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Home Media Reports 2002 The impact of …
The impact of the blasphemy law

DAWN - the Internet Edition

18 July 2002
07 Jamadi-ul-Awwal 1423


The impact of the blasphemy law
By Mohammad Shehzad

The blasphemy laws were legislated and subsequently made more strict to ensure protection to the minorities. But some recent incidents have shown that even the Muslims were victimized under the present blasphemy law on the complaint of other fellow Muslims.

The most recent example is provided by gory murder of Yusuf Kizab in the Kot Lakhpat Jail by an activist of the banned Sipahe-i-Sahaba. Yusuf had been sentenced to death sentence under the blasphemy laws.

The worst example was the suicide of Father John Joseph some four years ago. On the eve of May 6, 1998 Dr Joseph, the Bishop of Faisalabad, committed suicide in front of the Sessions Court, Sahiwal to protest against the death sentence of a Christian Ayub Masih, pronounced by the court under the blasphemy law.

The minority communities were never satisfied with the blasphemy law. They have been opposing it since its promulgation. Their protest against it became louder when a mandatory death punishment was incorporated in the Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code in 1991.

The blasphemy law was enacted by the British to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslim minorities in the subcontinent against the Hindu majority. After the creation of Pakistan as the Muslims were no more a minority, the law should have been abolished. But it was made more stringent: Section 295-A was enacted in 1927 (Pakistan Penal Code). In 1980, Section 298-A was inserted. In 1982, Section 295-B was introduced. In 1986, Section 295-C was legislated. In 1991, life imprisonment was replaced with the mandatory death penalty in the Section 295-C.

When the blasphemy laws were not harsh and the Muslims were tolerant towards the non-Muslim minorities, the latter remained mindful of the religious feelings of the former. As they grew intolerant towards the minorities and the capital punishment was incorporated in the law, the cases of blasphemy started occurring more frequently. From 1948-1979, 11 cases of blasphemy were registered. Only three were reported from 1979-1986. Forty-four cases were filed from 1987-1999. In 2000, 52 cases were registered - 43 against the Muslims and nine against the Non-Muslims.

This shows, the law is being ‘abused’ more blatantly by the Muslims against the Muslims to settle their scores. ‘Blasphemy’ has been made an offence against the state. Anybody can go to a police station and register a case under Section 295-C against any person. The police would immediately register a case and arrest the accused without checking the veracity of the facts. A ‘mohrrar’ (constable) is academically not competent to judge whether or not the circumstances constitute an act of blasphemy.

The greater irony is, the death sentence under S. 295-C to a non-Muslim. This can be challenged in the Supreme Court. Ibne Tamia in his book ‘Asare Mal Maslool’ has referred to a note of Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa who says that a non-Muslim cannot be sentenced to death for blasphemy because such a penalty falls in the category of ‘hadd’ (a sort of maximum punishment).

When a Muslim blasphemes against the Holy Prophet, he becomes a ‘murtid’ (a person who repudiates Islam after embracing it) whose punishment is death. A non-Muslim cannot be a ‘murtid’ because he is already a ‘kafir’ (non-Muslim). Therefore, the ‘hadd’ punishments are not applicable to the non-Muslims. They could be punished only under ‘tazir’ (non-hadd punishments).

The semi-literate mullas argue in the support of the death sentence saying that there is an ‘ijma’ (consensus) on this issue by the founders of the four ‘Fiqhs’. If this plea is correct, then why Imam Abu Hanifa (the great Muslim scholar and the founder of the Hanafi school of thought) holds a contrary opinion?

After Jinnah's death, the ruling elite embraced the Machiavellian politics of the colonial rulers and divided the nation on religious, sectarian and linguistic bases. The blasphemy law is an integral part of this baleful politics that has made Pakistan a deeply divided society. History is full of incidents that remind us of the great love, amity, unity, and affinity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. A Pakistani author Ahmad Salim relates one such incident in his book, ‘Pakistan aur Aqaliyatein’.

He writes that Ahmadabad was in the grip of Hindu-Muslim riots in 1969. During those days, a small locality, Mimobai that consisted of around 145 houses - 35 belonged to the Muslims and the rest were of the Hindus - had been reduced to ashes. A Sikh namely Kalyan Singh, one of the eye witnesses to this gory event, told the aid workers that an armed mob of furious Hindus came to the non-Muslim elders and asked them to identify the houses of the Muslims so that their (non-Muslims) property is not harmed. But they refused to do that.

The mob threatened to set all the houses on fire. Even this could not intimidate them and the frenzied Hindus torched all the houses. Kalyan Singh said: “The Muslims and the non-Muslims had been living together for centuries in Mimobai. They shared each other's happiness and grief. How could we face Bhagwan if we had saved our houses while letting the mob torch the houses of our Muslim brothers, sisters, mothers, uncles!!”

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2000
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