by Rayaz Ahmed
Pakistan’s estimated population is over 170 million making it the world’s sixth most-populous country, which consists of 96.3% of Muslims. Due to uncertainty overs Sharia law, there is almost lawlessness in many parts of the country and corruption has spread like cancer in every sector of society. Many religious and political assassinations have taken place in Pakistan since its birth in 1947, the most recent one was the murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province, on 4th January 2011. Taseer was shot in the back around nineteen times by one of his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri who, according to some religious scholars and general Pakistanis, was a religious extremist and belonged to a extremist Sufi organisation.
Governor Salman Taseer was accused by some Sufi Brelvi and Deobandi clerics of committing blasphemy by insulting the law of God calling it ‘’kala qanoon’’ a black law which is some kind of legal term meaning that the law has some flaws and needs to be reviewed and amended, and for meeting in prison with the forty five year old Christian woman, Aasia Bibi. Aasia is a mother of five who has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy Law by a sessions court in the Nankana Sahib district of Punjab. Taseer was also accused of taking a mercy petition to president Zardari which, of course, is a moral duty of any provincial governor or political figure to do on behalf of the citizen of their province regardless of religion. This mercy appeal process itself faced a setback when the Lahore High Court ruled that President Zardari could not legally pardon Aasia while her case is still before the courts — so what was the point in killing Salman Taseer? Aasia has been languishing in jail for over a year. A labourer and a resident of the Ittanwali village, she is reportedly the first woman to be sentenced to death for allegedly uttering blasphemous words against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) after a dispute with Muslim women labourers. Aasia Bibi has begged for mercy and pardon although, according to her interview, she was tricked into admitting committing blasphemy on the basis that she will be forgiven if she accepts the accusation.
However, an investigation by the National Commission on the Status of Women has pointed to the fact that the case was filed under pressure from local influential people, and was used to settle personal scores. Aasia’s family has said that they will “file an appeal against the sentencing”.
According to my personal research and after watching many interviews and lectures by Governor Salman Taseer, I could not find a single piece of evidence in which he intended to make any blasphemous remarks against the law or wanted the law to be abolished. In fact, he was all for the law but pointed out some defects which need to be amended. Due to the flaws in the blasphemy law people abuse it to settle personal scores and even many innocents Muslims have been convicted unjustly. It is so sad to see a nation which is supposed to be the most just is morally behaving in such unjust manner.
Some legal advisors and human rights activists suggest that the following amendments be made to the blasphemy law:
(1) To restore the concept of proving malicious intent, which is central to criminal law even in Pakistan, on behalf of the accused which the late Zia ul Haq had removed this clause in the blasphemy law, leaving them open to widespread abuse, placing the burden of proving innocence on the accused in the face of prosecution witnesses who tailored their evidence on prejudice or malice.
(2) To ensure that all blasphemy cases are tried in the high courts, although sessions courts may take cognizance. This is being done to prevent miscarriages of justice, because the higher courts, as we all know, afford judges better protection against extremists, as well as place the trial under higher public scrutiny.
(3) Most importantly, to make false accusations punishable under the law, this would take away the impunity afforded to malicious accusers and inciters to hate, whose victims may find acquittal but also find that their lives, reputations, security and mobility destroyed by such charges.
Finally, please also bear the following in mind:
(1) Where are the voices of those who instigated the killing of Salman Taseer and those human rights activists and non-Muslim religious leaders in the case of Aafia Siddiqui a Muslim woman, mother of three, who is unjustly sentenced to 86 years by American black law of the crusaders?
(2) Where were these highly loud voices of Muslim religious leaders and their followers who hail a Muslim for killing a Muslim Mumtaz Qadri a hero and comparing him with Ghazi Ilm Deen by ignoring the facts that what Ghazi Ilm Deen did was in a totally different scenario and in a different environment. The circumstances in that case were that an Islamophobic extremist Hindu person wrote a book Rangeela Rusool and in the time of colonialist British government there was no blasphemy law to protect Muslims. On the other hand, Salman Taseer was a Muslim Governor who did not commit any blasphemy but had personal views to amend certain parts of the law not abolish it. Where were these people at the time when Muslim youth — Butt Brothers — were murdered in cold blood in the streets of Sialkot in front of police and members of the public alike?
(3) There were and still are not any loud voices for innocent Muslims who are locked up in Guantanamo bay and are tortured, there is no one to hear their screams.
(4) If we assume that the Pakistani government, and the religious scholars who lead hundreds of thousands followers are themselves responsible for all other atrocities too, and if killing justifies their negligence then should they all be killed by people like Malik Mumtaz Qadri?
(5) What Governor Salman Taseer did and said in his speeches and interviews was all debatable issue not target to kill issue. Are these not religious duties responsibilities of Muslim leaders and their followers?
This list could be endless but I have just highlighted few high profile cases. They believe that there is a Blasphemy law in Pakistan that needs to be defended and that Salaam Taseer broke that law, so why did they not use the same law against him, instead of issuing a fatwa? According to their understanding of what he meant by “black law”, Salaam Taseer broke this law, the same law that they defend. It simply does not make sense. This is the same functioning law that they are defending, but at the same time they have broken it themselves. Then who is the blasphemer?
A mullah in Karachi put five laakh rupees reward on Aasia’s head if she is pardoned and released from jail, now, which part of Islam teaches this? Why the Pakistani government did not arrest that mullah and punish him for inciting murder? Just carelessness of Pakistani authorities!
For a moment, let us put aside these issues and talk about genuine religious scholars. First and most importantly, being religious leaders in their own communities, is it not their responsibility and duty to call for Sharia Law in Pakistan being a Muslim country? Why pick and choose what suits their own status and what will give them more adoration with their own followers? I am not a scholar, but can I remind them of the following:
“But if you pardon and exonerate and forgive, Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran, 64:14)
“But if someone is steadfast and forgives, that is the most resolute course to follow.” (Quran, 42:43)
For that reason, believers are forgiving, compassionate and tolerant people who “control their rage and pardon other people.” (Quran, 3:134)
And Allah knows best!
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