Monday, November 10, 2008

Heresy, Apostasy & Misuse of Blasphemy Law - 5

Saghir Shaikh wrote:

Please Sign an Online Petition to Investigate the lynching of a Sindhi Hindu


I would like to sign the following petition asking for a thorough investigation over the murder of a Sindhi Hindhu in Karachi.

After signing please forward it to relevant folks on your mailing list.

Here is the story


Saghir Shaikh

Dear Saeen Sheikh Sahab,

Administring Justice and awarding punishment is the responsibility of the Ruler/State [even in the harshest Islamic State] not of the Masses or Mullahs. A detail view is as under for kind perusal. I guarantee you that those who have done the above deed would also have been the most ignorant about Islam, Quran and Shariah.

NEED TO CHECK MISUSE OF BLASPHEMY LAW (28 May 2000) EDITOR'S NOTE: An article entitled "Need to Check Misuse of Blasphemy Law" by Qazi Faez Isa, was published in DAWN, Karachi, on Sunday, May 28, 2000


"As it was the unanimous demand of the Ulema, Mashaikh and the people, therefore, I have decided to do away with the procedural change in registration of FIR under the blasphemy law" (General Musharraf, Dawn 17.5.2000).

How was public opinion determined? No one asked me! Is the reference to ulema and mashaikh to the self-proclaimed ones or men and women of Islamic learning? And did populism prevail over Islam? Why was no attempt made to enter into a debate, or at least a learned Islamic discourse? What was the role of the two ministers (religious affairs and law) who are primarily concerned with this issue? One does not recollect any valuable contribution from these two sources.

The sad fact is that deterioration has set in every aspect of national life. The most acute realization of this is felt whenever there is any interaction with the government. There is no substitute for learning and debate, and we are managing to do without either and consequently suffer. The government seems to have decided for all of us that in Pakistan 2000 our exposure to Islam is to be funnelled through the myopic, self-styled 'guides', whose principal contribution has been spreading hatred and attacking the foundations of the state. No attention is being paid to the true learned men and women of Islam, because unlike the camp which propagates violence in achieving their goals, these true Muslims do not make even a feeble attempt to be heard.

Pampering this group does not serve the cause of Islam, is contrary to shariat and departs from the methodology adopted by Jinnah and those who devotedly worked for attaining this homeland.

There is no substitute for knowledge, dialogue and niyat (intention). Let us learn a lesson from history. My father, Qazi Muhammad Isa, who was principally responsible for bringing Balochistan into the fold of Pakistan, was a member of the Balochistan Law Reform Commission. The other members included Balochistan's governor, Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal, and Mr Fazle Ghani Khan.These gentlemen informed me how my father had handled a potentially explosive situation.

The Balochistan Law Reform Commission made visits to a number of different places to gather public opinion. On a visit to a traditional-conservative Pathan area they were accosted by the elders and ulema who demanded the enforcement of shariat and objected to the work of the Commission, which was perceived by them to be anti-shariat. It transpired that the local Pathans had taken strong exception to recording the names of their womenfolk on the recently introduced national identity cards. This according to them was un-Islamic and therefore unacceptable. My father inquired whether the delegation would be kind enough to enlighten him about the names of Islam's first convert and wife of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Prophet's daughter married to Hazrat Ali.Hazrat Khadija and Hazrat Fatima was the prompt answer. Upon hearing this, my father inquired whether the names of these distinguished ladies could be taken if Islam was against this practice. The delegation fell silent and abandoned their objection to the name insertion in the identity cards.

They then said "zhumz shariat ghoaru" ('we want shariat') and not "Angrezi qanoon" (English law). My father responded that the Commission could report this desire and wanted the delegation to help them. He suggested that this could be done if the delegation was prepared to abandon certain prevailing but un-Islamic practices. He advised that they should waive accumulated usury which was due to them (Pathans being notorious and usurious moneylenders), stop the cultivation and trade in intoxicants (opium and hashish) and recognize the shares of mothers, widows and daughters in inheritance. (Men divide the ladies' shares among themselves and the revenue records of these and many rural areas of the country, reveal the virtual absence of a female population). The delegation immediately backtracked saying that this was not possible because these were their established tribal practices and had been validated by jirga.

On being asked whether they wanted the endorsement of jirga practices contrary to shariat, the delegation beat a hasty retreat never to be seen or heard of again.

