In a refreshing twist on blasphemy sentences from the Middle East, three Lebanese teenagers who were charged with insulting Christianity have been given the unusual sentence of studying the references to the Virgin Mary found in the Qur'an.
It is relatively little-known that Muslims believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus Christ. And in a move that is being hailed as a progressive step towards interfaith relations, a Christian judge, Joceline Matta, found the Muslim boys guilty of 'contempt of religion' for insulting Mary.
The charge covers verbal insults or physical defiling of religious rites and objects and can be punishable by up to three years in prison.
But delivering her sentence last week, the Justice said that she wanted the teenagers to learn about Islam's reverence for the mother of Christ, calling the law 'a school and not just a prison'.
The Independent pointed out that Islam also regards Jesus as a major prophet of Allah, and Mary is honoured in several Islamic texts, including the Al-Omran surah, which reads: 'And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds".'
Judge Matta pointed out that a chapter of the Quran is named after Mary, showing revealed the boys' ignorance of their own religion.
The three teenagers must now learn verses from the Al-Omran surah in order to be released, she said.
Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri said the sentence was the 'epitome of justice' and promotes co-existence between Muslims and Christians together through the 'teaching of common ideas'.
During the 1975-1990 civil war, which killed an estimated 120,000 people, Lebanon was torn apart by sectarian violence between various Muslim, Christian and Druze factions.
Under the country's constitution, which emphasises religious harmony, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.