EDITORIAL: An idea whose time has come
If it were not so tragic, the case of a blasphemy-accused doctor would have made for comic reading. Reportedly, Dr Naushad Valiyani threw the business card of a medical representative “which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan”, in a dustbin. Mr Faizan then launched a blasphemy complaint against the doctor. The absurdity of the charges against Dr Valiyani exposes the nature of the draconian Blasphemy Law, which can be misused for any purpose under the sun. General Ziaul Haq left this country with a minefield in the shape of this law, which lends itself to abuse. The case of Dr Valiyani is just one of the many cases where the complainant is crossing all lines of common sense. ‘Muhammad’ is a popular name over the Muslim world. To say that the doctor committed blasphemy just because he threw a business card that had ‘Muhammad’ written on it is ridiculous. The issue was resolved between the parties when the doctor apologised, although not before Faizan and his friends had reportedly roughed up the doctor. However, the intervention of some clerics resulted in a blasphemy charge against the accused, who was then arrested.
Since we are so fond of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), why not invoke PPC 153 A in cases where false accusations are made? According to PPC 153 A (a), whoever “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities” shall be fined and punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years. Thus, Muhammad Faizan should be charged with incitement against the innocent doctor.
In another incident, three alleged blasphemers in Karachi — Syed Raheel Masood Wasti, Samreen Masood and Zafar Iqbal — denied desecrating the Holy Quran. As per their statement, they were not in the house when their illiterate maid accidentally threw out some pages of the Quran after cleaning the house. They have expressed fear for their lives and that they can be falsely persecuted under the Blasphemy Law. This is yet another example of the way the mullahs use this law. In almost all the cases under the Blasphemy Law, the accusations are mala fide. The accusations are based on personal vendetta, blackmail, settling scores, property disputes, etc. It is therefore beyond comprehension why the mullah brigade is threatening to launch a movement, Tehreek Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR), in case any amendments are made to the Blasphemy Law, except that it serves their political agenda of keeping the country hostage to their fulminations. This flawed law should be repealed in the first instance, and if that is not possible because our politicians have yet to find the courage to defy the blackmail of the religious groups, at least the amendment bill by Ms Sherry Rehman should be considered seriously. Islam is a religion of peace but the fundamentalists have hijacked our religion and given new interpretations to serve their vested interests. The religious right is committing the greatest blasphemy by distorting the name of Islam. When the British introduced the Blasphemy Law, it was done to maintain harmony between all religious communities in the Indian subcontinent. Ziaul Haq’s Blasphemy Law has done the exact opposite. It has made the religious minorities more insecure in this ‘land of the not-so-pure’. When a state legalises persecution of minorities, it is time to change the laws.
Pakistan can never progress if it chooses to espouse the values of the Dark Ages. Let us not be afraid to challenge the religious extremists just because they threaten us with ‘dire consequences’. We have been held hostage to their absurdities for decades. It is high time we rolled back Zia’s legacy and moved forward towards a progressive, secular and democratic Pakistan. *