CII on blasphemy

Published February 26, 2022

FOR a change, the Council of Islamic Ideology has taken a position that no one with either a religious or secular mindset should find controversial. On Wednesday, following a meeting presided over by its chairman, Qibla Ayaz, and attended by 17 religious scholars, the statutory body issued a statement to say that violence against anyone on allegations of blasphemy is “inhuman and contrary to Islamic principles”.

It called for expeditious legal proceedings against those guilty of lynching Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara in December last year in Sialkot over allegations of blasphemy. The horrific murder, in which a mob beat the victim to death and set his body on fire, laid bare on the international stage the simmering issue of religiously inspired violence in the country which intermittently claims Pakistani lives. Perhaps it was the glare of this global spotlight, and the negative consequences that could ensue from it, which prompted the CII to issue a statement that would have been equally relevant much earlier.

Violence stemming from blasphemy allegations is nothing new in the country. It has targeted non-Muslims disproportionately, and not even spared the mentally handicapped. In fact, the very first lynching on this count after Mr Kumara’s murder was that of a man in Khanewel who was known to suffer from mental health problems.

However, the remedy suggested by the CII to address such bestial violence — the constitution of a national commission to make recommendations for preventing such incidents — is a superficial one, Band-Aid for a cancer that has metastasized. The problem is far too deep-seated to be resolved by a group of experts in law, sociology and psychology.

Many opportunities to address religious extremism in the country have been squandered because it required taking difficult decisions and the resolve to stand by them. In fact, we have regressed. The state has ‘mainstreamed’ an ultra-right group that is at the vanguard of the murderous witch-hunt against alleged blasphemers. In any case, the government should not look to the CII for remedies.

More often not, the body has issued extremely controversial statements in the past. For example, it has said there should be no minimum age for marriage and that DNA should not be considered primary evidence in rape cases, not to mention rejected any meaningful legislation on domestic violence. The fact is, through this platform, ultra conservative unelected elements can, with a single statement, dilute or derail progressive legislation.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2022

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