By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
06 November 2018
Most ulema in Pakistan and even in India extend the applicability of blasphemy laws to non-Muslims living in Muslim countries. Not to speak of the self-avowed clerics like Maulvi Khadim Razvi of the ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP) or the recently killed Maulvi Samiul Haque of 'Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan' (TTP), even the well-known Barelvi and Deobandi theologians, Muftis (Islamic jurists) and more scandalously, even the so-called Sufi-Sunni clerics are unanimously agreed upon this. They aver that it is incumbent upon the Islamic government to execute all blasphemers, be they Muslim or non-Muslim. This actually emanates from their reference to this Hadith report as recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari: "Slay whoever has desecrated the Prophet" (من سب نبيا فاقتلوه). (Al-Bukhari. 1997, vol. 9, 46)
Interestingly, Imam An-Nasa’i, another authoritative Hadith compiler like Imam Bukhari, has reportedly accused one of the narrators of this Hadith of lying.
In one of his surprising moves, Imran Khan who previously supported the discriminatory blasphemy laws has now welcomed the Pakistani apex court’s judgment which acquitted Asia Bibi—a Christian woman who spent 8 years on death row under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Thus, for the first time, Pakistan's Supreme Court has tried to challenge the gross misuse of the blasphemy law in the country. It has categorically stated:
“Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant's (Asia Bibi) religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad was also not short of being blasphemous”.
Thus, the apex court has lambasted the Islamist complainants who had insulted Asia's religious sentiments, which the court said was no less than blasphemy as Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is also a prophet in Islam. It sets an example of how to overturn the attempts by the extremists who use the blasphemy law as a tool to pursue their personal agendas, while claiming to protect the honour of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and at the same time, slurring other prophets of Islam.
Notably, Imran Khan who earlier backed the extremist outfit Taliban, calling its insurgency in Afghanistan as a legitimate jihad against occupying forces, has confronted another similar self-appointed vigilantes of radial Islamism—Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Soon after the apex court’s landmark verdict evoked huge protests and death threats from the ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP), Imran Khan denounced the extremist antics of the new, self-avowed “Ameer” of the far-right group, Khadim Hussain Razvi. In his address to the nation on November 1, Khan talked tough asking the ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP) protestors not to "confront the State" and refrain from vandalism. He said he had been "compelled" to communicate with the nation due to the reaction and the language used by a "small segment" in response to the Supreme Court verdict, as Dawn reports.
As a result, the extremist group called off the protests against Asia Bibi's acquittal with an apology for 'inconveniencing without reason'. According to media reports, on November 3 the TLP announced the end to the violent protests and aggressive sit-ins which brought the country to a standstill since 30 October. However, this announcement came after an agreement between the government and the TLP, according to which the government will not oppose the filing of a review petition in the Supreme Court against Asia Bibi’s acquittal. The govt also promised to immediately initiate a legal process to place Asia Bibi's name on the Exit Control List (ECL). Thus, the critics believe, the government of Pakistan has, as usual, succumbed to the pressure protests by the Islamist extremists in the country.
Clearly, Imran Khan does deserve credit for compelling the ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP) to end its violent protests and sit-ins. But at the same time, it raises an uncomfortable question as to how he is going to deal with the blasphemy laws in order to craft his Naya Pakistan.
While this was an opportunity for Imran Khan to turn the page and embrace a more inclusive vision for the religious minorities in Pakistan, it is more opportune time to revisit and reform the regressive blasphemy laws. It is time to candidly expose the insanity behind the laws that have taken life after life in Pakistan, with the likes of ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) radical Islamists having complete impunity. Let’s not forget that Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Governor Salman Taseer who was brutally killed because of calling Pakistan's Blasphemy laws black, belonged to the same faction which Imran Khan mistakably considers a "small segment". The death penalty sentenced to Qadri caused more turbulence in Pakistan that what we saw with horror in the wake of Asia Bibi's acquittal by the apex court. The consequent protests by the Islamist hardliners across the country were much lesser now than the turmoil which was created to ‘exonerate’ Qadri as Ghazi (man of religious valour) and Alahir Rahmah (the one who is dear to Allah).
All this makes it patently clear that the public support for the enactment of medieval Islamic blasphemy laws in Pakistan is strong. Therefore, the religio-politicians of modern Pakistan like the notorious ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP) leader Khadim Rizvi call for severe punishments to the supposed blasphemers with a view to shoring up their political support base.
But more deplorably, the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and in most such cases, convictions do not stand to scrutiny. In fact, the public support for religious extremists in the country who enjoy complete impunity is deeply rooted. The killing of Salman Taseer was not an isolated incident in Pakistan. A former judge, Arif Iqbal Bhatti was also brutally assassinated because he did not sentence the accused to death in a fake case of blasphemy. Similarly, some radical Islamists in Pakistan, a few years ago, burned alive a mentally disabled man on the accusation of blasphemy. This insane cruelty was perpetrated despite the fact that even the Islamic Sharia does not implement the blasphemy law on anyone who lost his senses.
