Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws Institutionalize Injustice

Pakistanis protest the country's blasphemy laws

The case of Asia Bibi has commentators in Pakistan’s media speaking out against the nation’s blasphemy laws, archaic leftovers from Gen. Zia-u-Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s – a relic more of Zia’s strategy to secure his grip on power than any personal religious zeal.

While no legal execution has occured under these laws, dozens of individuals are sitting on death row, and over a thousand people have been convicted of violating these laws. Worse, the laws are often used to justify violent acts of vigilantism. The threat of accusation, conviction and death hangs over the heads of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

But it’s not only Pakistan’s religious minorities who are threatened by the blasphemy laws, which are used as a tool to eliminate political and business competition. Today’s Washington Post describes the case of Muhammad Shafique, a Muslim who was convicted and sentenced to death two years ago in a politically motivated blasphemy charge.

Today, an air of regret permeates Kulluwal. Shafique’s accusers fled town, and their relatives now say the allegations were lies. Many residents call the case a setup fueled by political and personal rivalries. But as Shafique waits on death row, his appeal stuck in Pakistan’s glacial courts, no one is quite sure what to do.

“The situation at that time was emotional. It was the responsibility of the police to sift through the facts and find the truth,” said Chaudhry Safraz Ahmed, 42, a community leader whose father was one of Shafique’s accusers. “That did not happen. And Shafique is behind bars.”

Kalsoom Lakhani, on her blog Changing Up Pakistan, writes that the laws not only institutionalize religious discrimination, they provide a justification for religious hatred that normalizes violent acts.

The most tragic part of Aasia Bibi’s case is that it was not the first of its kind and it’s by no means the last. Last April, more than 50 houses were set on fire by an angry mob in Gojra, again in Punjab province, burning at least seven Christians alive. Much like the Ahmadi case a few weeks ago, when authorities bowed to the hysteria of a mob and made a grieving family exhume the body of their relative, the police in these situations cower to the masses. Because, you see, intolerance and prejudice in Pakistan are encased by the pristine cowardice of law. And that, over all reason and rationale, reigns supreme.

In their book, The Age of Sacred Terror, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon discuss how legal justifications can mean the difference between whether someone chooses to commit a violent act. They refer, for example, to the fact that Israeli radical Yigal Amir sought a religious ruling prior to his assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. While some religious violence is committed by individuals unswayed by authority, granting a legal or religious justification for violence and discrimination propagates these acts in society. Making clear that violence and religious discrimination are neither justified nor tolerated can greatly reduce such acts.

Sherry Rahman, a parliamentarian from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has submitted legislation to amend the blasphemy laws to reduce the death sentence to a 10-year imprisonment and to require punishment for filing false claims or inciting religious hatred.

Sadly, Pakistan’s main religious party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, has threatened to “lay seige to the parliament” if the body takes up the amendment. The Jamaatis claim that the proposed amendment is a threat to religion in the country.

Our strong tradition of religious protection and tolerance in the United States should serve to dispel any myths that amending or repealing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws will result in a rise of irreligious sentiment. Americans are very religious while simultaneously carefully guarding individual religious freedom.

At its core, religious freedom is really less about religion and more about freedom. Are groups like Jamaat-i-Islami more concerned with an unlikely proliferation of irreligious behavior, or losing a tool to intimidate and control the people? In a nation that is overwhelmingly Islamic both in its population and its culture, religion is not under threat in Pakistan. What needs protection is the progress made to secure democracy and justice for Pakistan’s citizens.

As a democracy, Pakistan’s laws should reflect the values and priorities of its citizens. But just as we in the US should not allow the law to be used as a tool to threaten or intimidate Muslims and other religious minorities, Pakistan’s constitution should provide protections for all Pakistanis.

