VIEW: Blasphemy law must be repealed —Mashal Sahir - Friday, November 26, 2010

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The way the blasphemy law operates in our country is an insult to humanity, where people are free to kill others in order to settle personal scores or simply to prove their superiority by using their ‘religious obligations’ to justify their actions

By definition, a law is a body of rules governing the affairs of a community and is meant to ensure social order and justice. However, in Pakistan, a law should be redefined as a body of rules governing the affairs of a community meant to intimidate the weak, facilitate vested interests, and benefit those in power. The Blasphemy Law is a perfect example of this redefinition. It defies the very purpose of the law, which is to provide justice to all.

Blasphemy is irreverence towards holy personages, religious artefacts, customs and beliefs. This law has been codified in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), particularly Section 295. Although, according to Article 45 of the constitution, the president has the power to grant pardon and suspend any sentence passed by any court or other authority, those accused of blasphemy are invariably subjected to harassment, threats, and attacks by extremist elements. Between 1988 and 2005, 647 people have been charged with offences under the blasphemy laws. Fifty percent of the people charged were non-Muslim. Twenty of them were murdered soon after the charge was laid. Sadly, even those who are acquitted of blasphemy by a court usually go into hiding or leave Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the purported purpose of the blasphemy law is to punish anybody who offends society’s religious sentiments. However, the fact is that the provisions of this law are being misused to victimise and intimidate weak individuals or opponents. A Christian woman named Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district and sessions court after a year long trial on accusations of blasphemy filed by Muslim villagers of Ittanwali. Aasia Bibi has repeatedly denied committing blasphemy and there is a growing perception that she has been accused of blasphemy to settle scores in a dispute over livestock with her neighbours. On January 28, 2009, the police in Punjab arrested five Ahmedis. The accusation against them was that they wrote ‘Prophet Mohammad’ (PBUH) on the wall of a toilet in a Sunni mosque. The senior superintendent of police investigated and reported to the ministry of interior that the accusation was baseless. These cases are a clear proof of how the blasphemy law is being misused to punish opponents or harass minorities.

Most frequently, the blasphemy law is misused for vested interests. Imran Latif, 22, was accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran in a case registered at the Sherakot Police Station and spent five months in jail. He was released on bail on November 3. Later, two armed men approached him at his house and asked him to accompany them, killing him just a few yards away from his house. Latif’s brother suspected that a man named Ijaz Ahmed, who had a dispute with his brother over the ownership of a shop, had had Latif killed. The way the blasphemy law operates in our country is an insult to humanity, where people are free to kill others in order to settle personal scores or simply to prove their superiority by using their ‘religious obligations’ to justify their actions. The blasphemy law is flawed in the sense that it allows people to misuse it in their interest.

There may also be actual instances of perceived blasphemy. If anybody comments negatively about their religion, Pakistanis tend to see it as a threat and therefore when they punish the blasphemer, they believe they are doing so to protect their religion. Islam is a religion of mercy and forgiveness. The Prophet’s (PBUH) entire life is a remarkable example of mercy. Even on the eve of the conquest of Makkah, he forgave all his enemies and refused to punish anybody who had sought his forgiveness. However, when Jyllands-Posten’s Mohammad (PBUH) cartoons were published in Denmark, we, his followers, chose to protest violently against this act, which ‘disrespected’ our Prophet (PBUH). Who do we think we are, defending a man of his great stature? Do we really believe that merely by drawing some amateur cartoons, somebody can disgrace a person who changed the course of history?

Furthermore, if we really care to read the Quran, it clearly proves that God Almighty has taken upon Himself the responsibility of protecting His religion. Surah Al-Feel of the Holy Quran is an account of how the Almighty saved his House (Kaa’ba) from an army of elephants under the command of Abrahah Al-Ashram. Why, then, are we constantly trying to act like the guardians or protectors of the faith?

Somehow Pakistanis have been made to believe that Pakistan was created solely for religious purposes and it is their foremost duty to safeguard the true faith from all ‘evils’. In reality, however, Pakistan was created for socio-economic reasons as is obvious from Mr Jinnah’s presidential address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, where he said, “If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.” It becomes evident that Pakistan was initially meant to be a secular state and not an ‘Islamic’ republic when Jinnah says, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” However, soon after independence, Jamaat-e-Islami made the achievement of an ‘Islamic’ constitution its central goal. Eventually, in 1956, Pakistan was declared an Islamic Republic. It was later in 1977, during Ziaul Haq’s martial law, that Pakistan was ‘Islamised’ with the promulgation of Hudood Ordinances and the establishment of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC), which rules on whether any particular law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. The FSC is responsible for ruling the blasphemy law as not repugnant to Islam.

Clearly, Jinnah had envisioned a different Pakistan, but we lost track and turned this ‘supposed-to-be-secular-nation’ into an Islamic republic and the visionary revolutionist Jinnah into a maulvi. The only way for Pakistan to achieve stability is by reverting to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan and moving towards a secular nation in the long run. A good step would be to repeal obscene laws such as the blasphemy law.

The writer is a staff member. She can be reached at

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