Knowledge and reason were subsequently to prevail upon superstition and exploitation. The light of enlightenment vanquished the darkness of ignorance. Men of peace achieved this, men who adhered to Quaid's ideals and men who did not command armies.

In contrast, an all-powerful government, having been granted by the Supreme Court the power to amend the Constitution, failed to effect, what from a legal perspective was an insignificant amendment in the law. The amendment which the government wanted to bring about was that any report of an offence of blasphemy should in the future be made to the district magistrate and not at the police station.

A practice of settling personal vendettas by lodging false reports of offence of blasphemy (Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code) against a person or persons intended to be harmed has developed. The fact that in Pakistan lodging of such FIRs has become matter of frequent occurrence confirms the misuse of this provision of the law. Needless to stress that in a predominantly Muslim country any derogatory or disrespectful remark about the Prophet (PBUH) is unthinkable. Only one bereft of any reason or sense could risk inviting society's wrath and possibly worse by indulging in any such sacrilegious utterances.

To check false allegations of blasphemy from being made and Islam wrongly exploited for vendetta or for settling personal scores, which is anathema to a (true) Muslim, it was essential that the power of the police to entertain an FIR be curtailed. In advocating such a change General Musharraf was not acting against the interest of Islam. Undoubtedly, he was well intentioned but perhaps did not have the requisite support from his team to counteract the agitators. Occupying ministerial positions but bereft of vision and knowledge they could only advise an expedient retreat.

The action could only encourage the tendency to use religion to harass and persecute one's enemies and rivals.

The insistence on retaining the jurisdiction of the police in preference to that of the district magistrate, who is a more senior member of the administration, is incomprehensible. Unless those agitating against the proposed amendment were doing so because they considered police stations more malleable and amenable to pressure and inducement and, therefore, were ideally suited to their questionable purpose and interests. Is our government so out of touch that it does not realize that the poor, the rich, the Muslim, the Christian, the literate, the illiterate, citizens of Pakistan, if they are united in a view, it is that Pakistani police stations are dens of inequity, and not citadels which best preserve Islamic values.

The maximum punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan is death, or imprisonment for life, and also fine. There is no discretion for imposing a lesser sentence. The process which may result in the passing of this sentence commences upon the lodging of an FIR in a police station, often on payment of a bribe, and in many cases without a shred of evidence, except the word of a self-described alim. There is no punishment prescribed for lodging a false report.

Eminent ulema have over the centuries written copiously on the subject. They have deliberated on whether blasphemy (insulting the Holy Prophet, sabb al-Rasool) without an element of apostasy (repudiation of Islam, sabb Allah, riddah) is an offence in Islam. They have considered the significance of the Prophet (PBUH) not acting against those who renounced Islam and vilified and defamed him. Included among these were Abd Allah b. Abi Sarh, Ikramah b. Abi Jahl, Safwan b. Umayyah, and Hinda, the wife of Abu Sufyan. A writer on the subject states that, "some Jews also addressed the Prophet with the words, 'death be upon you, (al-sam alaykum), but, in none of the reports did the Prophet order any punishment." They have thus determined that the offence is not hadd (ordained by God) but tazir. Imam Abu Hanifah maintained that a dhimmi (non-Muslim) is not liable to the death punishment for the offence of blasphemy.

Islam is a religion which stands for peace and insists on justice. God almighty advised the Holy Prophet and early believers to develop their inner resources through patience and resilience. "Quite a number of the people of the Book wish they could turn you back to infidelity after ye have believed - from (their) selfish envy, after the Truth hath become manifest unto them, but forgive and overlook" (surah Al-Baqarah, verse 109). A commentator on this verse says: "It teaches that the success of Islam had naturally made the un-believers insecure and envious, and that under such circumstances a punitive approach would not produce the desired result". "And ye shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship partners besides Allah. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil - then that indeed is a matter of great resolution (the best course with which to determine your affairs)" (surah Al-Imran, verse 186).

It is noteworthy that the law in its present form does not consider the question of repentance. Is this Islamic? "The Hanafis and the majority of the Shafis consider blasphemy to be in the same category as apostasy and have ruled that repentance is admissible in both cases. Thus, the blasphemer, like the apostate, is to be asked for repentance on three consecutive days, which will be counted from the time of conviction" (Freedom of Expression in Islam by Dr Mohammad Hashim Kamali).

