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Blasphemy Law: Coming a full circle

Published Oct 14, 2011 07:37am


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It was bound to happen. When you have a vaguely worded law with so many loopholes, and a clergy hell bent on defining religion in asphyxiating, rigid boundaries, its supporters and enablers were bound to get scorched themselves. The law was eventually going to come and bite them in the back and that is exactly what happened two weeks ago.

According to the news story, a student of a religious seminary in Chakwal, Junaid Ahmad was arrested for being blasphemous. He was apparently seen burning pages of Quran a week ago, was beaten by a crowd and handed over to the police. Ironically, however, a shaken and frightened Junaid claimed that he was in reality disposing off Quran’s loose pages to save them from desecration.

The story behind Junaid’s action was simple enough. His teacher, who belongs to Tehrik Khuddam Ahl-i-Sunnat, had told him that burning Quranic pages was a legitimate way of disposing them along with putting them in flowing water (stream etc) and burying them. As he was unable to find the other two options, Junaid resorted to the third one. It was just his luck that the man who saw him as he set the pages on fire had heard from another cleric that burning the Quran amounted to desecrating it. What followed is an ominous reminder of sharply converging, and rigid, interpretations among various schools of religious thought.

Diversity, whether religious or cultural, is always a good thing. But here, this diversity of belief within sects and sub-sects is stamped with unflinching righteousness, intolerance, and violent knee-jerk reactions. Leaving the organised sectarianism between Shias and Sunnis aside, these widely varying interpretations in such an environment result in friction and veiled hatred towards other sects within one’s circle. In such a situation, incidents like the one in Chakwal are in reality a mere prelude to what can follow. One of the most obvious possibilities, while remaining within the ambit of law, is the misuse of the blasphemy law against those who are fanatically in favour of it.

This misuse has already started albeit it is infrequent at the moment. In January this year, an imam and his son from Dera Ghazi Khan were convicted for life for committing blasphemy. They were accused of ripping posters from outside their grocery shop which advertised an event to observe Eid Milad un Nabi (the birth and death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad). There was strong speculation that the issue was not of blasphemy but difference of belief. The Deobandi philosophy, to which the imam and his son prescribed, do not believe in commemorating such days. So where the incident might have simply been that of removing a poster from their personal property, it was forcefully catapulted in the sphere of intentional blasphemy.

The problem, boiled down to its essence, is this: In all this ritualistic madness, this manic obsession with the act rather than the intention behind it, these “men of faith” have lost the plot. And that is an under-statement. Here school girls are ostracised for misplacing a dot in a word. Doctors are locked up for throwing away a person’s visiting card who shared the prophet’s name. People are persecuted for greeting others in Arabic language. Supporters of blasphemy laws obsessively defend its need to deter people from taking the law in their own hands; but when a man defies this very logic and kills a sitting governor whom he had taken an oath to protect, they cheer and holler themselves hoarse in his support.

So far, most of the victims of these laws are minorities and those belonging to lower and lower-middle income groups. But it won’t remain the same forever. With ferocious intolerance being allowed to breed unchecked in our country, it was only a matter of time before the factions started using this law to target religious rivals at will.

Right now a broad spectrum of religious right is united in its defence of murderer Mumtaz Qadri. Their slogans, demonstrative of their tunnel-minded support for his actions, should be deafening alarm bells for the rest of us.

It is a matter of time before these stout believers, momentarily united in their hate against “liberal fascists”, turn on each other. With such varied interpretations of religion, how will the courts interpret criteria of blasphemy? Will they take the easiest way out and just continue sentencing people in the hope the High Courts will correct the injustice? Will these cowardly actions really serve as a long-term pre-emptive solution or will the religious factions soon interlock horns?

If there is a legal or public showdown between people of different beliefs, the result will be more bloody, brutal and long drawn out than we can imagine. With all sides equally sure of their virtue and willing to die or kill for it, there might not be anyone standing at the end.

On a sardonic note, that will work out just right for the rest of the country.

Bushra S is an editor based in Lahore and can be found conversing on twitter here.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (51) Closed

