The government of Kuwait may be just days from fully adopting a strict new blasphemy law that will call for the death penalty for anyone who insults the name of Muhammad.
The Kuwaiti parliament voted overwhelmingly for the strict blasphemy law. If approved by Kuwait’s supreme leader, the law will impose the death penalty on Muslims who insult Allah, the Quran, Muslim prophets, or Muhammad’s wives.
Christians and other non-Muslims will get off a little easier. They’ll just be given a minimum of a 10-year prison sentence.
International Christian Concern’s Aidan Clay says that the move is part of a broader picture of what’s happening in the Middle East.
“Blasphemy laws have been on the rise in recent years and are increasingly posing a threat to free speech and human rights in the Middle East. In Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, many Muslims and religious minorities, including Christians, have been given prison sentences for blaspheming Islam,” Clay said.
“Now we’re seeing even harsher laws taking shape in Kuwait where the parliament recently approved the death sentence for Muslims who insult Allah, the Quran, Muslim prophets, or Muhammad’s wives,” Clay said.
“If approved by Kuwait’s ruler, the amendment will have serious consequences for followers of non-Muslim beliefs as well, who will be given a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for the same offense. Although Christians are a small minority in Kuwait and most are from the expatriate community, undoubtedly they and other religious minorities will be targeted,” Clay said.
American Enterprise Institute’s Middle East analyst Michael Rubin says the recent elections are the explanation for the change.
“During the February elections, religious hardliners won greater influence. There is a conflict in Kuwaiti society between the relatively moderate elite who are more interested in business and trade than anyone else and the ‘Bedouin’ who trace their roots to Saudi Arabia,” Rubin said.
Clay says Kuwait is following a trend.
“Like we’ve seen during elections in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle East following the uprisings that ousted long-standing rulers last year, Kuwait’s parliamentary elections in February also gave political power to Islamists.
“Since many of these Islamists have been outspoken about implementing the strict model of Shariah in Kuwait that is being practiced in Saudi Arabia. It would appear that these leaders want to bring Kuwait – which was one of the more secular countries in the Arab world – back to the Middle Ages,” Clay said.
MP Mohammed Al-Haif recently affirmed this by stating that the new parliament fully intends to center the country’s constitution on Islamic law.
“‘The ground is now fertile to amend the second article of the constitution to facilitate the road to change making Shariah the sole source of legislation in Kuwait,’ he said in February,” Clay said.
“Shariah is what the parliament referred to when affirming the death penalty for blasphemy. If Shariah is implemented in its entirety, it’s likely that the death sentence will also be given for apostasy (conversion from Islam to another religion) like in Saudi Arabia, and that even greater restrictions will be placed on religious minorities,” Clay said.
Clay says they Kuwaiti parliament may go even further.
“Not only did the parliament propose the death penalty for blasphemy, but Kuwaiti MPs have also suggested banning swimsuits and requiring women to wear headscarves in public. Even worse, legislation introduced in February by the newly formed Al-Adala (Justice) bloc prohibited the construction of churches and other non-Islamic places of worship. This legislation, however, is unlikely to be given immediate consideration,” Clay said.
“Although it may perhaps be unrelated to Al-Adala’s legislation, it is still important to note that during a visit to Kuwait in March, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared, ‘It is necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,'” Clay said.
“Whether or not the mufti’s demands are taken seriously by the Kuwaiti government remains to be seen. But, there has clearly been an increased implementation of Shariah law that has placed greater restrictions on the region’s religious freedoms in recent months. Unfortunately, it’s bound to get worse so long as Islamic ideology is intertwined with politics and becomes the region’s preferred basis of governance,” Clay said.
Rubin says the new strident law will have additional fallout in other parts of Kuwait’s population.
“Because of the rise of the Sunni religious hardliners, you can also expect the Kuwaiti Shi’ites – perhaps 30 percent of the country – to take increasingly hardline positions,” Rubin said.