Beyond Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, where the supposed ‘crime’ was committed, there has been an outrage over the arrest of Mubarak Bala, a man who allegedly blasphemed against Islam.
Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested by the police on Wednesday afternoon at his residence in Kaduna State.
His arrest, many believe, was in connection to his recent outburst against Islamic Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in a Facebook post.
Spokesman to Kaduna State police Mohammed Jalige in a phone conversation with our correspondent said he “can confirm to you that he has been arrested and he is in police custody.”
“I cannot tell you about where he is (whether Kaduna or Kano State custody) but he has been arrested.”
Leo Igwe, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Humanist Association of Nigeria, an NGO where Mubarak serves as president, expressed worries over his safety.
Igwe said his concern is that Mubarak will likely be handed over to the Kaduna State police where he will be charged for blasphemy, a crime that carries death sentence as punishment under the Sharia Law.
He appealed to the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai to help secure Bala’s release.
On Monday, April 27, Mubarak compared popular Lagos pastor and president of Synagogue Church of Nations Prophet TB Joshua to Prophet Mohammed.
“There’s no difference between prophet TB Joshua (S.A.W) of Lagos and Muhammadu (A.S.) of Saudi Arabia, it is better for our Nigeria to be terrorism,” Bala said wrote on his Facebook page.
In another post, Bala said, “Whoever believes religion has been duped – If you cant take blasphemy against Islam, criticizism of its doctrines, this page is not for you. I have not even started ooo.”
His posts were greeted with threats of arrest for blasphemy in the comment section. Unbothered about his stance against Islam, Bala said the threat was from ‘morons’ who should know better.
Days later, a group of lawyers petitioned the Kano State Police command to prosecute Bala for insulting Prophet Muhammad.
There was also an online petition on change.org by one Halima Sa’adiya Umar who asked Facebook to close down the account of Mubarak Bala. The petition seemed to have been deleted on Thursday evening when The Guardian checked.
However, a petition for his release was launched on the same platform on Wednesday by the International Association of Atheists Inc. The association is also using the petition to raise legal funds for Bala.
But, who is Mubarak Bala?
Mubarak Bala is an atheist known for his interest in anti-religious beliefs.
“Religion insults human reason and conscience, duped me that I have another lifetime,” Mubarak said in his Facebook bio. A graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, according to the information on his Facebook page, Bala is the pioneer of a humanist movement.
Prior to his university education, he attended Hassan Ibrahim Gwarzo Secondary School, Sallari, Kano State.
In one of his Facebook posts, Bala said he is “Flooded by inquiries on how to join our humanist movement.
“Answer is simple, leave religions, faith &a dogma, embrace science/reason.
“Whoever believes religion has been duped If you cant take blasphemy against Islam, criticizism of its doctrines, this page is not for you,” Bala said.
In June 2014, he was allegedly held at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital by government officials who claimed he was a psychiatric patient against his wish.
Communicating by email and Twitter from a secreted smartphone, Bala, according to International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), was able to raise the alarm that he has been held at the government hospital.
The IHEU in 2014 said it was “deeply concerned about the case, for the welfare of the detained man, and the human rights violation that his detention represents.”
Bala in the post on IHEU website said he was detained at the hospital on the grounds of a “personality change” because he had become an atheist despite being raised in a Muslim family.
“And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostasy [sic], to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life,” Bala said.
What the Quran says about blasphemy
The Quran does not directly prescribe any earthly punishment for blasphemy. It advocates a non-violent response if the doer of the act is a non-muslim.
Statements of blasphemy are related to mocking and abusive words to Muslims and Prophet Mohammed.
“When you hear God’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them,” Quaran 4:140 says.
Why we are prosecuting Bala- Lawyers
The group of lawyers prosecuting Bala through a legal firm S.S. Usman & CO accused him of taking advantage of the freedom of expression guaranteed to him by the constitution to incite violence through statements against Islam.
“Among such stuff is calling the Prophet of Islam Muhammad denigrating names like pedophile. terrorist. among other statements that will …ultimately provoke them to take law Into their hands which may ultimately result Into public disturbance and breach of peace,” the lawyers said in a letter to the police.
Although Section 38 of the Nigeria Constitution guarantees Bala freedom of expression, the lawyers believed he erred by denigrating Muslims in his statement.
By this, the lawyers said Bala is liable to serve a jail term by erring against section 210 of the Penal Code of Kano State which says “Whoever by any means publicly insults or seeks to incite contempt of any religion in such a manner as to be likely to lead to a breach of the peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.”
Bala is not alone
In 2015, a Shariah court sentenced nine people to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Kano State.
The accused, who were all Muslims, had pleaded guilty, the head of Kano’s religious police, Aminu Ibrahim Daurawa told BBC.
The alleged offense was committed at a religious gathering in honor of Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Tijaniya sect, which has a large following across West Africa.
The nine, eight men and a woman, were reported to have said that “Niasse was bigger than Prophet Muhammad,” which triggered unrest.
Their trial was done in secret after a section of the court was burnt down by angry protesters. It is not known if the offenders appealed the sentence.
Bala’s arrest has stirred a mix of reactions from Nigerians, especially on Twitter. Issues around his ordeal birthed different trending hashtags – #FreeMubarakBala, #Blasphemy, and #MubarakBala.