Huma Oct 14, 2011 01:11pm
Well said Bushra.
Talal Oct 14, 2011 01:26pm
Very well written. It's a shame that even properly educated Pakistanis are supporting the murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. Seeing things like this happen in Pakistan, I lose all hope for my country and countrymen.
Fahad Oct 14, 2011 01:34pm
Well worded and succinct :) Couldn't agree more with your analysis.
MAJ Oct 14, 2011 01:45pm
More power to your pen!
Kashif Oct 14, 2011 02:20pm
One of the best article, I must admire. It is a real threat to our society and sadly no one seem interested in resolving the conflicts emerging in our society. It would be good to read if you can propose a solution.
Tariq Oct 14, 2011 02:28pm
Day Dreaming i suppose.
brishkund Oct 14, 2011 02:28pm
well said but the problem is even educated people support these acts and are not ready to change...unless their is an awarness campain will take time but even the goverment is afraid as we know their is a soft corner for these groups in our agencies also
Imran Ali Sherwani Oct 14, 2011 02:29pm
As a writer Bushra u are doing great job. keep it high world deserve writers like you. God bless you.
Aftab Oct 14, 2011 02:30pm
Very eloquently put, Bushra. "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." - Martin Niemöller (German pastor on Nazis before the holocaust)
Saad Ahsan Oct 14, 2011 02:46pm
Its a very well written article and very well organized. but one should also emphasize on the importance of understanding Islam in its true spirit. We Muslims just cannot tolerate any nonsense regarding our Prophet PBUH, to do that we should follow HIS teachings
Rahul(PUNJAB) Oct 14, 2011 02:50pm
I think this is the consequences of making Islamic Republic...There should not include religion in politics...
Mridu Oct 14, 2011 03:10pm
First of all why you have such a law in a SO CALLED MODERN Islamic country?
Noor Oct 14, 2011 03:22pm
Bushra! I fail to understand whether an illiterate person having no access to knowledge of blasphemy, living in slum-like conditions and no education, deserves to be punished, or a person who is educated, knowledgeable, has all the comforts of life, much beyond necessity, possesses Quranic knowledge as well BUT behaves like an arrogant, denies rights of fellow citizens as well and does not practice as ordered by Quran, deserves such punishments! Please write something on this.
Dr Mazhar Hussain Oct 14, 2011 03:30pm
I urge muslims to follow the path of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the greatest man and leader history ever have. Please study his life, how kind and gentle, generous and peaceful he was. Just think what he did with the people who annoyed him, he forgave everyone so by implementing such laws you are destroying Islam. Islam means love, peace, harmony, brotherhood and humanity.
janab Oct 14, 2011 03:42pm
well said brother.i like your comments.
R C Desai Oct 14, 2011 03:43pm
It is good to know that the author has showm courage to discuss this topic!
changaiz haider Oct 14, 2011 03:55pm
OMG Oct 14, 2011 04:12pm
As one writer said,even educated people are in favour of these barberic Laws. Education doesn't just come from schooling, it is the ability to analyze one's knowledge in a rational and critical way and utilize it for the betterment of themselves and people around them!!!
Agha Ata Oct 14, 2011 05:42pm
Bushra, the last few lines are so close to your picture with a confident smile, that it makes your preceding statement so powerful. A tree is recognized by its fruit. The seed was sowed by General Zia, who sat in a narrow tunnel with a tiny speck of light in the end. That was his vision! Now I firmly believe that it is a job of journalists to let us know and warn us when another ZIA appears.
iqbal Khan Oct 14, 2011 06:19pm
Bushra - It takes lot of courage to write anything on this subject.May God keep you safe.
Dr. Boodhun Oct 14, 2011 06:24pm
Bushra: Very well written. Most likely less that 0.5 % of the Pakistani Muslims will benefit from your article. Since the majority of the Religious groups are now openly supporting the murderer, the difference between Truth and falsehood has been made manifest. I agree that time is not far when the fire will consume the ones whose intent were to burn others. Dr. Mohamed Boodhun Canada.
Nadeem Oct 14, 2011 07:13pm
The following Bulley Shah's poetry sums up the Pakistani mindset (translated in Urdu): Phar Phar kitabain Ilm ki toe tu ney naam rakh liya Qazi Hath mein pakar ke talwar toe tu ney naam rakh liya Ghazi Maka Madiney ghoom aaya toe tu ney naam rakh liya Haji O Bulley kiya haasil kiya jab tu ney Rub ko na rakha Razi
Rizwan Afridi Oct 14, 2011 09:50pm
I personally don't mind if they turn on one another. Let them reap what they sow. Besides, its hilarious when they use their petty logic against one another - AND, this way they might stop bugging minorities so much.
usman Oct 14, 2011 10:13pm
Well written article. I think we need to discuss whether the law requires any changes, or we need to change the procedures that lead to a misuse of the law. Our parliamentarians have a responsibility to address this issue . We cannot let innocent people suffer and also we need to improve our international image on implementation of such laws.
Owais Usman Oct 14, 2011 10:15pm
I would be more interested to see if these sort of articles are being published in any Urdu newspaper for all to understand in literal sense as I feel the message will not cross over
Waleed Oct 14, 2011 10:32pm
When we are going to hear from our liberal,enlightened and moderate bloggers about victimisation on anti.semitism charges??
Afzal Mir Oct 14, 2011 10:41pm
Bushra You expressed beautifully and with eloquence. I pray to Allah that He keeps you in His Amaan. You have done more service single handedly to the cause of Islam than all these fanatics.
khalid Oct 14, 2011 10:55pm