3 thoughts on “Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws Institutionalize Injustice

  1. In Theology Blasphemy is defined as: The crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.
    The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan States:
    LAW: Article 298 states: Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
    LAW: Article 298-A: prohibits the use of any derogatory remark or representation in respect of Muslim holy personages.
    LAW: Article 298-B and 298-C: prohibit the Ahmadi Sect from behaving as Muslims behave, calling themselves Muslims, proselytizing, or “in any manner whatsoever” outraging the religious feelings of Muslims.
    Violation of any part of LAW: Article 298 makes the violator liable to imprisonment for up to three years and liable also to a fine.
    The law as it is worded is nothing close to the general description of the word Blasphemy as described by the definition in theology stated above.
    The above law is so biased, and so much against the religion it is trying to protect that it is being misused, by the people to prosecute others at whim as the law allows them to do so.
    Islam is like all other religions a personal one, not a communal or a cult. Once a person proclaims to be a Muslim, the person should and must be taken as such no questions asked.
    Islam does not allow anyone to comment, on who is, or not a Muslim, it is between the person and God.
    In fact, a person who accuses another of being a Non-Muslim, maybe committing blasphemy, as the accuser is “acting as God” deciding who is, or not Muslim.
    I am a physician and it is my duty to treat each patient as a patient, without regard for gender, faith, social status or orientation.
    The fact that Prophet Muhammad PBUH, was himself ridiculed, banished from his hometown, trash being thrown not only in his path but on his body as well.
    Yet there is no record in history that he ever sought punishment or revenge for the actions of others.

  2. This will explain the obove comment:

    By ASHRAF KHAN

    The Associated Press
    Sunday, December 12, 2010; 9:40 AM

    KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities have arrested a doctor on suspicion of violating the country’s contentious blasphemy law by throwing away a business card of a man who shared the name of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, police said Sunday.

    The blasphemy law has been widely criticized by human rights groups following the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last month for insulting Islam. Critics say the law should be amended or repealed because it is often used to settle grudges, persecute minorities and fan religious extremism.

    Naushad Valiyani, a Muslim doctor in the southern city of Hyderabad, was arrested Friday after a complaint was lodged with police alleging his actions had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, said regional police chief Mushtaq Shah.
    The case began Friday when Muhammad Faizan, a pharmaceutical company representative, visited Valiyani’s clinic and handed out his business card. He said when the doctor threw the card away, Faizan went to police and filed a complaint that noted his name was the same as the prophet’s.
    Shah said police were investigating whether Valiyani should be charged with blasphemy.
    Dozens of Pakistanis are sentenced to death each year under the blasphemy law, though most cases are thrown out by higher courts and no executions have been carried out. The law, however, is unlikely to be repealed because the government’s ruling party – largely secular – relies on the support of Islamist groups.
    Islamist political parties have recently demonstrated in support of the law and the sentence against Bibi. One hard-line cleric said if the government did not execute Bibi, his mosque would pay anyone who killed her $5,800.
    The family of Bibi – a mother of five – insists she was falsely accused over a personal dispute. There have been appeals from around the globe – including one from Pope Benedict XVI – to pardon her. But the government has said it is first waiting for a court ruling on her appeal.
    Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs has said the law is being examined to prevent widespread abuse.
    In other developments Sunday, militants fired mortars targeting a Shiite mosque in the Kurram tribal region but the shells landed in a nearby residential area, killing three children, said Jamil Hussain, a local administrator. Seven people were wounded.

    Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

  3. The rot I would say started with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws introduced by its dictator Zia Ul Haq way back in 1986. One has only to consider the wording of this Draconian law to understand how harsh and unislamic it really is, specifying death without any opportunity given for the offender to repent for Use of derogatory remarks etc in respect of the holy Prophet (PBUH) by word, either spoken or written. Or by visible representation, or by importation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiling the sacred name of the holy Prophet (PBUH).

    It is certainly true that our beloved Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) ordered political assassinations of those men and women who lampooned him mercilessly, but this we must bear in mind was a time when Islam was still in a rather weak position politically. Such assassinations were justifiable as they were done for the greater good of the community. However we also know that the Prophet was magnanimous in victory and we have at least one occasion where an offender who had been marked for liquidation was forgiven by the Prophet when she sought his forgiveness. Indeed numerous are the occasions when the Prophet forgave even his most sworn enemies. To incorporate a political reality existing at one time into legislation and making it into an oppressive law that does not give an option for the offender to repent is far from Islamic and is reminiscent of the tribal and intolerant ways of the Jews. This harsh law needless to say is also abused to settle rivalries and victimize minority communities, especially Christians who enjoy a high status in Islam.

