Religious scholars and civil society members took to the streets on Sunday to oppose the expulsion of a Christian schoolgirl for misspelling the word ‘naat’.
They also demanded an inquiry into the actions of the school administration that had expelled the girl.
Faryal Bhatti, an eighth-grade student at Sir Syed Girls High School, POF Colony, Havelian, was accused of committing blasphemy when she miswrote the word ‘naat’ as ‘laanat’.
Faryal apologised for what she said was an inadvertent spelling error but she and her mother, a staff nurse at the POF Hospital, Havelian, were hauled up before the POF managing director, where it was decided that Faryal will be expelled and she and her family will have to vacate their residential quarters. The family has since moved to an unidentified location although Faryal’s mother has reportedly been transferred to POF Wah.
The Express Tribune has learnt that a SMS campaign has been launched against the family, throwing the dozen or so other Christian families living inside the colony into a state of panic.
“Although we have been living peacefully with the Muslim community for three decades, following this episode no one can say with any guarantee what they [Muslims of the area] are harbouring in their minds now,” said an elderly Christian man, on condition of anonymity.
Dr M Aslam Khaki, an advocate of the Supreme Court and a Juris Consult of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC), said that the FSC had clearly ruled in the Dr M Ismael Qureshi case that if the accused carried out his or her actions unintentionally then the act can be pardoned. He said that the FSC had ruled that the offence of blasphemy is Hadd and that there is a clear verdict by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) that the hadood must be spared if there is doubt. In this case, Khaki said, the doubt arose from the girl’s young age and the similarity between the two words.
Mufti Naeem of Jamia Naeemia, Karachi, and Allama Asghar Askari, president of the Punjab chapter of the Majlis-e-Wahdul Muslimeen both agreed that Faryal should be pardoned. Other religious scholars who came to the girl’s defence included Professor Sajid Mir, head of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith and Mufti Muhammad Khan Qadri, convenor of the Milli Majlis-e-Sharai.
Ziaul Haq Naqshbandi, a spokesperson of the Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz, blamed Faryal’s teacher for the incident. “The real culprit is the man who set this question paper for the Christian girl. If you are not taught Islam during your childhood then even a Muslim student can make such a mistake.”
Maulana Afzal Hyderi, secretary-general of the Wafaqul Madaris, was so disturbed by Faryal’s plight, he could only say, “What can we do in such circumstances? Prayer is our last resort.”
Executive director of the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, Ali Asghar Khan, the Sahara Development Foundation and others also condemned Faryal’s expuIsion.
(With additional reporting by Karamat Bhatty in Lahore and Azam Khan in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2011.