Very well written article.
Muzaffar Oct 14, 2011 11:21pm
Very well written Bushra. Please translate this article in Urdu and try to get it published in the main stream Urdu News Papers. That is the audience that is in desperate need to this kind of reading. Keep up the good work.
Ch Farooq Oct 14, 2011 11:28pm
Pakistan is being criticized by the whole world for its political and social evils. Narrow mindedness has become our way of life and we consider imposing our beliefs on others our duty. Perhaps we need our Mustafa Kamal!
indian Oct 14, 2011 11:51pm
hi do you guys publish this type of article in urdu?
Munnabhai99 Oct 15, 2011 01:58am
being litirate and being Educated are two different things my friend!!
ali Oct 15, 2011 02:17am
and punishment shld come from government of state not just any department or a sect.....
iqbal khan Oct 15, 2011 02:24am
when i was growing up in 60/70 i never thought a situation like this in my wildest dreams. imagine what we have done to this country as mullah will kill everyone in the name of religion eventually.
ronnie dsouza Oct 15, 2011 03:11am
very well put in, Mr. Aftab-how true
ronnie dsouza Oct 15, 2011 03:15am
I second it, what Mr. Imran Ali has said above. Good article, Ms. Bushra, keep up the good work and God bless you always, amen.
kj Oct 15, 2011 06:42am
I agree with Talal. The mindset specially in Punjab needs to be corrected as any violence in the name of religion in not considered a crime. By pleading the case of Mumtaz Qadri, the ex Chief Justice of LHC Mr. Khawaja Sharif might be thinking of paving his way for paradise which is his misconception. I wonder how a person of that high rank would think of pleading a case for a fanatic.
Mohammad Assad Oct 15, 2011 06:52am
Enough with blaming everything on Zia. he died more than 20 years ago. The mess that this country is in today is due to everyone else who came AFTER Zia.
Bhupinder Oct 15, 2011 07:34am
I would like my pakistani friends to enlighten me on this issue. As i understand pakistan is a democratic state. How does the govt justify imposing discriminatory laws that undermine minorities.
halen Oct 15, 2011 11:08am
humanity is supreme. when u can`t give life to one , who has given u the mandate 2 take away his religiously tolerant
Sachin Jain Oct 15, 2011 11:59am
Very well thought and written.
Raymond Mulak PhD Oct 15, 2011 12:09pm
It seems a country like Pakistan is going to spend a lifetime on issues like Kashmir and one upmanship in religion, i.e nit picking on trivialities. Nobody is keen to improve social welfare, infrastructure, education etc. So sad.
Sanity Oct 15, 2011 07:40pm
Dear Bhupinder, We are neither fully democratic nor theocratic state. We are somewhere in the middle, hence confused :(.
Sanity Oct 15, 2011 07:45pm
I agree with you. I am a non-muslim, but I have learned a lot from studying the life of prophet (P.B.U.H). Though, I would like to add unbiased study of other religions is also important to develop respect for other religion and create a tolerant society.
Hasan Oct 16, 2011 04:43am
Well if you want to say majority is on to it then you are probably right.
Amir Yaqub Oct 16, 2011 07:04am
@ Farooq: Chaudhry Sahib, you are right in the first half of your comment,derogation of Sovereign State by any means necessary n that is clear vindication of one's right to defend themselves, like "innocent till proven guilty". Now the Government normally being the "flag bearer" do this. Public could have played a big part in voting, but we both know what happens during elections, so I won't go there. We need to take stock of ourselves n the direction we are steering the country n most importantly our future generation. There is no sense of nation building at all in the last 64 years. We are still playing either caste cards or regionality cards, the day we all become Pakistani in every sense of the word is truly the dawn of new Pakistan. Education is s business in
Amir Yaqub Oct 16, 2011 07:41am
The law was introduced with a view to respect the religious figures (Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and his companions n Sufis without prejudice and according to the religious jurisprudence. The ethos behind the law is very clear n simple. It's the wording of the law or shall I say the interpretation of the law due to its loose (open ended) wording which is proving to be s challenge when either a case is registered with the Police or if registered then when tried in the court of law. Hope it helps to understand the complication of the existing situation which can only be resolved with the immediate review of the law by the concerned ministry involving all the different religious school of thoughts.
h. chu Oct 16, 2011 08:36am
Kudos to Bushra for her courage to write such an eloquent article. Islam is over 1500 years old and has yet to create a body that has the final authority to interpret the Sharia Law. It seems every Moulvi has the the legal right to interpret and give fatwas sans opposition.
Rachel Oct 16, 2011 01:18pm
Bushra, i am very proud of you for writing such an article. Very brave of you!! I wonder why such "blasphemous" acts never happen in any of the other Muslim countries.. Aren't they close to their religion? Don't they feel the same for Islam like our Pakistanis do? Why is it that every now and then we hear about blasphemous act only and only in Pakistan? And why is it that only in Pakistan people react the way they do each time?? And what about those people who blaspheme against other religions? Why aren't they ever taken to task??? I really wonder why.....
rajput indian Oct 18, 2011 07:52pm
dr Mazhar hussain you have a great thoughts , i like your comment, and article as well .
Baanwara Mann Oct 19, 2011 11:11pm
Hats off to you Basra!! It takes courage to stand up in the the whirlwinds. And you have shown the courage. Inshallah, may god bless you and make Pakistan a peaceful state