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Murders In Name Of Blasphemy Are Caused By Disparity Between State’s Laws And Policies

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The available data on extrajudicial murder of suspected blasphemers shows that 40 of them were Muslims who had lost their lives from 1994 to June 2020.

The most unfortunate and deplorable was the first incident against an alleged Muslim blasphemer.  He was Hafiz Sajjad Farooq, a Hafiz-e-Quran and a member of Jamaat-e-Islami who became a victim of extrajudicial killing on blasphemy charges in Gujranwala in 1994.

It was for the first time that a suspected blasphemer was not only stoned to death by an outraged mob but was set on fire as well. For years, his wife pursued the case, to have at least four of the murderers punished but she couldn’t continue this struggle once her own father died and nobody was there to provide support to her for a legal battle against the four accused who never gathered enough strength and courage to admit their act of bravery.

Jamaat-e-Islami did provide financial support to the wife of Hafiz Sajjad Farooq but they neither made any effort to get the culprits punished for their crime nor they assigned the title of Ghazi to those who had extrajudicially killed a Hafiz on blasphemy charges.

However, the tradition of calling a blasphemer’s killer as Ghazi didn’t die away completely. In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his personal security guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri.  As the perpetrator claimed to have killed the former Governor for committing blasphemy, he soon became a very revered person and during his court trials he used to enjoy showering of rose petals and kisses by the policeman and lawyers.

It is also said that nearly 300 lawyers had offered to plead his case voluntarily and during the case hearings these lawyers continued showing up at the court in as large a number as 1,000 on one occasion.

It was a clear sign of disagreement with the law of the land by those who are considered to be the defender and interpreter of these laws. How they justified their disagreement was reflective in their arguments in the court proceedings of Mumtaz Qadri case:

During the course of hearing, the arguments and counter-arguments exchanged between the counsel of Mumtaz Qadri and the Supreme Court judges shed some light on how two authorities of the legal system viewed Salman Taseer’s assassination.

The Supreme Court was of the opinion that nobody is allowed to take the law into his hands while the counsel for Mumtaz Qadri tried to convince the court that the state’s failure to perform its duty compels others to do so and Mumtaz Qadri did the same on the teachings of Islam.

Anyone who insults Islam and the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) is liable to be killed. On calling the blasphemy law as black law as intolerable offence, the Supreme Court retorted by saying that criticizing the blasphemy law is in no way tantamount to blasphemy.

Interestingly, the defense lawyers of Mumtaz Qadri were former judges of Lahore High Court; Khawaja Mohammad Sharif was former chief justice of the Lahore High Court and Mian Nazir Akhtar was also a former senior judge of the same court.  Would the fate of Mumtaz Qadri be different, if these two former judges were hearing the appeal of Mumtaz Qadri? Bad luck for Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri that the judges hearing his appeal were not of the same metal as his counsels were.

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Nearly after five years of a death sentence awarded to him by the ATC, he was executed in Adiala Jail on 29 February 2016. After nearly 87 years of Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Shaheed’s case, another Ghazi was led to the gallows for a crime that was similar in terms of its cause but different in terms of the victims – one was a Hindu and the other was a Muslim.

For many, the judgement and its execution were a sigh of relief as they thought that the law of the land was upheld supreme and the personal emotions on any ground were not granted a justification for committing any crime. It was believed that the judgment and its execution will bring an end to extrajudicial killings of people on blasphemy charges. A belief that soon turned out to be false.

During the next four years (2016 – June 2020), seven persons were extrajudicially killed in the country on blasphemy charges and one of them was the most heinous and horrifying in its nature and form. Mashal Khan, A 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was killed and another seriously injured by a vigilante mob of university students and staff members for allegedly “publishing blasphemous content online”, on 14 April 2017.

As there was a large mob and none of them later claimed to have committed this act of war against the suspected blasphemers, the title of Ghazi couldn’t be assigned to any of them. Some of them rather got life imprisonment.

Neither the execution of Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri nor the life imprisonment to the Mashal Khan’s murderers thwarted the trend of this extrajudicial killing of suspected blasphemers.  Two more Muslims were extrajudicially murdered on blasphemy charges after Mashal Khan case and the perpetrators proudly confessed to having committed the crime but the religious lobby of the country didn’t find their acts convincing enough to hail them as Ghazi. They were:

22 January 2018:  Faheem Ashraf – a grade 12 student at a private college in Charsadda shot his college principal, Sareer Ahmed who was a Hafiz-e-Quran and affiliated with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

21 March 2019: Khateeb Hussain, a 5th-semester BS student enrolled in the English department murdered Professor Khalid Hameed for organizing a program that would mingle the male and female pupils at the function and it would be an ‘un-Islamic’ activity.

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It took nine years after Salman Taseer’s murder for a young man to achieve the title of Ghazi again. He is Mohammad Khalid Ahmed Khan who murdered an Ahmadi, Tahir Ahmad Nasim, in Peshawar during a court hearing. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Adil Haleem Sheikh endorsed the murder over blasphemy charges by putting up the picture of the shooter on his Facebook display.

Later, he removed the posting and clarified his position by saying that he doesn’t run his Facebook accounts personally, and the picture was uploaded without his knowledge. He was lucky that the person who runs his Facebook account didn’t post something blasphemous without his knowledge.

Anyhow, people started displaying posters carrying photos of Mohammad Khalid Ahmed Khan with a title of Ghazi in many parts of the country while lawyers and policemen showered kisses on him as and when he attended his court hearings. Once again, the blasphemy and the title of Ghazi became a subject of interest for many people.

Does such an act really deserve the title of Ghazi when the titleholder has neither fought a war nor the victims were at war with them? The only justification that comes to mind is that by taking such a daring step, they challenge the state authority and wage a war against the state despite knowing its repercussion that can cost them their lives.

Unfortunately, this justification leads to an act of treason and a traitor can’t be honored with the title of Ghazi either. So, how this controversy between the law of the land and religious understanding can be resolved?  This controversy is basically a result of a duality that exists in state law and state policy.

The state law doesn’t allow an individual to take law in his hands but the state policy encourages such behaviors when it comes to the sanctity of the state religion. It’s in line with the state policy that the heroic episode of Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Shaheen is eulogized in the textbooks but the state law goes against the individuals who aspire to become true followers of Ghazi Ilm-ud-din shaheed.

The state has to draw a clear line on this issue or the innocent people will continue taking law in their hands and the people like lawyers, judges, policemen, and religious clergy will support them. The perpetrators will face judicial executions and the victims will face extrajudicial killings. Death will always be the only outcome of such deeds and that too in the name of a religion of peace.

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Naya Daur