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Why We Need An Honest Discussion Around The Crime Of Blasphemy

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In the wake of recent events, the issue of punishment for blasphemers has once again come to limelight. But before we analyze the relevant legislation from the perspective of famous jurists of the Sunni school of thought, let’s take a look at what this law is actually about – and how those in Parliament have taken a view very different from that of classical Islamic teachings.

In 1987, Gen Zia-ul-Haq instituted the blasphemy laws as part of his widespread Islamization policy. The initial punishment that was reserved for blasphemers was life-imprisonment. The death penalty was penciled in on the insistence of parliamentarians later on, who argued that there is ijma (consensus) among Imam Abu Hanifa and his students that the only punishment for blasphemy is death.

However in reality, this perspective was not based on truth. And it presented only one side of the picture.

Most of the people living In Pakistan follow the Hanafi jurisprudence of Sunni Islam. This means that they follow the teachings of Imam Abu Hanifa – one of the four imams of Sunni Islam.

According to most of the Hanafi jurists, if any Muslim insults Allah, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or the Quran, then that individual ceases to be a Muslim (i.e. it is apostasy). Since the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death, therefore any Muslim who commits such acts must be killed, according to these jurists.

This fatwa gives us insights about two important things
1) That such blasphemy-related penalties do not apply in the same way on non-Muslims (if taken in the light of teachings of Hanafi jurists)
2) Pakistan’s legislation may not be fully in line with the Islamic teachings.

Moreover, Imam Abu Hanifa says that a non-Muslim will not be killed on the basis of blasphemy. After all, the theological argument runs, the state of unbelief that the non-Muslim lives is technically a sin more grave than blaspheming.

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Furthermore, the founders of the Deobandi movement, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Maulana Mahmood Ul Hassan, and the founder of the Barelvi movement, Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, also agree that such legislation ought not to be applicable to non-Muslims – at least on a single alleged offence by an individual.

It is a tragedy that such matters are not being discussed in the public sphere in Pakistan – at a time when society regularly deals with this highly fraught and emotive issue.

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Naya Daur