2- The Impact of The Blasphemy Law by Mohammad Shehzad Issue No.4, September 2002 Copyright © The DAWN Group of Newspapers

The blasphemy laws were legislated and subsequently made more strict to ensure protection to the minorities. But some recent incidents have shown that even the Muslims were victimized under the present blasphemy law on the complaint of other fellow Muslims.

The most recent example is provided by gory murder of Yusuf Kizab in the Kot Lakhpat Jail by an activist of the banned Sipahe-i-Sahaba. Yusuf had been sentenced to death sentence under the blasphemy laws.

The worst example was the suicide of Father John Joseph some four years ago. On the eve of May 6, 1998 Dr Joseph, the Bishop of Faisalabad, committed suicide in front of the Sessions Court, Sahiwal to protest against the death sentence of a Christian Ayub Masih, pronounced by the court under the blasphemy law.

The minority communities were never satisfied with the blasphemy law. They have been opposing it since its promulgation. Their protest against it became louder when a mandatory death punishment was incorporated in the Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code in 1991.

The blasphemy law was enacted by the British to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslim minorities in the subcontinent against the Hindu majority. After the creation of Pakistan as the Muslims were no more a minority, the law should have been abolished. But it was made more stringent: Section 295-A was enacted in 1927 (Pakistan Penal Code). In 1980, Section 298-A was inserted. In 1982, Section 295-B was introduced. In 1986, Section 295-C was legislated. In 1991, life imprisonment was replaced with the mandatory death penalty in the Section 295-C.

When the blasphemy laws were not harsh and the Muslims were tolerant towards the non-Muslim minorities, the latter remained mindful of the religious feelings of the former. As they grew intolerant towards the minorities and the capital punishment was incorporated in the law, the cases of blasphemy started occurring more frequently. From 1948-1979, 11 cases of blasphemy were registered. Only three were reported from 1979-1986. Forty-four cases were filed from 1987-1999. In 2000, 52 cases were registered - 43 against the Muslims and nine against the Non-Muslims.

This shows, the law is being ‘abused’ more blatantly by the Muslims against the Muslims to settle their scores. ‘Blasphemy’ has been made an offence against the state. Anybody can go to a police station and register a case under Section 295-C against any person. The police would immediately register a case and arrest the accused without checking the veracity of the facts. A mohrrar (constable) is academically not competent to judge whether or not the circumstances constitute an act of blasphemy.

The greater irony is, the death sentence under S. 295-C to a non-Muslim. This can be challenged in the Supreme Court. Ibne Tamia in his book Asare Mal Maslool has referred to a note of Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa who says that a non-Muslim cannot be sentenced to death for blasphemy because such a penalty falls in the category of hadd (a sort of maximum punishment).

When a Muslim blasphemes against the Holy Prophet, he becomes a murtid (a person who repudiates Islam after embracing it) whose punishment is death. A non-Muslim cannot be a murtid because he is already a kafir (non-Muslim). Therefore, the ‘hadd’ punishments are not applicable to the non-Muslims. They could be punished only under tazir (non-hadd punishments).

The semi-literate mullas argue in the support of the death sentence saying that there is an ijma (consensus) on this issue by the founders of the four Fiqhs. If this plea is correct, then why Imam Abu Hanifa (the great Muslim scholar and the founder of the Hanafi school of thought) holds a contrary opinion?

After Jinnah's death, the ruling elite embraced the Machiavellian politics of the colonial rulers and divided the nation on religious, sectarian and linguistic bases. The blasphemy law is an integral part of this baleful politics that has made Pakistan a deeply divided society. History is full of incidents that remind us of the great love, amity, unity, and affinity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. A Pakistani author Ahmad Salim relates one such incident in his book, Pakistan aur Aqaliyatein.

He writes that Ahmadabad was in the grip of Hindu-Muslim riots in 1969. During those days, a small locality, Mimobai that consisted of around 145 houses - 35 belonged to the Muslims and the rest were of the Hindus - had been reduced to ashes. A Sikh namely Kalyan Singh, one of the eye witnesses to this gory event, told the aid workers that an armed mob of furious Hindus came to the non-Muslim elders and asked them to identify the houses of the Muslims so that their (non-Muslims) property is not harmed. But they refused to do that.

The mob threatened to set all the houses on fire. Even this could not intimidate them and the frenzied Hindus torched all the houses. Kalyan Singh said: “The Muslims and the non-Muslims had been living together for centuries in Mimobai. They shared each other's happiness and grief. How could we face Bhagwan if we had saved our houses while letting the mob torch the houses of our Muslim brothers, sisters, mothers, uncles!!”

