After having read my column recounting the sufferings of Dr Younus Shaikh, sentenced to death for blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and now residing in a death cell in the jail at Rawalpindi ('From the death cell' Jan 27), three forlorn citizens of Pakistan turned up to seek help.
They introduced themselves as office-bearers of the All-Faith Spiritual Movement and declared themselves also to be victims of the iniquitous blasphemy law inflicted upon this country by the departed unlamented General Zia-ul-Haq.
They produced a copy of their book, the cover of which reads: "The secret lying behind the images on the Sun and Moon. The images are found on photographs taken by NASA and other reputed organizations - 'The Religion of God' - Divine Love - The hidden secrets of God - Author His Holiness R. A. Goharshahi".
The book opens up with a photograph of Goharshahi and informs the readers that for the love of God he spent three years in a spiritual retreat in the mountains of Sehwan Sharif and in the jungle of Laal Bagh. He abandoned the material world to find God and only left the jungle and returned to the world after being commanded to do so by God. He has, the reader is told, turned the hearts of thousands of people towards the remembrance and love of God. People of all religions have invited Goharshahi to mosques, temples and churches to speak and to receive his grace in the form of Qalb (heart) meditation.
Apparently, he won over countless disciples - and then, God manifested his face in the moon, and he became well known around the world.
The obvious result: "Short-sighted religious clergy and mullas and those who bear animosity towards saints and begrudging Muslims all dislike this individual. These people further read parts of his book out of context and on this basis accused him of blasphemy and made him the subject of compulsory death sentences."
The first edition of the book was published in January 2000 in the United States with the joint cooperation of RAGS International, London, the American Sufi Institute, and the All-Faith Spiritual Movement Northern Ireland.
Having read so far, assuming all to be well, I inquired what was the problem and where was Goharshahi. I was told he had left for his heavenly abode whilst travelling abroad and his mortal remains had been transported back, buried at his home in Kotri, but that his soul goes marching on. Another John Brown, I remarked. They were not amused.
The story slowly unfolded. Allama Ahmad Mian Hammadi, the good son of Maulana Mahmood Hussain, by caste Indher, resident of Jama-i-Masjid Khatm-i-Nabuwwat of Tando Adam on May 2, 1999, filed FIR No 108 in Tando Adam police station, district Sanghar, with the complaint that five months previously, on 8/12/98 at 0910 hours, sitting in his office at Tando Jam, he had read in the daily newspapers Ummat and Kawish the text of an interview with Riaz Ahmed Goharshahi, resident of Khuda-ki-Basti near Kotri, in which Shahi had stated: "Whatever the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) teaches me, I tell the same. I often meet the Holy Prophet." Goharshahi had related how he had been designated by his disciples as Imam Mahdi and how his face can be observed in the moon. The Allama accused Shahi of blasphemy and the complaint was signed by the ASI, PS, TDM.
Summons could not be served on the holy pir as he was travelling abroad. The case was heard by Abdul Ghafoor Memon, a judge of the Anti-Terrorism Court at Mirpurkhas. The public prosecutor, Anwer Jamal, appeared for the state and Nizamuddin Pirzada was appointed advocate 'on state expenses for the absconding accused' being tried for the crime committed as recorded in FIR 108/99 under sections 295 A, B & C of the PPC (the blasphemy laws). The case was heard from March 1 to 9, 2000, and on March 11 the learned judge announced his judgement in the open court:
"In view of my findings on points No 1-4 the accused Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shah is convicted of an offence falling u/s 295-A PPC to 10 years RI and fine of Rs 5,000 & imprisonment of six months more in case of default in payment of fine. The accused is also convicted and punished to undergo imprisonment for life for an offence falling u/s 295-B PPC. The accused is also convicted of an offence falling u/s 295-C PPC and punished to undergo RI for life and fine of Rs 5,000 and 12 months imprisonment more in case of default of payment of fine. The death penalty awardable u/s 295-C PPC is not awarded because the case is tried in absence of the accused.
"The accused is also convicted of an offence falling u/s 08 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 punishable u/s 09 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to RI for 07 years and fine of Rs.15,000 or 08 months imprisonment more in case of default in payment of fine. The accused is also convicted for offence falling u/s 06(b) of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 punishable u/s 07 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and sentenced to imprisonment for life and fine of Rs 50,000 and 12 months more imprisonment in case of default in payment of fine. The sentences of imprisonment will run separately after one another. The accused is absconding therefore issued NBW against him and sent this copy of judgement to the SHO Tando Adam, District Sanghar, to arrest the accused and remand him to Central Prison Hyderabad to serve out the sentence."
The sentences are said to total 59 years. An appeal was filed in the High Court of Sindh and before it could be decided, Goharshahi died and the case was 'abated'. So, I inquired of the three visiting gentlemen, what is your problem? The problem is, they informed me, that many followers of their spiritual movement stand charged with blasphemy, some are in jail, some are on bail, and some have absconded. The High Court, they said, had abated the case against Goharshahi for the wrong reasons and they were about to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, the result of which would help all those now accused.
They asked me to write, though two wished their names not to be published. The third declared himself to be unafraid. His name could be published if his death would help alleviate the larger suffering of mankind. He is ready and willing to be killed for his faith and in the interests of his fellow spiritualists. Better not to mention your name, I advised, for if he were to be killed and the sufferings of mankind were not alleviated, there is no way he could find a return ticket.
President Musharraf is now fighting terrorism and it is hoped that he will take the necessary steps to ensure that terrorism at home is on his elimination list. The press on Friday had it that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was informed by Musharraf that "the government had no plan to change the Islamic laws introduced by the previous government." Further inquiries reveal that this is the Chaudhry's version and not Musharraf's.
Chaudhry has also spread the word that he is the army's choice as our future prime minister. We know how Chaudhry's father, an assistant sub-inspector of police, thrived and prospered, and built the palaces in which Chaudhry and his family now reside in Lahore's millionaires' row and in various other cities of our country.
We know how son Chaudhry Shujaat, the politician, has further thriven in awesome manner. We can only hope that Shujaat is kite-flying and that the army is not really seriously contemplating a massive aberration and in line to organise his re-election and installation. We are moving in the right direction. Why go wrong again?