    As such we may ask could a law like this be the work of a true Muslim or an enemy of Islam keen on ridiculing this noble faith in the eyes of the world. Looking back this is exactly what this madman and insecure American puppet known as Zia accomplished. His very death testifies with whom his loyalties lay. Even when Zia died, it was in the company of the greatest enemies of Islam – the US military. When Zia-ul Haq’s plane blew up on August 19, 1988, it killed him along with the American ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel and the head of the US military mission General Herbert M. Wassom. Another theory would have it that Zia on account of a retarded daughter he had, sought to retard his entire nation with a rather perverse and perverted interpretation of Islam the likes of which were never seen in the history of Islam which is a universal message of mercy. Be it as it may, the man succeeded in putting Pakistan many centuries back and ridiculing Islam in the eyes of the world. What could be a greater blasphemy ? we may ask.

    Truly is it said that the evil men do live after them. Zia despite his ignoble death is survived by his children, the misled extremists of his country belonging to heretical sects like the Barelwi to which sect the killer of the Punjabi Governor belonged. The killer Qadri who was assigned to protect the Governor said he killed him because he had turned ‘apostate’ by opposing the blasphemy law and giving protection to a Christian woman Asia Bibi who had been sentenced to death for the offence Those extremists supporting the killer are said to have declared that he “fulfilled his duties as a Muslim”. So now killing fellow Muslims seems to have become the “duty” of Muslims according to these fanatics. It’s a pity they have not read the Quranic verse that lays down that anybody who intentionally kills a believer will abide in hell. (Qur’an 4: 93). What an evil end.
    It is no doubt the emergence of bigots like these that our beloved Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) warned us about: “Beware of extremism in religion because the only thing that destroyed those before you was extremism in religion” (Ibn Majah and Nasai). The Prophet also declared: “The Mutanatti’ūn are destroyed”, repeating it three times (Abu Dawud). As Al-Nawawī explains, “The ‘Mutanatti’ūn’ are the overly-strict people, those who go too deep (into religious matters), the extremists, those who go beyond the permissible limits in their statements and actions”.

    Indeed, these extremist elements of Pakistan are strangely reminiscent of the Kharjites, that heretical group that emerged in the early days of Islam as a thorn on the side of the early Islamic community. These rebels numbering several thousands separated themselves from the rest of the community and elected as their ruler one Abdullah Ibn Wahb Al-Rasibi known for his fervour in reciting the Qur’an and who was nicknamed Dhu al-Thafanat (the one whose kneecaps appeared like two humps of a camel because of the intense and extended nature of his prostration in prayer). The rebellion eventually degenerated into open hostilities against the larger Muslim community and the killing of innocents, among the first victims of the rebellion being Abdullah ibn Khabbab al-Aratt, one of the governors of Ali, who along with his pregnant wife, was hacked to death by the mob.

    The basic dogma of this heretical sect appears not to have been built upon the teachings of Islam, but on Takfir or charging with unbelief all those who disagreed with them on any theological issues and the right to kill them with impunity. It was no doubt of extremist outfits such as this that our Holy Prophet (PBUH) stated: “My Ummat is destined to differ and be divided. So a group will arise whose talks will sound very good but their character will be misleading. They will read the Quran but it will not descend below their throats (just oral reading). They will leave Deen just as an arrow pierces and goes right through the prey. They will not return to Islam. They are the worst of creation because of their nature and constitution. They will call the people towards the Quran and Deen whilst in reality they will have nothing to do with Islam. Whoever will confront them, he will be the most beloved servant of Allah” (reported by Anas).

    How strangely similar indeed. Rebellion against established authority, suicide bombings of innocents which has almost become a daily occurrence in this lawless country, charging with unbelief those who disagree with their views and even the killing of a governor. It is clear that the so-called ‘Islamic’ extremists of Pakistan are the Kharjites of the modern age.

    It is high time the Pakistan government decided enough is enough and enforced a final solution to this evil. Appeasement is not the answer as it would only embolden these mischief makers as proven time and again. For those who do not respect human rights, there can be no rights. Deal with them like the early caliphs dealt with them – Ruthlessly. Introduce harsh punishments like cross amputation and crucifixion which the Qur’an lays down for criminals such as these to give it Islamic legitimacy and start with Qadri. Label them as heretics, as the Kharjites of the modern age and deal with them accordingly.

    That is perhaps the only way to wipe out this scourge and redeem the good name of Islam!

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