Blasphemy law and lack of moral courage

Published: December 20, 2010
Political and religious opposition not to alleviate suffering of people victimised by blasphemy law.

Political and religious opposition not to alleviate suffering of people victimised by blasphemy law.

There is news that the Gilani government in Islamabad might lean on an old Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) recommendation on the ‘humanising’ of the blasphemy law to prevent victimisation of innocent Pakistanis under it. The CII report, unearthed in the ministry for religious affairs, says the government could put in place certain procedural routines to prevent the abuse of the law by a society increasingly vulnerable to religious extremism.

The report says there should be a pre-FIR investigation by the police every time someone is accused of blasphemy; concrete evidence must be demanded and accused persons provided with legal defence; a ‘first class’ magistrate should supervise the police investigation prior to advising the registration of the FIR; and after the FIR is registered, the case must go directly to the High Court of the province.

The government is under pressure from the phalanx of political and religious opposition to not do anything to alleviate the suffering of the people victimised by the blasphemy law. The political parties are quiet, some of them having actually helped stiffen the law into its present diabolical shape, especially Section 295-C which awards the minimum punishment of death without ascertaining whether blasphemy has occurred by intent or unintentionally. The clergy is out in the streets scaring off politicians by adding xenophobia to their campaign in favour of retaining the law, saying ‘foreign masters’ are dictating the government.

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer had the moral courage to come to the help of an illiterate Christian woman accused of blasphemy. But he was taken aback by the backlash he has received from clerics and by the rejection of his humane gesture by the PPP federal law minister. President Asif Ali Zardari will not pardon the Christian woman as Mr Taseer mistakenly thought; and no one will even think of smuggling the poor woman out of the country.

The CII recommendation says nothing new and we don’t know how old the recommendation is. We do know that in the early 1990s, the PPP and PML-N both tried to water down the extremism of the blasphemy law without much success. The police did not carry out the new routines, blaming public pressure.

The Lahore High Court has shown bias in favour of the law rather than correcting the abuses that happen because of it. The present High Court has stayed the president from granting pardon to the latest victim, but a retired judge of the High Court Justice (retd) Nazir Akhtar has given a statement in favour of the dreaded law to confirm the bias of the conservative judiciary in Pakistan. As a sitting judge of the Lahore High Court, he used to tell people at social gatherings that they should kill the blasphemer instead of invoking the law against him.

Will the new CII, under Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the JUI-F, supinely accept the old recommendations, even as the JUI-F hits the streets together with the old MMA parties to oust the PPP government through a violent campaign in favour of the blasphemy law? Some members of the old CII were cowed by clerical reaction and one had actually left it under pressure from mounting extremism. It is not likely that the new members will support even procedural changes, especially as Maulana Faqir Muhammad of the Bajaur Taliban, a close ally of al Qaeda, has sworn to get even with the supporters of the anti-blasphemy law opinion in Pakistan.

Moral courage has vanished in an environment of intimidation. The conservative man in Pakistan has become more outspoken and more extreme; the moderates have looked at the battlefield and, seeing it bristling with odds against them, have bowed out of the contest of ideas. The debate is clearly bifurcated. It has not even started in Urdu. In English, it is getting nowhere because of the idiom’s lack of influence on national thinking.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2010.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (15)

  • Zubair+Torwali
    Dec 20, 2010 - 11:15PM

    Wow!! a sane voice among the mess and odds. I hope the other dailies should follow Tribune.Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Dec 20, 2010 - 11:54PM

    Strange times we live in. To follow the foot steps of the Holy Prophet (saw) we need moral courage? The Holy Prophet (saw) never punished anyone for blasphemy alone. Recommend

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Dec 21, 2010 - 9:32AM

    Blasphemy Laws and War On Terror has now become “Bread & Butter” issue and “Survival Issue” for some parties. Tolerance is on its lowest level in our country and it is all due to education level and proxy teachings in our text books. We only learn that we are “We” and “Us” are us and rest is all nonsense. The day we will start knowing the “Others” as well the whole mindset will be “Balanced”. Let us get out of this assumption and move forward with balanced approach. China, Japan and scores of other countries are neither Muslims or Christians but are still better than us from all angles, standards and governance. Time to ponder upon folks.Recommend

  • Reza Khan
    Dec 21, 2010 - 10:14AM

    Is it blasphemous to suggest the repeal of Section 295-C? Recommend

  • Bala-G-Thakry
    Dec 21, 2010 - 10:43AM

    You people are living in fool’s paradise. No one can change this law period.Recommend

  • Dec 21, 2010 - 1:28PM

    Between the army and clergy, the common man has very little room to have his voice heard. The English speaking Pakistani has a non-existent platform – the only big money to be made is writing books given that the world is fascinated with Pakistan.

