An Important Intervention on Blasphemy Cases in Pakistan


It takes courage and conviction to speak out against demagoguery and the violation of the rule of law. It is even more courageous when free speech invites violence and threats to the lives of fair-minded people. One such person is Mawlana Ammar Khan Nasir. He is a leading traditional scholar based in Gujranwala, Pakistan and editor of the Urdu monthly journal “al-Sharia” and can be reached at Aknasir2003@yahoo.com. After the latest charge of blasphemy against an under aged Christian girl called Rimsha Masih from the Islamabad area in Pakistan, I invited Mawlana Ammar Khan Nasir to provide some comment. His comment is translated below.

Saadia Yacoob and Mashal Saif, graduate students in the Department of Religion at Duke University, kindly translated his statement into English and I revised it.

Editorial Note: Please bear in mind that the issue of blasphemy is a highly volatile and toxic issue in Pakistan.  Therefore, I caution  care in the way people present their views and conduct conversation. The goal should be to advance constructive conversation and not inflame the situation or add to the tinderbox situation that would endanger the lives of others.

Latest Incident of Defamation of the Qur’an: A Matter Requiring Attention is the title of a statement issued by Mawlana Mohammad Ammar Khan Nasir.

The original statement is also published for the benefit of Urdu readers.

STATEMENT

The latest incident regarding the burning of the Qur’an by a Christian girl from the area of Islamabad has again brought the national and international media spotlight on the negative use of the blasphemy laws.  Preliminary press reports (20th August) say the police took the girl and her parents into custody after a mob of Muslims surrounded their following accusations of Qur’an-burning. President Asif Ali Zardari gave directions that this case be urgently investigated.

Should the person who commits blasphemy or defame the Qur’an receive punishment?  Should each accused of such a crime receive similar treatment and punishment?  This is a separate matter on which detailed scholarly discussions have been published previously in newspapers and magazines.  One would also have to leave aside the question as to whether it is wise for Muslims, in their bid to safeguard and respect Islamic sacred symbols, to act on every incident and publicize events that occur in remote areas.  Do they consider the negative effects of their vigilance when an incident confined to a rural area becomes a subject of national news?  In the light of the news reports, there are three issues pertaining to this latest incident of defaming the Qur’an.  It is absolutely necessary to follow objective legal procedures in order to register the case and its subsequent court proceedings.

The first issue is whether pages of the Qur’an were in fact burnt?  According to an Associated Press report, a local police officer Qasim Niyazi said that when the girl was brought to the police station she carried a shopping bag that contained partially burnt pages of religious material.  However, there were no pages of the Qur’an amongst the pages in her possession.  If this is true, then it is obligatory, based on Islamic law and the state law, to restrict this matter to the gravity of the situation (based on the evidence).

The second issue is whether the accused is mentally sane. Can the law apply to her in terms of moral and ethical norms, Islamic law and criminal law?  The girl’s parents claim that the girl suffers mental disabilities and mental illness.  It is possible that this claim might not be accurate but for the law to be enforced fairly, it is necessary for this issue to be investigated in a non-partisan manner.

The third issue is the age of the accused.  According to new reports, the accused is very young ranging between eleven and sixteen years.  If this is accurate, then her age as a minor should be taken into consideration according to the law of Pakistan in terms of prosecution.  Additionally, legal majority or legal minority of the accused is a consideration and a distinction honored by all legal systems around the world.

The investigation of these three issues is among the basic requirements for the implementation of any law. If these requirements are ignored and mere popular sentiment and the political pressure of the religious sector are given the ultimate authority to decide the issue, then this will be akin to murdering both justice and the law. Unfortunately, this will not be unusual given the current state of affairs in Pakistan.

In my opinion, it is a basic logical demand of Islam, democracy as well as common sense that laws deter insults to prophecy or the Qur’an in a Muslim state. Yet, such laws should be implemented against those accused who are truly deserving of punishment. But, an even more important demand of Islam as well as a basic rule of ethics requires that laws be implemented in a just, non-partisan manner following legal procedures. No element of religious coercion, sectarian pressure or attempts to unjustly make minority groups insecure and vulnerable should be confused with the implementation of the law. Unfortunately, in our country (Pakistan), religious and social attitudes and ethical practices are flouted when implementing the law.

I say this with a sense of grave responsibility since the factors mentioned above are the motives and trigger behind the disproportionate number of legal cases of this nature. According to one newspaper report, more than half of the approximately three hundred and fifty people against whom legal proceedings for blasphemy law were initiated were Muslim.

Is it conceivable that a mentally sound Muslim who abides by Islam can ever commit such a crime? Individuals belonging to one sect often level charges against a person belonging to a rival sect when the latter had criticized a specific belief of the former.

