Many of Pakistan’s Muslim majority population believe it is their duty to punish people that disrespect the Prophet Muhammad. That is why Pakistan has blasphemy laws contained within its penal code. Unfortunately, these controversial laws and this fundamental theology have led disproportionately to the persecution and abuse of the country’s Christian minority. Christians have been murdered, churches have been destroyed and even entire Christian villages have been set on fire because of the country’s treatment of blasphemy. Impunity for those who “take the law into their own hands” and punish blasphemers has only encouraged attacks on Christians. To call for any sort of reform is to invite death threats. Will Pakistan ever change its stance on blasphemy or will its radical theology continue to spread Christian persecution?
9/3/2013 Pakistan (Christian Today) – It is the popular belief among the majority of Pakistani Muslims that they are duty bound to murder anyone who insults the prophet Muhammad. It is not just Muslim clerics and scholars who believe this, but also regular citizens, politicians, journalists, lawyers and even judges. Many Muslims are ready to be sacrificed for the honour of Muhammad, and also similarly to kill anyone who insults him.
Justice Nazir Akhtar, addressing a gathering of the Ahle Sunnat religious organisation in Lahore, said that undoing the blasphemy laws would be treason even if done by a majority in parliament. He became famous as a sitting judge when he told a social gathering that blasphemers should be killed and not brought to the court of law.
Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard, was so influenced by such an interpretation of the Koranic verses and hadiths that he was inspired to murder the Governor of Punjab he was hired to protect and so weave his place in paradise.
The extreme views on blasphemy that are commonplace in Pakistan have resulted in attacks on churches, Christian towns and villages being set alight, innocent people being burnt alive, and other forms of vigilante killings. Unfortunately no one has ever been challenged by the Pakistani government or law enforcement agencies to give an account, which only encourages radicals to take the law into their own hands. This strengthens their belief that their actions are justified on religious grounds.
In Britain, by contrast, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom fined Noor TV – owned by Al Ehya – £85,000 for inciting hatred and murder. The fine related to an episode of the programme Paigham-e-Mustafa broadcast on 3 May 2012, in which presenter Allama Muhammad Farooq Nizami answered questions from viewers about a wide range of issues relating to Islam. When one caller asked what the punishment was for anyone showing disrespect to the Prophet Muhammad, Nizami answered that “there is no disagreement about this”.
“There is absolutely no doubt about it that the punishment for the person who shows disrespect for the Prophet is death,” he said.
Nizami also argued that the actions of Mumtaz Qadri were justified on the grounds that he objected to Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s calls to amend the country’s controversial blasphemy law. Qadri was sentenced to death by Judge Pervez Ali Shah but after his verdict the court was besieged by extremists, the judge was threatened with his life, lawyers and extremists demanded his resignation, and it is believed he fled the country. Not surprisingly, Qadri’s case has not been touched since then.
There have even been demands from politicians, lawyers and clerics that Qadri should be released unconditionally as he apparently committed no crime but only did what the Koran told him to do. In Qadri’s own mind too, he has done no wrong. This much was clear from the 40 page document he submitted to the court referring to 11 Koranic verses and 28 quotes from Sunnah in his defence.
Taseer is not the first one to have lost his life because of such warped theology. Samuel Masih was murdered by a policeman who was on duty to guard him. Christians in Gojra have just marked the fifth anniversary of the mob violence that saw eight Christians burnt to death. In 1992, Naimat Ahmer was stabbed and killed in front of his students in Faisalabad. Two years later, Manzoor Masih was shot dead outside the Lahore high court. These crimes are testament to how long Christians have been pleading and campaigning for a change to the blasphemy law.
Most Islamic countries have blasphemy laws criminalising any disrespect shown to the Prophet Muhammad. The punishment ranges from a fine to imprisonment and the death penalty, but what marks Pakistan out from the rest is that the punishment is an automatic death penalty.
Not all Islamic scholars are of the same opinion and there are some who openly oppose such laws and religious views. Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, a prominent Muslim scholar, has always opposed such an interpretation of Islam. However, he was forced to flee the country after receiving death threats from extremists. There are others who share his views who are still in Pakistan but unfortunately their views are not promoted or understood adequately, and their voices are snubbed.