In the name of Blasphemy

October 5, 2017

By Ayesha Zahid

Blasphemy, the word that gives a little shiver to everyone in Pakistan nowadays is a matter of serious concern. It remains the grave issue that the talk about Article 295C of Pakistan Penal Code quivers the tongues of the journalists. Public spheres have seen the silence that echoes the names of the dead souls. Pens of the literary class show extra caution while keeping the blood of the accused and dead victims in mind.

The voice still has to be raised. It has to be raised to acquaint people with the fact that the anti religious powers that want to scapegoat in the name of blasphemy can’t do so more. Tahir Iqbal a Christian convert was poisoned in Lahore prison in 1992 because he had allegations of defiling Quran by underlining it with greenmarker and imparting anti Islamic sentiments. Why he had to be poisoned? Didn’t we have laws to bring him to the gallows if he actually did something derogatory? Any doubt must not be placed on the existence of blasphemy laws. The debate doesn’t and shouldn’t involve the ‘if and if not’ of the blasphemy law but it should discuss ‘what and how’. It goes without saying that a single derogatory remark against religion in written or spoken and in real or virtual world in no way falls under the freedom of speech. But does this gives a right to a contradictory scenario? A scenario where people become a mob and start marching towards the victim like a bandwagon effect? A scenario where political or personal lynching of an individual is easily overshadowed with a single word of blasphemy? The aftermath of such incidents is even more disquieting.

By amalgamating the religious sentiments of the public with the discussion of blasphemy laws, culprits find a very safe exit. Those who have handcuffed the discussion on this topic need to go back to the time. They will come across the most precious literature that not only discussed but also explained the laws and penalties. Hanafi Jurists such as Abu Hanifa, his student Abu Yusuf in Kitab al-Kharaj, Imam Tahawi in Mukhtasar al-Tahawi, Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri, Imam Abu Bakar Ala al-Din Kasani in Bada’i as Sanai, Taqi al-Din al-Subki in al-Sayf al-maslul ‘ala man sabba al-Rasul, and a vast number of other distinguished Hanafi scholars have given their words on the penalties and pleadings of the accused. They have also explained what blasphemy is and is not. They have discussed “what and how” of the blasphemy. Perhaps the mob that brutally took away life of Mashal Khan, an extra ordinary student of Mardan University on April 13, 2017 was quite unaware about the entire concept of blasphemy. One can have pity on those who turn into delinquent and barbaric mobs without even acquainting themselves with the relevant knowledge.

Why it has to be a ‘no discussion zone’ still remains to be an answered question. Blasphemy, the offence that was a much new phenomenon in the middle of the nineteenth century India was encountered with the introduction of printing machine. It was when a Gujrati paper published derogatory remarks about Holy Prophet (PBUH). The increased riots of Hindu Muslim brought forward four laws on blasphemy. Three of those laws included Indian Penal Code 295, 296, and 298 in 1860 and the fourth one (IPC295A) in 1927. 77 years of struggle carved out these four laws. All these laws mentioned different amount of fines and imprisonments. After 1947 Pakistan adopted these laws which were followed by much discussion, a subject that is increasingly becoming a taboo subject especially after two major assassinations in 2011 on Asia Bibi’s case. Pre Zia’s regime had just these four laws marked by 5 to 8 filed cases of blasphemy i:e from 1851 to 1947.  Later General Zia introduced five more laws. Unlike British government he just took seven years to introduce PPC 295B, & C and PPC 298A, B, & C with reported 80 cases in his regime alone. The most controversial one, article 298C was drafted by senior advocate of the Supreme Court Ismail Qureshi in 1986. Qureshi drafted Section 295-C providing the death sentence as the only punishment for blasphemy. Parliament of Pakistan has witnessed debates on inclusion and exclusion of imprisonment of life in Article 298C.  The discussion has its roots in the fact that Hanfi School of thought did or did not allow for the pardon before death sentence. It also goes back to the 15th century to the writings of Al-Bazzazzi that he misquoted his predecessors. Such discussions include the work of scholars like Imam Ibn e Abidin who was an eminent scholar of South Asia and has shed in depth light into the issue. Apart from the debate on law, even more grave issue is the debate on using the word Blasphemy for the personal ends. Culprits are well aware of the fact that if they use the false allegations of blasphemy against their opponent, they’ll always be able to keep the gun on others shoulders and fire.

In 2002 Muhammad Yousuf Ali was allegedly shot dead by a member of Sipah-i-Sahaba, In 2012 a man was torched alive by a mob, Jaegdesh Kumar was beaten to death by Muslim workers in a factory in 2012, police had to file a false case against a Christian man in 2013 under pressure, and 2017 saw a cruel attack on Mashal Khan on fake allegations. These and many other lost their lives in the name of blasphemy. All such barbaric attacks and allegations knock at the door of justice. If so much has been done until now, why not to do a little more. Whatsoever be the conclusion, the lack of discussion on the subject is giving few warlords the right to use the single word of blasphemy to mobilize mobs in their favor and for their personal use.

The strictness on not discussing the blasphemy law has moved to a second level. This is a level where the ‘accused’ blaspheme is declared ‘actual’ blaspheme out of the fear of pressure groups. The discussion on blasphemy law is totally another issue but no obstacles should be imposed on the discussion of the killings in the name of blasphemy.