blasphemy Islam In Pakistan, people can be charged for blasphemy under section 295 A, B, C and 505 of Pakistan Penal Code. Recent events of blasphemy cases in Pakistan once again raised the issue of blasphemy and prompted that it must be discussed openly whether or not Blasphemy is an Islamic concept. Blasphemy laws severely misused in the past. One such tragic case was that of Gul Masih who was sentenced to death in 1992 for allegedly passing a remark on Prophet Mohammed. In a more recent case, Munawar Mohsin, a sub-editor of the Frontier Post was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of PKR 50,000 on July 2003, for publishing a letter to the editor titled “Why Muslims Hate Jews”, which contained allegedly derogatory references to Prophet Mohammad. Most recently, an accused in a blasphemy who had been released on bail was killed on 06.09.2003 in Kasur. In another instance, a Lahore shoemaker also attracted charges under the blasphemy law in Lahore. And in one of the most celebrated cases in the country, which attracted international attention, a medical lecturer in Rawalpindi, Younus Shaikh, was sentenced to death in 2001. Hussain (daily News 21.05.2000) indicates that many lawyers fear to take up blasphemy cases and the fear in solicitors escalated when Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of Lahore High Court in 1997, for he acquitted two persons charged for blasphemy.

At the root of the problem is a small segment of religious hardliners who exploit religious sentiments and inflame popular passions using any excuse available. Blasphemy cases are useful instruments for them and they use religious hypersensitivity to add to the general climate of sectarian intolerance accompanied by violence and death. The hardliners have been consistently exerting pressure on the government to strengthen blasphemy laws. They ignore the historical fact that blasphemy laws were introduced by the British back in 1860 in a misguided attempt to reduce tension between Hindus and Muslims. The laws were instituted for purely administrative reasons and do not have any basis in religious tenets.

 Islam and Blasphemy law: Younis Shaikh Victim of the Blashpheme lawPakistan is indeed a Muslim country but she is also a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-sectarian society. It may sound harsh to the Muslim hardliners but the fact is that contingency factors such as education, cognitive abilities and personality traits influence people’s interpretation about Islamic doctrines. It is Allah’s gift that He has given us different mental faculties and abilities so that we ponder on different phenomena of this universe including religion. Of course, during the process of pondering, people can interpret Islamic codes differently than the segment of people who proclaims themselves as an authority on religion. We must remember that religion is what remains in a person’s heart and not what one pronounces from the tongue. One is considered hypocrite in Islam if one pronounces what one does not believe from mind and soul; and hypocrites are despised more than pagans. These hardliners do not appreciate that they encourage hypocrisy by restricting people’s freedom of speech and thought in the name of religion.

Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code pertains to the use of derogatory remarks—“…whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine”. Many have argued that this section is against the teachings of the Prophet. Works of legal luminaries like Justice Shafiq Usmani endorse the view that the concept of blasphemy is unknown to Islamic jurisprudence. Chaudhry (the News 14.06.2000) argued that the section 195-C of the Pakistan Penal Code is against the teaching of the Holy Prophet. Similarly, Hussain,referring to the work of Justice Shafiq Usmani argues, that the concept of blasphemy is unknown to Islamic jurisprudence. He indicates only two Quranic verses that could be relevant to the concept of blasphemy: “Allah’s are the fairest names; invoke Him by them and leave the company of those who blaspheme his names. They will be required in what they do (7:180)”; and, “Surely, those who slander Our signs are not hidden from Us.…..Do whatever you will, He sees whatsoever you do (41:40).” This author has found another verse of the Quraan that could be related to blasphemy, “Verily, those who annoy Allah and His Messenger Allah has cursed them in this world, and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating torment (33:57).” None of the above verses show that people can be charged for blasphemy by other people. Reading the Quraan shows that Allah has not given authority or despotic power to any individual, a community or a state to act as a guardian of religion and thes Quraanic verses support the argument, “And We have not made you a watcher over them nor are you set over them to dispose of their affairs (6:107); “you are not a dictator over them (88:22); and only “Allah has promised the hypocrites; men and women, and the disbelievers, the Fire of Hell,….Allah has cursed them and for them is the lasting torment (9:68).” In another Quraanic verse a great message in a broad sense is given to the hardliners that they refrain from acting like a religious despot: the Quraan tells, “He it is Who created you, then some of you are disbelievers and some of you are believers. And Allah is All-Seer of what you do (64:2)”.

Studying life events of Prophet Muhammad also show that he neither punished nor cursed his enemies when they threw stones or garbage at him or rejected him as the last Messenger of Allah. Disbelievers argued with him openly and he always tried to convince them through reasoning without annoying or announcing punishment. Prophet Muhammad had never restrained freedom of speech in the name of Islam. In Islamic teaching, there is no punishment for the act of blasphemy as some of the hardliners believe.

But such is the hold of hardliners in Pakistani society these days that even those proposing moderate reforms have to tread with caution. In 2000, President-General Pervez Musharraf had announced that measures would be taken to amend the procedure for the registration of blasphemy cases to prevent misuse. However, nothing came of it owing to the protests by religious groups. That the political leadership of the country and the government should step around this issue so gingerly is not surprising. The relevant law that concerns blasphemy was introduced in 1986 by General Zia-ul Haq. This was the period when the state had embarked on an overtly theocratic vision of itself and was working in close co-operation with the religious lobby which viewed the law as its special creation and instrument of control.

The mainstream polity of Pakistan, in moments of competitive populism, cultivates the hardliners by pandering to their special interest in the blasphemy laws. In 1992, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, went so far as to make capital punishment the only possible sentence that could be awarded for those convicted under the blasphemy law. So long as this end of the political spectrum—the religious extreme— retains influence, little change can be expected in the current status of the law and its use or misuse.

Article originally published in HIMAL South Asia       Download Article inelastic doctorine

Updatede on 07 August 2012

Misuse of blasphemy law section 298-C

An Ahmadi Businessman, Muhammad Asharaf, in Sargodha was charged and arrested under 298-C that he hanged the Quranic text “O people of faith always speak the straight truth” in his shop. According to the newspaper report, he was sent to jail and released on bail on 31 July. The report also shows that Ashraf and two other Ahmadi men in 2009 were arrested for praying in a room in the market. They were released on bail after 28 days in jail.

They were charged under the clause in 298-C which states that an Ahmadi who “refers to his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims” will be punished with up to three years in prison and is liable to pay a fine.

 Islam and Blasphemy law