Willing to review blasphemy laws, says CII chief

Published January 28, 2016
Muhammad Khan Sherani said he is willing to review the blasphemy laws to decide if they are Islamic. —Reuters
Muhammad Khan Sherani said he is willing to review the blasphemy laws to decide if they are Islamic. —Reuters

ISLAMABAD: The head of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Muhammad Khan Sherani, on Thursday said he is willing to review blasphemy laws – that critics say are regularly misused and have led to the deaths of hundreds – to decide if they are Islamic.

The CII is a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam.

Religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism in relation to Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.

Related: Call for improvements in blasphemy law not objectionable: SC

Sherani told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.

“The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue,” Sherani said in an interview at his office close to the Parliament in Islamabad.

“Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened,” Sherani, dressed in a traditional black robe, said.

Sherani, who has hit the headlines in recent weeks after his council obstructed a bill to deter child marriages, did not disclose his own position.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws mandate the death penalty, although no sentence has been carried out. Critics say the law is abused in poor, rural areas by people falsely accusing rivals in order to settle personal scores.

Presenting evidence in court can be considered a new infringement, so judges are reluctant to hear cases.

Those acquitted have often been lynched.

Salman Taseer, a prominent liberal politician, was killed by his own bodyguard in 2011 after he had championed the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death under the law.

Child marriage

Sherani, a member of Parliament representing the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam – Fazl, for some embodies the country's struggle to balance modern, democratic ideals with pleasing conservative religious bodies demanding the imposition of strict Islamic law.

In recent years, his 54-year old council has ruled DNA cannot be used as primary evidence in rape cases, and supported a law that requires a woman alleging rape to get four male witnesses to testify in court before a case is heard.

His members' decision this month to block a bill to impose harsher penalties for marrying off girls as young as eight or nine has angered human rights activists.

Senators have since debated whether the council, in its current form, is right for the modern democratic Pakistan that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said his country must represent.

Sherani, head of the council since 2010, defended its recommendations, saying it was his job, as mandated by the Constitution, to ensure the laws of the land were in line with Islam. The council's advice is not binding.

“The state should only be concerned up until a point with the question of marriage,” he said.

“After reaching the age of maturity (puberty), the child has the right to reject a union.”

Three per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before they turn 15 and 21 per cent before age 18, according to Unicef.

Sherani said there were many un-Islamic laws on the statute book that he was advising the government to overturn, including presidential pardons for a murderer.

Many of Pakistan's problems, including violence against religious minorities, were the result of the government failing to be sufficiently Islamic and instead pandering to the West, he said.

“Pakistan's present government is a defender of the interests of the West,” Sherani said. “Don't equate what the government thinks to what Islam is.”

Opinion

Editorial

Updated 21 May, 2022

Band-aid measure

A more pronounced impact would have been possible had the cap on energy prices been removed.
21 May, 2022

Bilawal’s defence

BILAWAL Bhutto-Zardari’s robust defence at the UN headquarters of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Feb 24 trip...
21 May, 2022

Yasin Malik’s conviction

THE conviction of veteran Kashmiri freedom fighter and head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Yasin Malik by an...
Updated 20 May, 2022

TTP peace talks

ANOTHER attempt to sue for peace with the outlawed TTP is being made, again facilitated by the Afghan Taliban that...
20 May, 2022

Beyond the law

THE senior judiciary should take care not to overreach in its zeal to ‘fix’ issues it ideally need not worry...
20 May, 2022

Political musical chairs

YET another political crisis is brewing in Balochistan, where old rivals Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and Sardar Yar...