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Blasphemy law: An untold story of Pakistan

  • Published at 02:02 pm October 16th, 2016
Blasphemy law: An untold story of Pakistan

Pakistan police on Thursday arrested a religious teacher and his student on blasphemy charges. According to FIR, the complainant, Muhammad Imtiaz, of Marali Ottar village, Kot Radha Kishan, alleged he saw a local teenager burning some torn pages of the Holy Quran in a street.

The police have entered a case under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) against both the suspects.

A few days ago, a video of erstwhile pop icon and widely heard Islamic evangelist, Junaid Jamshed went viral on the Internet, in which his remarks were perceived as blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his wife, Ayesha (RA). He has been charged under the Blasphemy Law, clause 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

[caption id="attachment_22023" align="aligncenter" width="800"]blasphemy People ptotesting against a strict blasphemy law. REUTERS[/caption]

The most notorious cases involving Pakistan’s blasphemy laws will be heard by the country’s supreme court on Thursday in a legal showdown that lawyers hope will spare the life of a poor Christian woman and curb future convictions.

Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) following a bad-tempered argument with Muslim women in Itanwali, the small village in Punjab where she used to live.

Simply put – you blaspheme, you die

The credibility of this assertion is built on an apparently universal consensus (ijma) on the subject across all four Sunni schools of thought. By maintaining this front of scholarly consensus, the religious leadership disallows any concept of an alternative position.

This idea of a unanimous scholarly endorsement of an unwaivable death penalty for blasphemy has been relentlessly repeated in the Federal Sharia Court Judgment on the blasphemy law in the ‘90s, in the Parliament, in the popular print and oral narrative on television channels, and has seeped deeply into the consciousness of the Pakistani population.

In the collective imagination of mainstream Pakistan, blasphemy is not a pardonable offence and anyone who believes otherwise is also committing blasphemy, and must similarly pay with their life.

[youtube id="aFLLY7SwUEk"]

A pardonable offence?

The stance that blasphemers who ask for a pardon would be spared the death penalty has already been established by the founder of the Hanafi school of thought, Abu Hanifa. Within the Hanafi position, it simply does not go higher than Abu Hanifa, and it is the Hanafi school of thought that is foremost in significance, in terms of religio-legal debates in the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology. Moreover, a long line of students and followers of Abu Hanifa, legal heavyweights of their respective eras, further corroborated this position in many of their works. Centuries of Hanafi scholarship have maintained the same categorical answer to our original question: Yes, blasphemy is a pardonable offence.

The laws come from

Advocate Ismaeel Qureshi, the architect of the blasphemy law, apparently did not get the memo.

In his best-selling book on blasphemy and his petition, Qureshi apparently built his case of an irrevocable death penalty, with no scope for pardon on the works of leading Hanafi authorities, and ironically, Imam Ibn Abidin himself.

In an a case of history repeating itself, he followed in Al-Bazzazzi’s footsteps in erroneously subverting the position of Imam Ibn Abidin.

At one point, in Fatawa e Shami, Ibn Abidin takes Bazzazzi’s claim – ‘the punishment for blasphemy is death, it is unpardonable and anyone who disagrees is also guilty of blasphemy’ – dissects it and goes on to criticise it for the next six pages.

Advocate Ismaeel Qureshi, grasping the first thing he saw, slaps Imam Ibn Abidin’s name on to the very position that Abidin so passionately refuted right after quoting the original problematic claim.

About The Future

In the days of Moses, blasphemy was the mortal offence of failing to respect the divine. In an age of human rights, blasphemy is understood as a failure to respect persons, as insult, defamation, or advocacy of religious hatred. The criminalisation of this personal blasphemy has been advanced at the UN and upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, which has asserted a universal right to respect for religious feelings. The Future of Blasphemy turns respect on its head. Respect demands that we grant each other equal standing in the moral community, not that we never offend. Politically, respect for citizens requires a public discourse that is open to all viewpoints. Going beyond the question of free speech versus religion, The Future of Blasphemy defends an ethical model of blasphemy. Controversies surrounding sacrilege are contests over what counts as sacred, disagreements about what has central, inviolable, and incommensurable value. In such public contestation of the sacred, each of us-secular and religious alike-has equal right to speak on its behalf.
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