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Social activists at odds with religious scholars over blasphemy
* Thirteen out of 23 blasphemy cases registered against Muslims
By Nadia Usman
LAHORE: The country’s blasphemy law is a source of great contention between social scientists, human rights activists and Islamic scholars. The civil society activists opine that the blasphemy law is responsible for an increase in crime and discourage the use of the death sentence. The scholars, meanwhile, believe that the law is in accordance with Sharia and justifies extreme punishment. However, spokesmen of other religious believe that minorities in Pakistan are being unduly victimised in the name of blasphemy.
The following data has been taken from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)’s annual report for 2007. Twenty-three new cases were initiated on religious grounds and all of them, except three, were registered in the Punjab. More than 50 percent (13 out of 23) were against Muslims, four against Ahmadis, and six against Christians.
Against Muslims: The 13 cases registered against Muslims dealt with 17 people. All of them, except one, were reported from Punjab. One of the accused, charged with composing an objectionable book on a computer, was shot dead by a constable while in prison.
Four cases were registered against 23 Ahmadis (two in Punjab, two in Sindh). In one case, a man who had died three months earlier was accused of blasphemy. Ten Christians were charged in six blasphemy cases in 2007. All except one were registered in Punjab.
Activists: According to Lahore University of Management Sciences Dean Dr Khalid Waheed, the holy Quran and Hadith urge Muslims to be patient and ignore “such elements”. He said that a person who had committed blasphemy should be imprisoned and taught to realise that his or her actions were lamentable, rather than being sentenced to death.
Similarly, HRCP Director IA Rehman said: “We had never heard of anybody committing blasphemous acts except for isolated incidents that occurred once in a blue moon, but now, every now and then, we hear of blasphemy cases.” He said that the blasphemy law should be thoroughly reviewed, capital punishment should be abolished, and that the law should not apply to non-Muslims.
Advocate Anis AA Saadi, meanwhile, said that some clauses of Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code (dealing with offences relating to religion) were ambiguous and needed to be amended. He said that some people were misusing the law to settle personal scores.
Meanwhile, a Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya Saleemudin spokesman told Daily Times that the Ahmadiya sect was in ‘double trouble’ in Pakistan as they had been declared non-Muslims. Giving examples of cases registered against them, including writing Bismillah on wedding cards, he said such complaints were lodged against them under the blasphemy law because they were considered non-Muslims. “I can claim on record that not even a single case that has been registered against us in the name of blasphemy has been proven. Many cases were disposed of, as they could not prove anything against us,” he added.
Similarly, Inter-Religious Peace Council Chairwoman Jacqueline Tressler said that people seeking revenge fuelled most of the cases registered under the blasphemy law. She said the law should be re-formulated to provide equal protection to all religions. She quoted the desecration of a church in Defence, claiming that the incident had not been properly investigated. She said that a thorough investigation process should be devised for such crimes.
Religious scholars: Allama Muhammad Abbas Rizvi, a Shia scholar, said that the exact definition of blasphemy varied from sect to sect. He was of the opinion that there was no concept of imprisonment in Islam, adding that a person who was found guilty of blasphemy had become an apostate. He said the least punishment for apostasy was the death sentence.
Rizvi said that the law was applicable to all, including people of other religions, as long as they resided in an Islamic state. Referring to people misusing the law, he said that modern methods of establishing evidence should be used wherever possible.
Similarly, Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi, a Sunni scholar, said that Section 295-C — which refers to the use of derogatory remarks in respect of the holy Prophet (PBUH) — had been inducted into Pakistan’s legal system with great effort. He said that the law was in complete accordance with Sharia and anyone convicted of blasphemy against the prophet or holy book of any religion should be awarded the maximum punishment. “We want such laws to exist at the international level so that anyone who commits blasphemy can be given the harshest punishment,” he added.