Blasphemy remains a hot issue in the news particularly in Pakistan. In 2010, a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was charged with blasphemy in that country, made the international headlines. Many important incidents took place since then.
Tragically, the late governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who visited Bibi in prison, was later gunned down by his own security guard.
And, a few weeks later, a Catholic minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated, allegedly over his stance on blasphemy law.
The issue of blasphemy has once again reared its ugly head. Very recently, two stories made the headlines in the international media and, once again, the debate about the blasphemy law of Pakistan was started. In July, a frenzied mob broke into a police station in Bahawalpur (South Punjab). The mob’s target was a malang (vagabond) who seemed to be mentally unstable and was being taken into custody by the police after some people accused him of desecrating the sanctity of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
While the man was being questioned, announcements were made over mosque loudspeakers, urging residents to go to the police station and punish him.
Within hours, thousands gathered outside and demanded the ‘blasphemer’ be handed over to them. And, finally, they broke into the lock-up, got hold of the terrified malang, dragged him outside and began to beat him with fists, kicks, iron rods and sticks.
And, as if that were not enough to quench the crowd’s thirst for blood, it set the limp, bloodied body of the man on fire. In minutes, his body became ash, wtinessed by thousands of eyes.
On July 16, an 11-year-old Christian girl, Ramsha, was arrested after being accused of blasphemy by burning pages of the Koran in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Two days later, a mob gathered near the area where Christians live and they threatened to burn down their houses. It is also reported that they wanted to burn the girl to give her a lesson.
The Christian families living in the area had fled, fearing for their lives, and they were not provided security and protection. Thus, because of a minor event – and it is still unclear what actually happened – the whole area became insecure without any peace.
Medical reports presented in court established that she was 11 years old and was not mentally mature enough.
A few days ago, the case took another angle when a Muslim cleric who denounced a mentally-challenged girl for blasphemy was arrested for allegedly framing her.
It is the latest bizarre twist in a case that sparked worldwide outcry. According to Pakistani law, the punishment for blasphemy is death.
Notwithstanding these latest developments, unfortunately, people are still talking about that underage girl but rarely does someone say something about the cleric who came up with the whole story.
The case is now in court and investigations are being held to establish the truth. But I believe that, more than this case, it is the law itself that should be on trial.
Since the blasphemy law was passed in 1987 by the military dictator and President Zia-ul-Haq it has devastated Pakistan like a virus, infecting and grievously weakening the whole fibre of society.
The seeds of prejudice, fanaticism, intolerance, animosity, sectarianism and hatred were sowed and sentiments of extremism and aggression grew.
The law was extremely misused and, even today, it is being used for personal gain. The religious leaders speak in its favour and say it is according to Islamic teachings.
I truly believe this law has no moral and religious grounds and should be revoked and repealed at the earliest because it spreads hatred.
This law grossly undermines fundamental human rights and, indeed, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad who, throughout his life, was mocked and blasphemed but he never punished anyone on such charges. Recently, I wrote a detailed piece on this issue, gave examples and made arguments against blasphemy law from quoting from the Holy Koran and the practices of Prophet Muhammad.
I strongly appeal to the authorities that this is the time to repeal this law and establish real values of tolerance, harmony, respect, love and brotherhood so society can have peace and security. Also, people should have mutual respect for others’ sentiments.
I would like to recall a brief quotation from the writings of the fourth head of our community who sums up blasphemy perfectly. He says:
“Blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world.
“Having studied the Holy Quran extensively and repeatedly with deep concentration, I have failed to find a single verse which declares blasphemy to be a crime punishable by man.
“Although the Holy Quran very strongly discourages indecent behaviour and indecent talk, or the hurting of the sensitivity of others, with or without rhyme or reason, Islam does not advocate the punishment of blasphemy in this world nor vests such authority in anyone.”