WHERE matters of dubious blasphemy charges are concerned, the role of many ulema in Pakistan has, unfortunately, not been a positive one. Instead of counselling restraint, overzealous preachers are often found to be egging on mobs baying for the blood of the accused, with often tragic consequences. However, the announcement by a group of ulema to support a female Christian employee of the Civil Aviation Authority against false blasphemy charges levelled by a co-worker is a welcome development. The woman was accosted by the male co-worker after she reportedly did not allow him access to a part of the Karachi airport as the man was in a vehicle without a number plate. To this ‘affront’, the man threatened to implicate the woman in a false blasphemy case. The brave officer must be commended for doing her job and not caving in to threats, while the individual responsible for making this false, incendiary accusation must face the law. He has already been suspended by the CAA. Meanwhile, Allama Ziaullah Sialvi representing the Ulema Amn Council of Pakistan has met the female officer involved and has assured her of full support.
The fact is that more ulema in the country need to show such courage when countering spurious blasphemy charges. There are far too many examples of how personal disputes are given a religious colour in this country, with those facing trumped-up blasphemy charges lucky to be still alive. The 2021 mob lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot is perhaps amongst the most infamous of such incidents, as the non-Muslim man was murdered on the basis of a similarly unsubstantiated claim. In other cases, unlettered individuals have been accused of writing blasphemous material. In the case of the incident at Karachi airport, the episode was luckily recorded to prove the patently false charges of the accuser. In other instances, where there is no such evidence, hearsay can become the basis for mobs to go on the rampage. This shows that where cases of alleged blasphemy are concerned there is much that we do not know regarding what actually transpired, but fanatics do not need proof of guilt to murder. As activists have pointed out, if there were strict punishments for those levelling false blasphemy charges, perhaps this disturbing trend could be contained, and many lives saved.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2023