Pakistan: Blasphemous distortion of Islamic law
The News, November 28, 2010
S Iftikhar Murshed
The death sentence handed down on Aasia Bibi over allegations of blasphemy has brought shame to Pakistan and been roundly condemned worldwide. It has also distorted the teachings of Islam. Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, despite his murky track record in politics, did the right thing for once by visiting the hapless woman and holding out the promise of a presidential pardon. This prompted obscurantist clerics to stage demonstrations in several cities of the province. On Nov 24 the Alami Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat issued a fatwa (decree) which declared him an apostate.
Blasphemy laws have existed in British India since 1860. In 1927, Article 295 was added to the Penal Code under which “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief” became a culpable offence. The law was non-discriminatory and conviction under its provisions depended exclusively on conclusive evidence, as a consequence of which there were only ten blasphemy cases in the 58 years between 1927 and 1985. Since that year the number of blasphemy cases has soared to more than 4,000.
In 1982, Gen Ziaul Haq introduced Section 295-B in the Penal Code of Pakistan, under which “defiling the Holy Quran” became punishable by life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295-C was added, mandating capital punishment for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet”. Even the law minister at the time did not support the bill when it was introduced in the National Assembly “on the ground that the Quran did not prescribe a penalty for this offence”.
The enactment of Ziaul Haq’s blasphemy laws unleashed a reign of terror in which the impoverished Christian community suffered the most. The violence will continue till these draconian laws are repealed. This is unlikely, however, because the present law minister, Babar Awan, was quoted by the print media on Nov 26 as saying that “no one can change the blasphemy laws.” Thus, so-called liberal politicians have been just as responsible as semi-educated clerics for the distortion of the laws of Islam in pursuit of their respective political agendas.
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Our intolerant ways - By Babar Sattar, The News
Aasia Bibi and the Blasphemy Law - Huma Imtiaz, Jinnah Institute
The Christian woman facing death over a work squabble - Rob Crilly, Telegraph
Pakistani-Americans, HR groups seek blasphemy laws review - Dawn