Senators decry ‘ignorance’ after woman in Arabic print shirt saved from mob in Lahore

Published February 27, 2024
The combo photo shows Senators Rubina Khali and Faisal Subzwari during a session of the Upper House of the Parliament on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
The combo photo shows Senators Rubina Khali and Faisal Subzwari during a session of the Upper House of the Parliament on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

Senators on Tuesday called for strict action against those levelling “false allegations” of blasphemy and decried “ignorance” after a young woman wearing a shirt with Arabic calligraphy was saved from a mob attack in Lahore.

On Sunday afternoon, a mob had gathered outside a shop in Lahore’s crowded Ichra Bazaar after someone alleged that a woman’s shirt had Quranic verses printed on it. The charged zealots insisted on a “blasphemy” charge.

A video clip on social media showed the girl hiding in a shop and shivering with fear. Sensing the sensitivity of the issue, some police officials present at the site called in their higher-ups.

Subsequently, a police team led by Gulberg Circle Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Syeda Shehr Bano Naqvi engaged the crowd, took the woman into protective custody and shifted her to the police station amid heightened security measures. Later in the day, a video showing the woman apologising alongside religious scholars emerged.

Today, the upper house of Parliament echoed with criticism of the incident.

PPP Senator Rubina Khalid said that it was “utter ignorance” that some people could not differentiate between Quranic verses and Arabic letters. “If the police had not reached on time the inciteful mob would have done something worse,” she said.

“We need to think about where we are heading. There should be a debate on this,” she demanded.

The senator also took exception to the woman’s “forceful apology”. The same day the incident was reported, a video had emerged of the young woman apologising for her outfit.

“Why was she made to record a public apology for something she didn’t do?” the senator asked.

Rubina added that the shirt the woman was wearing belonged to a brand based in Saudi Arabia. “It is fine there, but here women are harassed in the name of religion.

“We are all Muslims and are proud of it […] but there is a huge difference between an ignorant and a Muslim,” the senator said.

Meanwhile, MQM-P Senator Faisal Subzwari said: “What kind of a Muslim is someone who cannot identify between a Quranic verse and a simple Arabic word? And what kind of a Muslim is someone who, despite knowing how to read Arabic, makes false accusations against someone?”

He stressed that using religion to level false allegations was the worst form of disrespect. “This is a huge problem, I wish the House could have completed legislation over the misuse of blasphemy laws,” said Subzwari.

“Who is at fault here? Who is defaming the religion? Is it that woman or is it the people who despite reading the letters [on her shirt] falsely accused her?” he asked.

The MQM-P senator further stated that every person was fearful of speaking in public today. “What kind of a picture are we presenting of a religion that represents peace and love?” he asked.

“Every Muslim, not just religious scholars, has the right to speak about the religion they follow,” Subzwari concluded.

‘Confusion and miscommunication’

Speaking to the media a day earlier, ASP Shehr Bano had stated that the situation in Lahore had emerged due to “confusion and miscommunication”.

“At 1:30pm, we received a call that a blasphemous act took place near Pakistan Chowk in the jurisdiction of Ichra,” she said. “The caller chose to stay anonymous and just mentioned that a woman was wearing a dress with calligraphy that, God forbid, seemed to be Quranic verses.”

Upon arriving at the scene, a charged mob had gathered around the shop where the woman was, she said. “There, it emerged that the woman was very scared and the mob was religiously charged,” the ASP said.

“At that time, our survival instinct kicked in that we need to get the woman out of here. We arranged a burqa, covered her face and told people not to take the law into their hands,” she said, adding that the mob was informed about the concept of verification in Islam and assured that prompt action would be taken if a blasphemous incident had taken place.

The official explained that the entire incident began when a man in the locality went up to the woman — who was in the shop along with her husband — and told her to change her clothes. “The woman asked why should she change and during that heated argument, considering it a religious matter, people started gathering.

“So the situation unfolded because of mere confusion, miscommunication, lack of verification and playing on mob psychology,” Shehr Bano added.

She further said that the video of the woman apologising was filmed with “consent” and was important for the long-term safety of the woman.

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