḍal al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) explains the usage in Q 6:108 as “grievous abuse and vilification” (“al-shatm al-wajīʿ, Mufradāt, sub, s-b-b). The verse instructs believers not to insult the false gods of the disbelievers, And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah (fa-yasubbū-Llāh) in enmity without knowledge. The Qurʾānic injunction is to avoid giving unbelievers a reason to mention the Exalted in a way that is not appropriate (bimā lā yalīq) by way of quarrelsome argumentation (bi-l-mujādala), but even if they were to do so, He is high above their [statements] (Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, sub baṣīra fī-l-s-b-b). sabb is sometimes linked to shatm, but technically it is differentiated from shatm, which is derived from al-shatāma (“ugliness of the face”), expressing a verbal disapproval of a person or issue, whereas al-sabb is exaggerated vilification (al-iṭnāb fī-l-shatm) done continuously (ʿAskarī, Furūq, al-farq bayna-l-sabb wa-l-shatm).
Uttering insults against Allah Most High is the most abominable act, which makes one a disbeliever (al-Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ, Shifā, al-faṣl al-awwal, ḥukm sābbi-Llāhi taʿālā wa ḥukm istitābatihi). Similarly, whoever insults the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, becomes a disbeliever regardless to whether he did so in jest (māziḥan), earnest (jāddan) or by way of mockery (istihzāʾ) (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, faṣl sabbi-Llāhi taʿālā; 9:28).
The Qurʾān instructs the believers to leave aside the deviators: Unto Allah belong the Most Beautiful Names; so call Him by them, and leave those who deviate with regard to His Names (yulḥidūna fī asmāʾihi); they shall soon be recompensed for that which they used to do (Q 7:180). The phrase deviate with regard to His Names refers either to describing Him improperly (mā lā yaṣiḥḥu waṣfuhu) or to improperly explaining His attributes (awṣāf) (Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir). It also entails using Names for Allah Most High which are not revealed in the Qurʾān and the Sunnah or agreed upon by scholarly consensus (ijmāʿ) (Ibn Abī Zamanīn, Uṣūl al-Sunna, p. 76; see Beautiful Names of Allah).
The phrase yulhidūna fī āyātinā in Q 41:40 (Truly those who deviate with regard to Our signs (yulhidūna fī āyātinā) are not hidden from Us. Is he who is hurled into the Fire better, or he who comes secure on the Day of Resurrection? Do what you will; truly He is Seer of what you do), implies a wide range of actions including out-of-context usage of the verses of the Qurʾān (ʿalā ghayr jihatihi) in order to identify them with a lie or magic (Wāḥidī, Wajīz), “defamation” (ṭaʿn) and “distortion” (taḥrīf)—that is, engaging in false interpretations (al-taʾwīl al-bāṭil) or altogether nullifying parts of them (al-ilghāʾ fīhā) (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr)—as well as denying the signs of Allah, which are there “to increase one in certitude (ziyādatan fī-l-yaqīn), firmness in faith, and certitude of the hearts regarding His Oneness” (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām, sub Q 7:185; see Signs of Allah).
Similarly, the Qurʾān categorically condemns the disdain with the revealed verses of the Qurʾān: And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them, yukfaru bihā] and ridiculed; so, do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation (Q 4:140). This is an evident instruction to Believers for not participating in such meetings with the disbelievers, if they did so, they would be similar to them in mocking the verses of Allah Most High (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Offenses against the Book of Allah include statesments such as “the Qurʾān is just an inanimate body when written or recited”; “disdain (istikhfāf) regarding the Divine Nature of the Book”, or questions like “why do you read the Qurʾān? Why so often”; rejection of one single verse (ankara āya) of the Book or criticizing (ʿāba) any part of the Qurʾān – all these deeds and words are disbelief (Badr al-Rashīd, Alfāẓ al-kufr, faṣl fī-l-Qurʾān, in al-Jāmiʿ fī alfāẓ al-kufr, p. 29).
Two other aspects of derogatory actions are disdain (al-istikhfāf) and declaring lawful (al-istiḥlāl) that which is prohibited. The former involves, among other things, deviating with regard to divine Names, with His Commands and prohibitions or to deny His promise and threat (Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, al-Iʿlām bi-qawāṭiʿ al-Islām; in al-Jāmiʿ alfāẓ al-kufr; p. 138); such disdain is unbelief, as proven by the verse, and if you ask them, they will surely say: We were only conversing and playing. Say: Is it Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking. Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after your belief (Q 9:65-66). Likewise, abusing the Prophet is derogatory as Q 9:61 contains the general prohibition about it in the phrase and among them are those who abuse (yuʾdhūna) the Prophet without specifying the means of such abuse; such disdain can consist of belying him (bi-takdhībihim iyyāhu) and abandoning the answer to his call (cf. Q 8:24) and neglecting obedience to that to which he invites (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt).
Al-istiḥlāl (declaring lawful that which is prohibited) is explicitly a manifestation of derogatory behavior and the Qurʾān warns against it: And do not say concerning that which your tongues put forth falsely: This is lawful, and this is forbidden; so as to invent lies against Allah, verily, those who invent lies against Allah will never prosper (Q 16:116). This verse implies that no one has the right to say “this is what Allah permitted and that is what Allah has forbidden, except by lawful permission from Allah” (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt).
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