The Game of Reli­gious Big­otry

A law mis­used and abused?

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Rimsha Masih’s is the lat­est in­ci­dent that is mak­ing head­lines for Pak­istan in­ter­na­tion­ally. A res­i­dent of Mehrabad in Is­lam­abad’s G12 sec­tor, the teenage Chris­tian girl was ar­rested on Au­gust 17 on the charge of burn­ing some pages of the Qu­ran. Rimsha Masih suf­fers from Down Syn­drome. Re­ports vary about her age as be­tween 11 and 16. How­ever, a med­i­cal re­port puts her men­tal age much be­low her true age, which means that even at 16, her men­tal age is like that of an 11 year old.

What Rimsha is al­leged to have done was burn some pages of the “Noorani Qaeda,” she found in the garbage. The Qaeda is a primer used to fa­mil­iar­ize chil­dren with the Ara­bic al­pha­bet and words used in the Qu­ran. But it is not Qu­ran. As the event un­folds, a man re­ported the in­ci­dent to the Imam of the near­est mosque who eagerly took charge of the case. As was expected, a hue and cry arose and the po­lice was in­formed. With­out fur­ther ado, a blas­phemy case was reg­is­tered. Rimsha was ar­rested and ap­prox­i­mately 2000-3000 Chris­tians re­port­edly fled from the area due to threats from zealots to burn down their homes.

The in­ci­dent trig­gered world­wide re­proach. Prom­i­nent western news­pa­pers re­ported ev­ery turn of events in the case, such as Rimsha’s at­tor­ney be­ing ini­tially re­fused per­mis­sion to meet her. When the heat in­creased, the in­te­rior min­is­ter or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the af­fair. How­ever, given the at­ten­tion her case at­tracted, the girl’s life is at such stake from prowl­ing wolves in hu­man form that she had to be trans­ported by he­li­copter from the Adi­ala prison to an un­de­clared se­cret des­ti­na­tion un­der heavy po­lice guard af­ter be­ing freed on bail.

Mean­while, the case took an un­ex­pect­edly pos­i­tive turn when an eye­wit­ness, Hafiz Zubair tes­ti­fied that the imam of the mosque, Khalid Jadoon had added pages of the Qu­ran to the pile of burnt pages of the Noorani Qaeda and planted them into Rimsha Masih’s bag to clinch the case of blas- phemy against the girl.

At the same time Al­lama Tahir Ashrafi, Chair­man of the All Pak­istan Ulema Coun­cil, said if Rimsha were found to be in­no­cent of the charge of burn­ing pa­pers con­tain­ing verses from the Qu­ran, then those who have ac­cused her should face jus­tice. He also de­nounced the pro­test­ers who demon­strated to de­mand pu­n­ish­ment for Rimsha say­ing, “It is just like the law of the jun­gle that 500 peo­ple ap­proached a po­lice sta­tion and got a re­port forcibly lodged with the po­lice.”

But there has not been a squeak from reli­gious or po­lit­i­cal lead­ers; Altaf Hus­sain of the MQM be­ing the only ex­cep­tion. The si­lence of Ja­maate-Is­lami and JUI may be un­der­stand­able. But there can be no de­fense for the PPP, ANP and the many Mus­lim League fac­tions for fail­ing to speak out, ex­cept that hav­ing sown the seeds of big­otry and fa­nati­cism, they dare not raise their voice against it now to stem the tide.

Sec­tion 295-B of the Pe­nal Code which deals with the crime of “de­fil­ing, etc. of copy of Holy Qu­ran” lays down that “Who­ever will­fully de­files, dam­ages or des­e­crates a copy of the Holy Qu­ran or of an ex­tract there­from or uses it in any deroga­tory man­ner or for any un­law­ful pur­pose shall be pun­ish­able for im­pris­on­ment for life.” But there is no proof that it was a “copy of the Holy Qu­ran” that Rimsha had “will­fully” de­filed

How­ever, Rimsha’s is not the first case. There have been many of her kind be­fore. Only last year Aasiya Bibi, a mother of five, was charged for re­vil­ing the Prophet and sen­tenced to death. She is now await­ing an­swer to her mercy pe­ti­tion from the Pres­i­dent. Fa­nati­cism is at such a high pitch that last year, Gover­nor Sal­man Taseer was gunned down by his guard be­cause he had met with Aasiya in jail. Adding to this, some lawyers, sup­pos­edly very ed­u­cated and en­light­ened peo­ple, show­ered his as­sas­sin with rose petals.

Iron­i­cally, the blas­phemy law has not only been used to ha­rass and evict Chris­tians from their homes and their lands. This lethal weapon has been used against Mus­lims, too. Akhtar Hameed Khan, a re­puted so­cial worker was also its vic­tim once, when some­one out of sheer en­mity, ac­cused him of blas­phemy. Though ul­ti­mately cleared he had to suf­fer a great deal, be­ing dragged to court in his old age.

Rimsha’s case has kicked off an un­prece­dented re­ac­tion par­tic­u­larly due to her ill­ness and her young age. In Aasiya’s case there was an al­leged al­ter­ca­tion be­tween her and some Mus­lims when she was al­leged to have made some deroga­tory re­mark against the Prophet in anger. But this poor girl had no earthly rea­son to de­file the Qu­ran “will­fully.” She had no quar­rel with any Mus­lim. She did not even know what Noorani Qaeda was. And even her ac­cuser did not say he saw her burn­ing the pages.

The many ex­am­ples of the mis­use of this law and the world­wide op­po­si­tion it has earned for Pak­istan de­mand a se­ri­ous re­flec­tion from all sec­tions of the so­ci­ety. There are blas­phemy laws even in some Western coun­tries. But they do not make as nar­row an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it as in Pak­istan.

Be­sides, Pak­istan is al­ready on in­ter­na­tional radar as the foun­tain­head of ter­ror­ism. It has earned the so­bri­quet of the most dan­ger­ous place on earth even with­out the con­tri­bu­tion of the fa­nat­ics who mas­sacre Shias, kill Ah­madis and de­file their place of wor­ship, and force Hindu girls to em­brace Is­lam. In the cir­cum­stances, Chris­tian­bait­ing through the blas­phemy law is the last straw on the rick­ety camel’s back.

Need is, there­fore, to re­draft the law so as to pre­vent its mis­use and at the same time bring it in line with the spirit of Is­lam, which preaches for­give­ness. An ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent could be to pre­scribe the same penalty for the ac­cuser if the al­le­ga­tion is proven false as for the ac­cused if the charge is proved.

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