ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa has observed that courts must exercise extreme caution in matters of faith, saying facts always give way to emotions in dealing with offences against religion and individual complainants supplant the state.

He also cited Surah Al-Baqarah from the Holy Quran to emphasise that the Islamic faith expounds that there must not be any compulsion in religion. Religious compulsion also violates the divine scheme of accountability in the hereafter, CJP Isa obser­ved in a judgement he wrote.

He said that even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was told by Almighty Allah that he was required to only convey the message and should not compel people to believe, as stipulated in verses from Surah Ar-Ra’d and Surah Yunus.

“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion tempers flare up and the Quranic mandate is forsaken,” he regretted.

SC orders release of petitioner accused of distributing proscribed book

CJP Isa issued the judgement while heading a two-judge SC bench which had taken up a set of appeals moved by one Mubarak Ahmed Sami against a Lahore High Court order.

Petitioner Sami had sought deletion of certain charges in an FIR registered against him on Dec 6, 2022 at the Chenab Nagar police station in Chiniot district.

The petitioner was accused of distributing/disseminating a proscribed book, Tafseer-i-Sagheer, which, according to the prosecution, was an offence under the Punjab Holy Quran (Printing and Recording) (Amendment) Act enforced in 2021, whereas the FIR alleged that the petitioner had done this in 2019 when the distribution/dissemination of the proscribed book was not an offence.

“The petitioner could not have been charged for it,” the judgement explained, adding that the petitioner was not being treated in accordance with the law because, while waiting for the conclusion of his trial, he remained imprisoned for a period much longer than what he could have been punished for if he was found guilty.

The petitioner was arrested on Jan 7, 2023 and remained incarcerated for 13 months — more than double the permissible punishment under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932.

The Supreme Court set aside the impugned orders and ordered immediate release of the petitioner upon provision of a personal bond in the sum of Rs5,000.

Moreover, the charge was framed on June 24, 2023 by an additional sessions judge to the extent of charging the petitioner for the offences under Sections 298-C and 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code.

“The Holy Quran requires that all matters of significance should be pondered over and reflected upon Surah An-Nahl (chapter 16), verse 44 and Surah Yunus (chapter 10), verse 24,” the judgement observed, adding that all those concerned with this case should have done so; instead they were eager to demonstrate that the Holy Quran was desecrated and that Prophet Muhammad was denigrated.

They should also have considered verse 9 of Surah al-Hijr (chapter 15) where Allah says, “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it.”

The verdict observed that the principle of there being no compulsion in religion mentioned in the Holy Quran is enshrined in the Constitution as a fundamental right. Clause (a) of Article 20 of the Constitution stipulates that “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion”, while clause (b) of Article 20 states that “every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”.

Article 22 of the Constitution requires and prescribes that “no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any educational institution maintained wholly by that community or denomination”.

“These fundamental rights cannot be derogated from, circumvented or diluted. If only the functionaries of the state had heeded the Holy Quran, considered the Constitution and examined the law then the FIR would not have been registered,” the judgement observed.

The court regretted that bail was declined to the petitioner by the additional sessions judge on June 10 last year, without considering that the petitioner had already served out the maximum prescribed imprisonment for these offence. The high court also dismissed the petitioner’s bail application by overlooking this crucially important aspect of the case, it added.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2024

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