How The State Can Deal With The Extremist Mindset Around Accusations Of Blasphemy
In some ways, religious extremism has its roots in this country dating back to its creation. But with the passage of time extremism has gained strength in Pakistan.
The issue of blasphemy has often remained in the limelight in various ways. This is such a sensitive issue that it often results in mob violence even if there are only unsubstantiated allegations against someone. The Asia Bibi case and the murder of Governor Salman Taseer, the brutal lynching of Mashal Khan and recently the draconian punishment meted out by judicial authorities to academic Junaid Hafeez represent a dangerous new chapter in this tale of religious extremism.
People are divided into two groups on these incidents. One school of thought believes that this law is being misused for personal agendas and should be brought into parliament for debate and changes. The other school of thought considers this law untouchable and believes it is according to the principles of Islam and changing it means undermining divine law.
Most people don’t know the history of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Pakistan inherited blasphemy laws enacted by the British colonial government in 1860. The purpose of the British in introducing these laws was to avert religious violence. According to this law, “it was a crime to disrupt religious gathering, trespass on burial grounds, disrespect religious beliefs and destroy a place or an object of worship on purpose”. In Pakistan, blasphemy law was amended many times in 1980s and clauses were added. At first, the punishment for passing demeaning remarks against Islamic personalities was imprisonment for 3 years. In 1982 another clause was added, in which punishment of life time imprisonment was inserted in case of defiling the Holy Quran. In 1986 another clause was added, which contained death penalty in case of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (SAW).
According to an article published in The Diplomat, there have been over 75 extrajudicial killings and more than 4,000 blasphemy cases have been registered since the inclusion of section 295-C in the Pakistan Penal Court in 1986. According to the ICJ’s 2015 study on the implementation of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, more than 80 percent of the cases are declared invalid on appeals, because most cases are based on political or personal issues.
The most alarming aspect in this whole situation is the rise of mob violence. If there is even an allegation of blasphemy on anyone, people come to the conclusion that this person has no right to live and then take matters into their own hands. But the point to ponder is many different scholars have issued fatwas on this issue and they do not suggest death penalty. Imam Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, leading light of the Barelvi school of thought (which is now the strongest proponent of killing accused blasphemers) decreed that blasphemy is a pardonable offence. Imam Abu Hanifa and his followers are agreed that non-Muslims are not subject to death penalty for blasphemy. As far as Muslims are concerned, they should be given a chance to apologize.
The Hanafi school of thought believes that only repetitive and intentional offences are punishable. Moreover 450 Sunni scholars from all over the world including Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi and Mehmood Hassan (Deobandi, Sheikh A Hind) were signatories on the fatwa book titled Fatah Al Mubin ul Tanbeeh al Wahabin, that non-Muslims cannot be killed for a single offence of blasphemy and they should be pardoned, unless they repeatedly and intentionally do this.
Maulana Maududi the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami also adheres to this belief and he states that the rights of a non-Muslim living in a Muslim-majority state must be protected, including the protection of their life even in the instances of blasphemy.
There is enough evidence that the blasphemy law is not fully in line with the Islamic jurisprudence and also in contrast with the opinion of the highest authorities within dominant schools of Islamic thought in Pakistan, or many scholars from all over the world. This contradiction is an indication that there is a room for transformation, discussion and reforms in Islamic societies that has been blacked out from public dialogue.
A vital point is that in these fatwas given by scholars on the issue of blasphemy, the right to give punishment or pardon lies with the state. Any individual or mob doesn’t have a right to execute someone. The Prophet (SAW) also created a state to establish order in a society, to bring lawlessness to its end. So, the religious parties who support individuals who took matters into their own hands promote nothing but extremism.
In order to deal with the extremist mob mentality, it is crucial to bring these fatwas and perspectives of predominant scholars into the knowledge of the public and open the room for debate and discussion on this issue as per Islamic tradition.