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Paul McLoughlin

Algerian academic faces death threats during blasphemy trial

Djabelkhir is standing trial over blasphemy charges [Facebook]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2021

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An Algerian academic is facing death threats over comments he made on common Islamic practices.
An Algerian academic has received death threats while standing trial on blasphemy charges, activists have told The New Arab.


Islamologist Said Djabelkhir was charged earlier this year with "mocking religion and the rituals of Islam" after questioning some hadiths - sayings of the Prophet Muhammad - and rituals in Islam.

The plaintiffs include Bachir Bouyedjra Aberrezak, a professor at the Djillali Liabes University of Sidi Bel-Abbes along with several lawyers.

They claim that Djabelkhir's writings on the Hajj pilgrimage, animal sacrifices on Eid, and other critical comments constitute an "an attack and mockery of the authentic hadiths of the Sunna [the custom and practice] of the Prophet".

Djabelkhir denies this and says he has only questioned the validity of some of the hadiths attributed to the Prophet Muhammad.

"I was very surprised by this lawsuit that was filed against me for several reasons - because the plaintiff was a university professor and he was supposed to contact me and discuss with me my thoughts and publications with which he disagrees," he told The New Arab.

"At that time I would have welcomed and accepted his dialogue in the format he chose. But for him to turn to the judiciary against ideas with which he disagrees with, knowing though he is a university professor, surprised and amazed me," Djabelkhir added.

Djabelkhir, who is considered a leading expert on Sufism, has received death threats while awaiting a verdict on his case.

Kacem El Ghazzali, a Moroccan-Swiss writer and Humanist International's representative at the UN, said Djabelkhir's ideas follow those of a long-line of Muslim thinkers who have commented on common beliefs and practices in Islam.

"Said Djabelkhir's approach to certain problematic texts from the Islamic tradition is no different from that of certain Muslim scholars such as Averroes or Avicenna," El Ghazzali told The New Arab.

Read also: Algeria scholar receives death threats after arguing Muslims don't have to fast

"He stands in a long line of Muslim thinkers who were marginalised and persecuted for centuries because of their free-thinking. It is a shame that the Algerian judiciary is playing a role of the Inquisition here."

Djabelkhir was first summoned to court on 25 February. A plaintiff in the case told the judge during the second trial on April the first that "Djabelkir's controversial writings had caused him psychological harm," journalist Linda Abdou, who attended the trial, reported.

Djabelkhir defended his views telling the judge his intention was "ijtihad [interpretation] not jihad".

A verdict has been postponed until 22 April, but activists believe the charges against Djabelkhir should be dropped before this stage.

"We strongly call on the Algerian authorities to withdraw the charges against Said Djabelkhir for blasphemy, to abolish existing blasphemy laws, and to guarantee academic freedom," El Ghazzali told The New Arab.

Djabelkhir faces between three and five years in prison for breaking Article 144 of the penal code.

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