A clergy above the law

Published: December 5, 2010
Maulana Yousef Qureshi (R) addresses a rally in Peshawar, the hardline, pro-Taliban cleric offered a reward  for anyone who kills Aasia Bibi. PHOTO: REUTERS

Maulana Yousef Qureshi (R) addresses a rally in Peshawar, the hardline, pro-Taliban cleric offered a reward for anyone who kills Aasia Bibi. PHOTO: REUTERS

A cleric in Peshawar has offered Rs500,000 to anyone who will kill a Christian brick-kiln labourer, Aasia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy by a district court. Maulana Yousaf Qureshi of Peshawar’s famous Mahabat Khan Mosque is outraged that some people are talking of letting the accused go free and repealing or amending or procedurally correcting the law that has terrorised minorities in Pakistan and has become a global index of intolerance of the Pakistani state.

It is a measure of the fanatic excess of the said Yousaf Qureshi that he should encourage all citizens to kill with the blandishment of money, reducing Muslims to paid killers while the process of law is unfolding in the case of Aasia Bibi. Confirming fears that some Pakistani clergy is interfacing with terrorists, he has called on the “mujahideen and Taliban” to kill her, probably knowing that the ferocious terrorist of Bajaur, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, had already made a statement to that effect earlier.

Maulana Qureshi belongs to the Deobandi seminary of Jamia Ashrafia that arose as one of the powerful sectarian madrassas under the patronage of General Zia in the 1980s, even issuing a fatwa against the Shia during the rise of Sipah-e-Sahaba in the country. Qureshi says: “No president, no parliament and no government has the right to interfere in the tenets of Islam.” But the fact is that it is parliament that has made the law, and since parliament is subject to human folly it is equally subject to correction.

What is wrong with the blasphemy law? Simply, it does not accord with the idea of universal justice in so far as it places the burden of proof on the accused. The part of Article 295-C most prone to misuse is where it says that the offender shall be punished if he insults the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) “by words either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly”. The official interpretation of the Article lays down further that insult offered to any of the Prophets mentioned in the Holy Quran would also attract the death penalty.

In the case of Aasia Bibi, mitigation was present but was not allowed. The Christian woman was extremely poor, possessed minimal consciousness, and not literate enough to understand what was happening to her. A higher court may soon decide that mitigation was present but was ignored by the district court for various reasons. In many past cases, the lower courts were seen to be under pressure from extremist clerics present inside and outside the court. No one has ever been hanged for blasphemy in Pakistan. Judicially speaking, no one has committed blasphemy in Pakistan since the coming into force of this law. But innocent people have been made to suffer.

A ‘larger bench’ of the Lahore High Court in 2002 observed that “blasphemy cases had increased in recent times and were increasingly defective in evidence.” The court asked the police to get blasphemy investigated by at least two gazetted officers, to prevent the lowly functionaries of the police station, like the ‘muharrir’, to register a blasphemy case.

Nothing has changed since 2002 except that the power of the clergy in the face of a weakened state has increased. Terrorism has weakened the writ of the state and the vulnerable sections of the population are at the mercy of those who would use Islam to satisfy their urge to use violence. Not always conscious of the reasons behind the weakening of the state, we often point to the rise of extremism in the country. Extremism cannot take root unless the state that dispenses justice is weak.

And why has the state become weak? Because it has allowed multiple centres of power to emerge through the practice of proxy jihad. The state was attracted to the use of non-state actors because its nationalism mandated it to fight unequal enemies. Wiser ways of overcoming the superior enemy, like making rapid progress in education and achieving high economic development, were ignored by an establishment dominated by military thinking. One can only hope that this will change soon.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • aa
    Dec 5, 2010 - 3:18AM

    where is sanity?Recommend

  • Yasir
    Dec 5, 2010 - 4:05AM

    I am waiting the esteemed judges of azad adliyya to take suo motu over this challenge to the azad adliyya’s sole right to decide who gets to be punished. I am sure azad adliyya will exercise its writ over this maulana….then I woke up.Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Dec 5, 2010 - 8:27AM

    Everyone know whats wrong with the blasphemy law. This law is like a weapon. If you don’t like anyone, specially if he is a non-muslim, you can pick up a couple other relatives and give a verdict to the Police that he or she has committed blasphemy. The police will put the person in jail and this is a non bailable offense. Maybe over the next 10 years you are acquitted by a more rational judge but by that time you have lost your sanity. Also, once you are released that is a very high probability that you will be killed by a fascist mob; most probably right infront of the Police.Recommend

  • farooq soomro
    Dec 5, 2010 - 9:11AM

    in our country being educated is equated with having degrees by rattafication,no matter if the attitudes,values & beliefs are still those of the barbarians.Why does the majority of our population go mad & think islam is under threat just because a woman said something.
    Do we have to behave like brain dead zombies filled with hate & vengeance whenever someone says something that is contrary to our belief systems.
    our tv channels promote this intolerance & bigotry through their selfrighteous anchors,who sit in judgement on others & declare fatwas on who’s a good muslim & who’s not.the public needs to stand up against these rightwing fanatics who’re imposing bigotry,homophobia & misogyny in the minds of impressionable ppl.Recommend

  • SharifL
    Dec 5, 2010 - 12:34PM

    Anybody threatening to kill anybody, or asking others to do, is against law. This man should be arrested and tried for incitement to murder. I am surprised SC chief is silent. Are we all scared of zealots? Is it not shame?Recommend

  • parvez
    Dec 5, 2010 - 12:47PM

    A very balanced write up.Recommend

  • Talha
    Dec 5, 2010 - 6:29PM

    The state is cautious and fearful of the clergy, after all it is only the establishment that made them above the law.Recommend

  • Akhtar
    Dec 5, 2010 - 9:42PM

    Dear sir supreme court is onlyintersted to take suo moto if it thinks it can get at the government and what have so for hudreds of such actions achieved
    Pakistai mullas have brought disrepute to Islam .they think by living in state ov pakistan they ate not answerable tp any o e who will stop them Poltocal parties support them in the hope that when they win they will transfer the power to likes of Ji Jui Imran khan etc . How wrong they areRecommend

  • Haji
    Dec 5, 2010 - 10:21PM

    Anyones seen this ?

    Unfortunately, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi or others like him DONT read Express Tribune, The News or Dawn.

    I hope CJP does !Recommend

  • mateen saeed
    Dec 6, 2010 - 12:42AM

    Collectively we are all Zoombies helplessly listening bloodthristy non-sense clergymen, spineless enough to say anything even if they are cold-bloodly killing an innocent.Recommend

  • Ibrahim
    Dec 6, 2010 - 12:46AM

    SharifL is right. Knowingly making a false accusation when the penalty of death is well known to be applicable is committing murder and using the state as the murder weapon. If the blasphemy law will not be repealed, then there should be a penalty on those who are proven to have used it falsely – if the blasphemy accusation is proven false, then the accuser is put to death.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 6, 2010 - 4:00PM

    I bet the Chief Justice of Pakistan will not take Suo Moto notice of this man. Recommend

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