3- Blasphemy and persecution by Ishtiaq Ahmed Saturday, April 26, 2008

The barbaric murder of Jagdeesh Kumar, accused of blasphemy by some of his workmates at a garment factory in Karachi, brings out in sharp focus once again the exposed and vulnerable situation of non-Muslims in a Pakistan still wedded to the legacy of General Zia-ul-Haq.

When the police finally intervened, the body of the 22-year-old victim had been mutilated and disfigured beyond recognition: among other things the eyes had been gouged out. The reports published indicate that he was a quiet man, from a poverty-stricken Hindu family belonging to some obscure village in the Sindh desert. People with such a depressed and vulnerable background come to factories to eek out a miserable living, not to engage in religious controversies. In the days and weeks ahead, we will learn that some petty personal quarrel or irrational hatred of a Hindu was the real reason for his murder.

What happened in Karachi was reminiscent of the lynching of African-Americans by white racists in the southern states of the US as late as the early 20th century. Until those laws were changed, black men and women were killed for the flimsiest of reasons. I remember one story when a white shopkeeper took out his gun and shot dead an old black man, who for years had been delivering merchandise to him, when an altercation took place between that man and a white man who had come to the shop for the first time. The white shopkeeper sided with a complete stranger, because the race laws had conditioned him to react in that way.

Anyone who follows the news from Pakistan and reads the reports published regularly by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan would find that violence and brutality against non-Muslims increased exponentially after the blasphemy law was imposed in 1982 and reformulated in 1986. The connection between law and social behaviour is a well-established fact and, quite simply, bad, intolerant and violence-inducing laws produce malevolent behaviour among members of society. Let me quote both the relevant texts on blasphemy in Pakistan:

In 1982, Section 295-B was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code. It reads: "Defiling, etc., of The Holy Quran: Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom, or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose, shall be punishable with imprisonment for life."

In 1986, Section 295-C was added. It stated: "Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

Those who are familiar with legal expressions and jargon will have no difficulty in understanding that the wordings of the two laws furnish an easy excuse for accusing a person of blasphemy. What can be a matter of at most a spirited discussion on religion and religious icons among educated people can easily be interpreted by illiterates as blasphemy if they discuss religion.

More important, perhaps, is to figure out what purpose these laws are supposed to help realise. If the purpose is to make people, presumably non-Muslims, respect Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), then such an intention is premised on a singularly flawed psychological theory and approach.

Fear induces submission and despondency, not respect. In situations when fear and threats surround the lives of people, they resort to dissimulation and become hypocrites: thinking and believing one thing but saying and doing something else. On the other hand, respect and admiration for someone or some belief is gained voluntarily. It has to come from the heart and cannot be extracted under duress.

There are many non-Muslims who have written laudatory texts on Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet. Recently Karen Armstrong has written his biography which is highly sympathetic. She must have done this by studying his life and finding him praiseworthy. Fear would never have induced such writing.

On the other hand, if the purpose of the blasphemy laws is to terrorise non-Muslims to either convert to Islam or force them out of the country, then the question is: is such an objective compatible with the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees that minorities shall live in peace and security in Pakistan?

One can argue that even if the intention of adopting the blasphemy laws was to establish respect for Islam and the Prophet and not to terrorise non-Muslims, the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence abundantly shows that the unintended consequences of the law have been just the opposite. Time and again some Christian or Hindu accused of blasphemy has either been mercilessly killed by a fanatic or a bunch of such people – without ever being punished for breaking the law and committing murder – or subjected to a draconian legal process in which the lower courts almost invariably found him guilty; but the higher courts either acquitted him or commuted his punishment to a lighter sentence.

Now, when a civilian, democratic government is in power, it is time to begin a discussion on the Hudood and blasphemy laws. We must realise that as long as people have different religions and beliefs they are bound to discuss and debate them. In such circumstances the role of the government should be to provide people with a sound education so that they can develop the sensibilities to respect each others' identity and convictions while engaging in debate and controversy.

It was very encouraging to read columns in the Pakistani English-language press against this latest manifestation of mob frenzy. It is important that our colleagues in the Urdu media also come out strongly against such brazen acts of inhumanity. Some petitions condemning Jagdeesh Kumar's murder have also been put up on the Internet for signatures. All this is indicative of another type of Pakistan.

The writer is a professor of political science and a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Email:

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