    The army gave away part of its cherished Kashmir to China and yet not one person even in the English speaking part of Pakstan is disturbed by that news. The army’s power to manipulate public opinion should not be underestimated. I dont believe anyone protested the government’s stance of not participating in the Nobel peace prize ceremony.

    Amir Liaqat has been spearheading a movement on televison against any change in the blashphemy law – with a diabolical smile he says that death is the only punishment for Tauheen-e-risalat (hope I got that right).

    For all your well-meaning editorials – change will not come anytime soon. Recommend

  • Angelos
    Dec 21, 2010 - 1:44PM

    @M M Malik
    read Islamic History before you say Prophet didnt punished anyone of blasphemy. References can be found in the book of Ibn Tamiyah.

    If CII report is followed, it will be a major step forward in stopping the abuse of this law. As far as Christian woman is concerned, if she has done Blasphemy they she should be prosecuted , If court says she has not, then no harm shall be brought to her period. Pardoning etc are out of question. Recommend

  • Shakil+Ahmed
    Dec 21, 2010 - 2:45PM

    @ Mr. Malik; You are having wrong knowledge! Prophet Peace Be Upon Him Ordered to Kill such person even if he is attached with Gilaf -e- Kaba. Go out to some Scholor and get the right information.

    Additionally, when we plan to build our house we do not go to Doctor but Engineer and Builders so the same way when we have some query about Islam we shall go to Scholors instead of “Polititions”.

    Best Regards
    Shakil AhmedRecommend

  • Umayr Masud
    Dec 21, 2010 - 6:02PM

    Dear Shakil, Blasphemy has been defined along with Apostasy(riddah) in Islam. Plus Dhimmi’s are to be treated differently as per the fiqh. Further more in ISLAM women who commit blasphemy (being a muslim) are not to be killed anyway. Do check what is actually ordered in Islam. Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar
    Dec 21, 2010 - 6:08PM

    @shakil…yeah but if you are sick….you will go to a doc…but you’d really want to avoid going to harold shipman right?….Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Dec 21, 2010 - 6:33PM

    In Islam there is no punishment for blasphemy or apostasy. There is no compulsion in religion. Scholars who say the opposite are misguided. Recommend

  • Umar khaliq
    Dec 21, 2010 - 6:38PM

    I agree with writer that government should atleast go for procedural change it will save citizens to some extent from being punished injustly for the crime the didn’t done or unintentionaly doneRecommend

  • Mubarak
    Dec 21, 2010 - 8:50PM

    Pakistani Mullah’s Islam is like rat trap. Rat has the option to enter the trap but does not have option to come out alive. It is one way street, sorry for those who have already entered this rat trap.Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2010 - 6:44AM

    “In islam there is no punishment for blasphemy or apostasy”

    WTF?? It must be great to have your cake and eat it too.Recommend

  • A.Q
    Dec 24, 2010 - 8:35PM

    We, Muslims, are blessed with the Book that has answer to everything. Let’s open up our Holy Quran and see what it says about Blasphemy, according to Quran it is not an offence for which the death penalty is given. NOT AT ALL. So all Muslim should look at Our Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, as their role model. He was forced to migrate from Mecca, Ten years later The Prophet of God, returned to Mecca as victories but what was his action, The Prophet of God, showed the World that he is by all mean what God said about him in Holy Quran, he prohibited any bloodshed and he forgave them all. This was not just one incident, this was the attitude Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, had throughout his life.
    As far as one’s religious belief, everyone is answerable to God, Allah clear that in the first chapter of the Holy Quran no human has a right to punish others on the basis of their belief. Islam is a religion that was spread through love not hatred, if we are true follower of Islam our action should be to leave God’s matter in the hand of God, and just read and understand our Holy Quran and fallow the footstep of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, Peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, so we can be among those whom Allah bestowed his favours.Recommend

More in Editorial