Not long ago, a Pashtun Muslim student Mashal Khan was mercilessly lynched in the premises of his university in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over fake allegations of posting blasphemous content online. Scandalously, the 22 perpetrators of this lynching who were arrested by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police included six employees of the university. More shockingly, Mashal's friends stated to the police in writing that he was a devout Muslim but since he strongly protested against the mismanagement by the university, he was lynched. Also, the Inspector General Police later stated: "We did not find any concrete evidence under which a blasphemy investigation or legal action can be launched against Mashal”.
According to the Al-Arabiya report, in the last 28 years as many as 62 people have been murdered in Pakistan on blasphemy allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with the law. A report recently launched by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom states, as many as 40 people are on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy.
In fact, the anti-blasphemy laws which were introduced in British colonial times to avoid religious clashes have been brazenly misused by both individuals and radical Islamists with serious repercussions. They turned more violent in the 1980s when the dictator Zia-ul-Haq introduced several reforms which led to the abuse of the law. Since then, over 1,000 people have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Since 1990, at least 65 people have reportedly been killed in Pakistan over the blasphemy allegations. Earlier, most of the accused were Muslims or the Ahmadis also known as Qadiyanis. But since the 1990s, the minority Christians, who make up just 1.6% of the population, have been systematically targeted by numerous attacks, as this BBC report tells us: bbc.com/news/world-asia-46080067.
For any Muslim-majority country to be civilised and fair to the religious minorities, one of the measures to be taken is to declare the blasphemy laws outlawed and abrogated. One of the essential social and political changes that must occur in Pakistan to usher in democracy is to oust the medieval Islamic blasphemy laws. It should learn from Ireland which, until recently, was deeply conservative, dominated by the Catholic Church, but the country has recently celebrated the end of a “medieval” blasphemy law.
The abrogation or reformation of the anti-blasphemy laws will be widely applauded by the progressive Muslims across the world who hail PM Imran Khan’s stance against the extremist elements disrupting law and order. Nevertheless, until the new government moves towards the procedural reforms, the grave threats of potential exploitation of blasphemy laws will loom large.
On the pretext of protecting the honour of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or what is called Tahaffuz-e-Namus-e-Risalat, the Islamic postulate has always been misused by the hardcore Islamists in Pakistan. But in reality, the holy Prophet, whose sanctity the extremists claim to defend never sentenced to death the Meccan pagans, who cursed, ridiculed and plotted to kill him. Even when the pagans desecrated the Prophet’s sanctity accusing him of ‘forging’ the Qur’an, he acted upon the divine instruction indicating that only Allah can decide the punishment for even as grievous sin as ‘fabricating’ and ‘concocting’ the Qur’an. Allah says:
“Do they say, 'he has fabricated it'? Say you, 'if I have fabricated it, you have no power for me against Allah. He knows best the (words) you utter about this (Qur’an) as mockery. And He is Sufficient as witness between me and you. And He is Forgiving, Merciful”. (Translation by Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi)
At least, this clear and categorical verse from the Qur’an should make the Barelvi extremists in Pakistan reconsider its position on Asia Bibi. Equally important is to read the Pakistani Supreme Court’s judgment. Most of the Barelvis challenging the verdict seem to have wholly or conveniently ignored the apex court's verdict which starts with a declaration of faith, and involves the first 14 paragraphs clarifying that the Court, and its judges, hold the holy Prophet in the highest veneration. It actually starts with a couplet of Allama Iqbal from his famous “Jawaab-e-Shikwa” considering him the ‘Spiritual Father of Pakistan’, in which the veneration and adulation of Holy Prophet is reckoned as the foundational principle of Islam:
Ki Mohammed S.A.W. Se Wafa Tune, To Hum Tere Hain,
Yeh Jahan Kya Cheez Hai Loh-O-Qalam Tere Hain
(We are yours only with your loyalty towards Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Let alone this universe, even the Tablet and The Pen are yours.)
Thus, the judgment holds the Prophet’s prestige and dignity in the highest esteem compared to all creatures of by Allah and clearly demonstrates his lofty moral values as the highest exemplary role model bearing an overwhelming effect on the course of history. “His teachings have undoubtedly brought about the greatest effect in changing the minds, deeds and conducts of individuals and nations. His exceptional achievements have surpassed all predecessors in all respects”, it reads.
Thus, the court’s judgment authored by the Chief justice substantiates the point that the “unlimited and unparalleled love” with Allah’s Messenger is an integral part of a Muslim’s faith. In this connection, the judgment quotes following verses along with a few Hadith narrations:
“Say, [O Muhammad], “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your relatives, wealth which you have obtained, commerce wherein you fear decline, and dwellings with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and jihad in His cause, then wait until Allah executes His command. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people”. (Qur’an 9:24)
“By the star when it descends, Your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed”. (53:1-4).
“Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful”. (Qur’an 3:31)
But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission. (4:65).
It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error. (Qur’an 33:36)
“Certainly, you have in Allah’s Messenger an excellent example (role-model) to follow, for whoever looks forward to Allah and the last day and remembers Allah abundantly.” (Qur’an 33:21)
And when you, [O Muhammad], do not bring them a sign, they say, "Why have you not contrived it?" Say, "I only follow what is revealed to me from my Lord. This [Qur'an] is enlightenment from your Lord and guidance and mercy for a people who believe." (Qur’an 7:203).
And indeed, for you is a reward uninterrupted. And indeed, you are of a great moral character. (Qur’an 68:3-4)
And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Qur’an 21:107)]
Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages and say, "We hear and disobey" and "Hear but be not heard" and "Ra'ina" (راعنا) twisting their tongues and defaming the religion. And if they had said [instead], "We hear and obey" and "Wait for us [to understand]," it would have been better for them and more suitable. But Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few. (Qur’an 4:46)
By quoting these verses from Qur’an, the Supreme Court’s verdict has unequivocally described the glorification and exaltation of Holy Prophet and has ordered Muslims to strictly observe maximum respect and be extremely careful in this regard, to the extent of using most appropriate words and even lowering their voices, as mentioned in the following verse from Surah Al-Hujurat:
“O ye who believe! raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet nor shout when speaking to him as you shout one to another, lest your deeds be rendered vain while you perceive not.” (Qur’an 4:46)]
As for the punishment for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), it has been endorsed in the judgement which quotes the following verse from Surah Al-Ahzab in its premise:
“Lo! Those who malign Allah and his Messenger, Allah hath cursed them in the world and the Hereafter, and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained”. (Qur’an 33:57)
The judgment also puts forward an explanation of this verse by Imam Qurtubi, the famous Mufassir (Qur’an exegete) from Cordoba of Maliki origin, who writes in his commentary of the Qur’an:
“Everything which becomes a means of malignity (Aza’a) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) whether by quoting words bearing different meanings or similar actions comes under his malignity?”
(Al Jaam’e li Ahkaam al-Qur’an, Vol.XIV, page 238)
The judgement also brings, along with other commentaries, exegesis of the same verse by Imam Ismail Haqqi, the 17th-century Turkish Sufi scholar and interpreter of the Qur’an. He writes in Rūḥ al-Bayān (the Spirit of Elucidation), an esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an:
“…..the malignity of Allah and his Prophet (pbuh) meant only the malignity of the Prophet in fact, and mention of Allah (SWT) is only for glorification and exaltation to disclose that the malignity of the Prophet (pbuh) (is indeed the malignity of Allah (SWT).”
But what surprised me is the fact that the apex court’s verdict did not make mention of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Tahawi, the two most eminent Hanafi Imams who rejected the enactment of blasphemy laws on the Ahl Zimmah (non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic countries), as clearly evidenced in Imam Nawawi’s classical work “al-Majmu’ Shrah al-Muhazzab”.
Significantly, the vast literature of Islamic jurisprudence does not mention blasphemy as consistent part of the Islamic penal code. But the Pakistani Supreme Court’s 57-page verdict offers several references to the Qur’anic verses and Hadith traditions in support of punishing the blasphemers. But at the same time, it gives crucial key observations, such as these:
· "Islam may tolerate anything but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of other human beings the Qur’an speaks about, from the very beginning”.
· "If our religion of Islam comes down heavily upon the commission of blasphemy, then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime".
· "It is a well-settled principle of Islamic law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial."Thus, the bench noted that the prosecution was unable to successfully prove its case.
Notably, the apex court’s verdict has strongly rejected the lower court’s judgment in this case and rather critiqued it for failing to “give a fair judgment in the light of clear Qur’anic injunctions”. The verdict quotes Surah Al-Maida’s verse that requires believers to "persistently stand firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do”.
Similarly, this verdict makes another strong reference to the Qur’an:
"So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, acquainted" (Surah Al Nisa: verse 135).
Thus, the verdict argues that the personal vendettas should not be used to accuse anyone of blasphemy. In addition to citing the Qur’an, the judgement also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Asia was "more sinned against than sinning."
In conclusion, the Pakistani Supreme Court’s verdict on the Christian lady accused of blasphemy Asia Bibi, does consider the blasphemy as punishable and its law as immutable. However, it only says that “unless proven guilty, through a fair trial, as provided for in the Constitution and the law, every person is considered innocent, irrespective of their creed, caste and colour”. It again quotes a verse from Surah Al-Ma’aidah:
“….. he who slays a soul unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading mischief on earth shall be as if he had slain all mankind; and he who saves a life shall be as if he had given life to all mankind. ……”. (Qur’an 5:32)
Regular Columnist with Newageislam.com, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi