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Blasphemy-related violence continues

Kaleem Dean

The faith fueled blasphemy canon took another innocent life when Sarir Ahmed, Principal of Islamia College, Charsadda was mercilessly killed by his own student in the name of blasphemy. The killer was inspired by the theology of aggression generated by Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. A little known detail divulged that the murderer attended the Islamabad sit-in without informing his college authorities beforehand. Therefore, the slain teacher marked him absent and rebuked him. The student thought the principal had no right to question him because he was attending a ‘sacred’ sit-in. Over the decades, in Pakistan, blasphemy has become a highly sensitive issue that speaking against the law itself is considered ‘blasphemy’. Therefore, despite knowing and acknowledging the massive abuse of the law, no government ever dare to revisit it.

Pakistan inherited blasphemy laws intentionally retained in the India Penal Code of section 295 by Lord Macaulay. The law ensured protection to worship places, holy books and saintly figures of all religions. In 1927, 295 A and B were introduced to prosecute for infuriating religious feelings of any religious group. After 1947, in the same form, it became the part of the Pakistani constitution. However, till 1985 a few blasphemy cases were registered against individuals but during the last three decades more than 1400 blasphemy cases were registered mostly against Muslims but religious minorities remained under the massive blasphemy accusations. The history of blasphemy laws in the world is as old as Abrahamic religions but with the passage of time modifications in blasphemy laws allowed people of different opinion to express themselves more freely. But as a matter of fact, in the Holy Quran there is not even a single reference of blasphemy conviction. The Quran says, “Those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive.”

During Meccans period, the Holy Prophet (SAW) was bitterly opposed and blasphemed yet he prayed for divine mercy. After the battle of Badr, Suhail Bin Amr, a poet who composed blasphemous poetry against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was among the war prisoners, despite, followers’ anger, the Holy Prophet (SAW) advised them to treat him with kindness. Another important incident of blasphemy was recorded in the Islamic history when the Prophet (PBUH) during his early preaching days visited to Ta’if, Southeast of Mecca where he was stoned by local non-believers of Islam. But he responded them patiently, with kindness, love and forgiveness.

The incident of a principal’s killing in the name of faith will not be the last of its kind. Not unless religious scholars start condemning this senseless violence and denounce taking the law into one’s own hands

During Islamic caliphate, differences among various sections of Muslim society began emerging. Therefore, Muslims were divided into different sects. Muslims were in conflict within themselves as well as non-Muslims. Then the Muslim scholars in the medieval period for protecting Islamic authority, brought blasphemy laws into force which was later followed by the entire Islamic world. In the 9th century, Spain executed around 48 Christians including St. Eulogius of Cordoba, a Catholic Christian monk who encouraged his fellow Christians to express their faith identity openly in Spain but were punished with death.

In the sub-continent, in the result of the execution of GaziIlum Din Shaheed in 1929, a provision was added in the Indian Penal Code that insulting any religion will be considered an offence. Although, as mentioned above, Lord Macaulay brought a new criminal legislation implemented in 1860 after one year of his death; in his lifetime, he stressed to retain blasphemy provision in the Penal Code of British India. Pakistani blasphemy laws are the continuation of the British colonial legacy but over the years have acquired the hardest version among all Muslim majority countries where blasphemy laws are used to prosecute those insult Islam. For the purpose of bringing the strictest forms, time and again amendments were made to blasphemy laws. In 1992, amendment was made in sections 295B and 295C extending punishment to life imprisonment. Furthermore, in 1986, the option of death penalty was added to the section 295C. During first tenure of Nawaz Sharif government, once again section 295C was revised and removed the option of life imprisonment and mandatory death sentence was finally made part of the Pakistani Penal Code, for using ‘derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad (PBUH) further the law states, that ‘trial must take place in a court of session with a Muslim judge presiding.’

Acknowledging the massive abuse of blasphemy laws in the country, General Musharraf, the military dictator, promised to guarantee that before formal registration of blasphemy case, a civil servant would scrutinise the case. However, within weeks he took back his decision. He was certainly aware of the backlash from fundamental religious forces. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is the only political force in the country which beliefs to repeal or amend blasphemy laws, However, in 2011, Yousaf Raza Gilani, the then Prime Minister categorically refused to bring any amendment in these laws. This he did against the efforts of Sherry Rehman, PPP senior leader who tried to table the amendment bill but was confronted by the right-wing political and religious groups compelling her to withdraw the motion. Last year once again, Senate recommended some procedural changes in these laws. However, there was complete silence on this issue afterward. Because of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, religious minorities are always under serious threat but now Muslims in Pakistan are facing the same atrocities that minorities were facing for the last three decades.

In 2014, one of the leading media groups was accused of committing blasphemy in a morning show. In the same year, Islamic scholar Junaid Jamshed faced blasphemy charges. In 2015, Khurshid Shah, leader of the Opposition was charged under this law but later the court dismissed his case.

This latest incident of a principal’s killing in the name of faith will never be a last case if the religious scholars do not start condemning this senseless violence and denounce the act of taking law into one’s own hands. It is time to revisit blasphemy and apostasy laws in the light of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). The foremost factor is the observance of Prophet’s life in true spirit of faith, personal or sectional interpretation of faith have evolved strong hate among fellow Muslims and in this scenario what religious minorities could expect from an Islamic society that claims equality for all citizens of the State. Once again, this brutal act of the brainwashed youth in Charsadda, KP. has brought a bad name to the country.

Courtesy:  Daily Times, January 27th 2018.

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