In one incident, blasphemy procedures were filed against persons when the word ‘Oh’ was effaced from a mural that read: ‘Oh Prophet of God’! Personal and sectarian animosities and hostilities are often pursued under the pretext of religion so that rivals can conveniently be accused of blasphemy. In some cases there is compelling evidence that the accused are not even mentally sound. The prosecution also fails to factor in such vital consideration. Both the prosecution and the courts seem unable to ignore popular pressure and therefore they fail to decide such cases purely in terms of the law.

The goal of the West and those groups that are aligned to it is to repeal the penalties for blasphemy in Pakistan. Their opposition to the blasphemy law is based on their intellectual and ideological claims. In making their case against this law they highlight instances of how the law is abused for personal and sectarian interests. Unfortunately, our public conduct inflected with religious and social attitudes provide ample justification to their claims, boosting their arguments against the law.

In my public gatherings (majalis) I have frequently stated that the practice of charging individuals of blasphemy is thriving in Pakistan. As a consequence, it is not totally unforeseeable that in time even committed religious people and those dedicated to faith might be forced to consider the repeal or suspension of the blasphemy laws as a better option than enduring the deteriorating situation where the law is abused against innocents. And if the situation comes to this, I will proclaim without any fear of contradiction that the blame falls squarely on those persons of faith who aided and abetted the unbalanced public conduct in this matter. I will say this even if they ostensibly defend their innocence in claiming that such moves to repeal the blasphemy laws was a “conspiracy conducted by the enemies of Islam.”

Muhammad Ammar Khan Nasir

21 August, 2012

A New Blasphemy Case: Urdu Text

About ebrahimmoosa

Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Notre Dame, United State of America
This entry was posted in blasphemy, Islam & Democracy, Islamic Law/Ethics, Koran, Madrasas, Pakistan, Qur'an, sacrilege, South Asia, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to An Important Intervention on Blasphemy Cases in Pakistan

  1. Thanks Prof.Moosa, i highly admire your work & contribution. But i have to point out that since Islam is under assault after 9/11 from right, left and center and Muslims lands occupied and their people persecuted around the world from up, down & beyond, it is highly suspicious that those who have a clear anti-Islam, anti-Muslim agenda would not like them either to promote their beliefs or atleast not allow them to adhere to it. Why should we be apologetic about something which does not exist among us. I fully agree that equity & principles of Sharia are hardly practiced at state-level in any so-called Muslim countries. But why should we surrender our ways to some tom, dick & harry islamophobes.

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    • ebrahimmoosa says:

      If persecuting Muslims and non-Muslims on trumped up blasphemy charges is part of your idea of Muslim self-assertion then I am afraid we follow very different play books. And, if you know my work then your admiration for it is inconsistent with your reaction and response to the intervention of a very important voice in Pakistan to which I join mine on this matter. My counsel is to not let the barbarity of others rob Muslims of their civility and values, otherwise the difference between Muslims and Islamophobes vanish. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Islam is not under assault since 9/11. Recall Muslim lands were colonized by European powers for centuries, therefore you and I communicate in English. There is no surrender involved when speaking the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient.

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  2. Jack Noble says:

    Asslamo Allaikum Janab Professor Saheb,

    Herein is the video of the father of Muhammad Ammar Khan Nasir i.e. Shaykh (Allamah) Abu Ammar Zahidur-Rashidi who is the editor of Al-Sharia and well known Islamic Scholar in refutation of the opinion expressed by his son.

    It must be noted that his son i.e. Muhammad Ammar Khan Nasir is neither well known Scholar nor expresses views of Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaah and it is well known that some of his opinions are “off the cuff”. This matter is well known in circles close to Al-Sharia and the only people who don’t know about this are perhaps English speaking Muslims removed from the reality of the situation.

    Moreover, the issue of “planting evidence” is FALSE and discussed in Ummat here:

    I hope that in the spirit of Academic honesty you will make my post clear.

    Thanks

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  3. Abdullah Khan says:

    Wrong video Jack! Here is the correct video

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  4. The news of his father’s opposition to him is a hoax. It would be better to read carefully what Ammar Khan Nasir is saying than offering youtube clips of sound-bytes from an interview with his father. Our emotions get riled up during reading anything that appears as offensive, and we are unable to appreciate reasonable critical thinking on this crucial issue. In one of his longer treatments of this subject matter, Ammar Khan Nasir mentions that his grandfather, Mawlana Sarfaraz Khan Safdar, agreed with his positions on “blasphemy” law, as the matter has been disputed by past Hanafi juristic authorities. I think he makes a persuasive argument. We cannot on the one hand claim to belong to a robust interpretive tradition such as Hanafism and on the other hand express discomfort at the evolution of that tradition. There is no unanimous position on such issues, and we should embrace this open space so that those meanings become associated with the law which honor justice and not the blind following of passion.

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  5. The idea that Islam needs blasphemy laws to protect it is ridiculous. It shows a bankruptcy of faith as well as historical immaturity. God is much greater than that.

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