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VIEW: Blasphemy Law — Yasser Latif Hamdani
Nothing will cripple the terrorists more decisively than a tolerant, moderate and democratic Pakistan that respects human rights and treats all its citizens equally. No victory would be permanent if such a Pakistan is not achieved
Arundhati Roy committed blasphemy of another kind when she asked the Americans to reconsider their alliance with India without resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Earlier she had upset many Indians when she claimed that Kashmir was not an integral part of India, a statement that had every gung-ho Indian, those Oscar Wilde’s vicious patriots and there are about a billion of them, baying for her blood, proving that India is and will remain an intolerant society for some time to come.
Well, taking inspiration from her, Pakistanis should also ask President Obama why his government continues to aid a government and a country that continues to trample on the rights of its own people. No I am not talking about India. I am talking about Pakistan, where the state continues to persecute religious minorities by using a law that cannot be justified on any grounds, whether democracy or Islam. In my previous article I briefly touched on the issue of the Blasphemy Law and the verdict against the Christian woman, a mother of five, who was beaten up and then handed over to the police. It is likely that she will get a presidential pardon. That however is not enough. In the process Pakistan has been humiliated for the umpteenth time simply because we want to appease the mullahs as we have done so consistently since 1949, who in any event have declared a war on Pakistan. I had predicted this much in my article.
So when Obama says “we will act if Pakistan is unwilling or unable to act”, he should walk the walk as well. Nothing will cripple the terrorists more decisively than a tolerant, moderate and democratic Pakistan that respects human rights and treats all its citizens equally. No victory would be permanent if such a Pakistan is not achieved. President Obama, the US, the IMF, the World Bank and the entire western world should immediately stop assisting Pakistan in every field from humanitarian aid to military aid till Pakistan puts its house in order. Being a signatory and having ratified the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, Pakistan is bound by international law and its own constitution to provide all its citizens the right to life and liberty and religious belief unconditionally.
I do not favour arguments referring to religious interpretation, but our Blasphemy Law is untenable even from an Islamic angle. There is nothing in the Holy Quran or even the Hadith that definitively prescribes such a Blasphemy Law. On the contrary we have a clear example set by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) when he forgave his worst enemies and offenders like Hinda. Almost everyone knows the story of the old woman who would throw garbage daily on the path that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) took. When she fell ill, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) went to visit her and nursed her back to health. Less known is the story of another old woman who the Holy Prophet (PBUH) helped by carrying wood to her house. Along the way, not knowing the identity of her helper, she began to speak about the “trouble maker” of Makkah. It was only after their journey was at an end that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) told her that he was the same Muhammad (PBUH) she had spent the greater part of the journey abusing. This was the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) character. This is why he is referred to as Rahmatul-lil-Alameen or the mercy for all worlds.
Islamic law and jurisprudence is derived from four sources, known as the Usul-ul-Fiqh (fundamentals of the law), i.e. the Holy Quran, the Sunnah, Qiyas (analogy) and Ijma (consensus). The Holy Quran is silent on the issue of blasphemy. The Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) seems to suggest the exact opposite. By using Qiyas, one can only conclude that the Blasphemy Law is patently un-Islamic and there is no Ijmah or consensus amongst the scholars of Islam on the punishment of blasphemy.
Islamic civilisation has a rich history of not only tolerating but even celebrating dissent. Needless to say some of the greatest scientists in Islamic history, Al Razi, the father of medicine, and Avicenna, would have been lynched many times over had Islam actually favoured a Blasphemy Law as is currently on the statute books of Pakistan. I am told that our local textbooks on science all have a chapter on the achievements of Muslim scientists and the contribution of Islamic civilisation to science and enlightenment of humanity. It is forgotten that this was achieved by a culture of tolerance, acceptance and openness. In my last column, I quoted the founder of this nation as stating as clearly as possible that bona fide criticisms and investigations into religion must be protected and safeguarded from any Blasphemy Law. So must be the fundamental rights of life, liberty and religious belief.
A nation is its laws ultimately. The intolerance permeating down to every segment of our society is the direct result of the laws that evade common sense and logic. It is therefore time to repeal the Blasphemy Law.
The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at http://pakteahouse.wordpress.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org