Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blasphemy Law and Its Abuse in Pakistan

Arshi Saleem Hashmi
 By Arshi Saleem Hashmi

 Human rights organizations have urged Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws and protect a young Christian girl who was arrested for allegedly burning pages from the Holy Quran.

10 year old Rimsha, who is reported to have Down’s syndrome, was taken into custody in a suburb of Islamabad last Thursday after angry Muslims protesters demanded she be punished. 

Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy law has rendered desecrating the Holy Quran illegal and potentially punishable by death.


Arshi Saleem Hashmi, SAVE’s Chapter Leader in Pakistan, comments on this recent case:

Respect for our holy book and beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and all the Prophets before him does not need endorsement through violent extremism. On the contrary, love for our Prophet must be expressed by love for all human beings and all living things.

This is sadly not the case in today’s Pakistan. To appease the growing religious political groups during the 1980s, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq issued an ordinance according to which any person accused of doing or saying any derogatory thing against the Prophet (PBUH) and the holy book would be punished. Now who in his or her senses would do anything to disrespect the holy book or the Prophet, no Muslim and certainly no non-Muslim in a country where Muslims are not only the majority but religious conservatives are very much empowered and politically protected!

Still, we have few exploiters of our peaceful religion who think that they are the real guardians of our faith. In this case, a local cleric from the mosque found a good opportunity to “justify” his position as a religious leader and tried to exploit the people by saying that if they didn’t oppose the Christian girl who was accused of burning the holy Quran, their prayers would be wasted.

Using God’s name to harm God’s creatures has become these so-called religious leaders’ business, and unfortunately, they find supporters who blindly follow the half-baked truth preached by Mullahs who are not even properly educated on Islam.

More than anything it is the state that is supposed to take action instead of tolerating such irrational behavior. Sadly, the Christians in Islamabad’s slums are mainly sweepers and house maids. The girl accused of blasphemy was most probably sorting out the trash and might have found the burned pages which are a common scene in local “Muslim” localities where people disregard loose pages or very old copies of the holy book.

In this particular case, the accused was holding a “Noorani Qaida” which is a basic copy of the easy introductory book for children to learn the Arabic words and their pronunciation. Usually, even Muslim children read the book and sell it to dealers or paper collectors from different areas when they are finished reading it. But of course, all this is ignored when it happens in Muslim localities.

Respect can only be achieved through tolerance; it cannot be forced through punishment and most importantly, it must not be selective against vulnerable minorities. The present blasphemy law has become an instrument in the hands of extremist groups and religious orthodox leaders to settle scores with others. Respect for our holy book and the Prophet (PBUH) is indeed in our heart and that should continue to be there, but a review of man-made laws that do not respect basic human rights is the need of the hour.

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