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Does defending Muhammad mean killing Christians?

A.S. Ibrahim | The death of a college student in Nigeria is the most recent example


A burned out security post in Sokoto, Nigeria, where Deborah Samuel Yakubu was beaten and burned to death on May 13. Associated Press/Photo by Olu Akinrele

Does defending Muhammad mean killing Christians?
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Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a Christian student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, Nigeria, was beaten to death last month by a group of Muslim students after they accused her of blasphemy against Muhammad.

The Guardian reports that an angry mob considered Yakubu’s comments on social media insulting to Islam’s prophet. After they declared her blasphemous, a group of zealots dragged her from her home and assaulted her. They threw her on the floor, stoned her to death, and burned her body.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and is roughly divided into a majority Christian south and a Muslim north. Yakubu’s murder occurred in northwestern Nigeria.

The Guardian’s report lacks important details from eyewitnesses. Yakubu was a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All. According to David Ayuba Azzaman, senior pastor at The King Worship Chapel in Kaduna, there was no insult against Muhammad, but Yakubu “turned down a Muslim proposal to date her” and that led to the man accusing her of insulting Muhammad.

The Guardian also inaccurately claimed that attacks like this one are “very rare.” According to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List report, Nigeria is at the top of the list of countries where Christians are killed for their faith, with 13 martyrs a day. The number went from 3,530 murdered Christians in 2020 to 4,650 in 2021. The report ranks Nigeria as one of the most violent countries, where Christians are kidnapped in droves, with the number going up from 990 in 2020 to 2,500 in 2021.

Following Yakubu’s murder, the police arrested two Muslim students. However, hundreds of Muslim youth gathered, took to Sokoto’s streets, lit fires, demanded the release of the two Muslims, and attempted to loot shops belonging to Christian residents.

The incident is heartbreaking. While it clearly shows the rule of the mob in some Muslim-majority lands and how it threatens Christian lives, it also conveys the fragility of Islam when it comes to questioning Muhammad, his character, and teachings.

There is no real evidence that Yakubu insulted Muhammad. The evidence instead indicates she was unjustly and brutally murdered. However, the horrific incident reflects a problem unique to Islam. It highlights how some Muslims react violently to any claims against Muhammad.

The message to the world is clear: Do not question Muhammad’s character or deeds or you may be dead.

Indeed, I know Muslim thinkers who would never encourage violence against anyone who insults Muhammad. While they revere Muhammad, they advocate for free speech and denounce any violence under the banner of Islam. However, I also know of numerous Muslims who consider Muhammad untouchable and the penalty for insulting their prophet can be death.

This is a clear problem in Islam. In 2016, the Pew Research Center examined apostasy and blasphemy policies worldwide and found they are the most common in the Middle East and North Africa, the heartland of Islam.

The problem is not new. According to Muslim history, when a Jewish woman questioned Muhammad’s character and insulted him, a Muslim man came to stand up for him and “strangled her till she died.” Instead of condemning the man, Muhammad reportedly “declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.” Another pagan Arab woman named Asma wrote a poem against Muhammad. He did not forgive her and let her go. Rather, he instructed one of his followers to execute her, and he did so while she was sleeping with her five children.

These stories are found in trusted Islamic sources and drive some Muslims to imitate them for Muhammad’s defense as if he needs help.

The whole matter reflects Islam’s vulnerability in matters related to Muhammad. When his character or deeds are at times indefensible, the reaction is not a religious discourse, reasonable debate, or intellectual refutation but severe violence by an angry mob. Consider how a conservative Sunni cleric ruled that Muslims and non-Muslims who insult Muhammad should be executed, even if they repent.

The message to the world is clear: Do not question Muhammad’s character or deeds or you may be dead. In a sense, he is the only founder of a world religion that cannot be questioned by his critics.

But liberal news outlets falsely claim these incidents are rare, thus denying the severity of persecution against non-Muslims in Muslim-majority lands. Sadly, similar heartbreaking massacres will happen as long as we remain silent about mobs’ unjust attacks in defense of Muhammad.

As for Christian martyrs, indeed, “The world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38).


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary in the United States, and at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. He authored several books, including Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018). He co-edited Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts (Peter Lang, 2018).

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