- Religious scholars can play a leading role in correcting perceptions regarding blasphemy
Peace and progress in any country is inextricably linked to social harmony and national integration, particularly in multi-cultural societies like Pakistan. The existence and patronage of social fault lines is inimical to achieving those cherished goals. Pakistan unfortunately is a victim of the social fault lines that were either inherited from the pre-partition era or the ones that occurred and were fomented under official patronage after partition for political reasons. The burgeoning sectarianism, religious extremism, religious bigotry have almost shattered the national unity and confronted the country with existentialist threat. The emergence of the culture of militancy and challenging the writ of the state by the self-styled vigilante groups is an extremely dangerous fall-out of that phenomenon.
This development and the narrative propagated by these groups have promoted the culture of mob justice in the country which is incompatible with teachings of Islam. Unfortunately the minorities, particularly the Christian community has been at the receiving end of the mob justice in regards to the alleged blasphemy committed by its members. The attacks on Christian community in Gojra in 2009 which led to the killing of nine members of the Christian community including a woman and a child as well as a similar incident at Badami Bagh Lahore that also culminated in several deaths and destruction of property belonging to the Christian community, were the ugliest manifestation of this phenomenon. Cases have also come to the courts against individuals committing desecration of the holy Quran and derogatory remarks against the Holy prophet (PBUH). This has sent very wrong signals to the international community in regards to the protection of minorities by the state of Pakistan as also enshrined in its constitution besides creating social fissures and chaos in the country.
True that blasphemy cannot be condoned under any circumstances but the question is whose responsibility is it to punish a blasphemer? Of course it is the responsibility of the state in conformity with law and the constitution and not any individual, group of individuals or the self-styled vigilantes. It is indeed a very sensitive issue and the innocent people are easily misled and swayed by the skewed sermons of those who preach mob justice and defiance of the writ of the state. High profile political personalities like Salman Taseer governor Punjab and a federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti who pleaded for clemency for Asia Bibi and also advocated changes in the Blasphemy law to ensure that no one could misuse the law, were assassinated by the vigilante groups.
The emergence of TLP headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has added new dimensions to the already alarming situation by introducing the culture of sit-ins bringing the civic life to a standstill and issuance of edicts for the murder of blasphemers and anybody in the state machinery disagreeing with their view on the issue. People of Pakistan and the world saw the spectacle of challenge to the writ of the state during the Faizabad sit-in at the fag-end of the PML-N regime. Encouraged by the inability of the incumbent government to mount an appropriate response and its groveling stance, the TLP tried the same machination in protest against the SC decision to acquit Asia Bibi in the blasphemy case. The PTI government, however, managed to pursue the TLP leaders to abandon their blockade of the major cities after three days during which the supporters of the latter destroyed public and private property worth billions.
The chaos and ambience of uncertainty created by acts of these organisations has not only harmed Pakistan internally but has also adversely impacted foreign investments
After having defused the situation tactfully, the government arrested the leadership of the TLP and also initiated cases against thousands of the demonstrators who were found involved in damaging the public and private properties. The government has also rightly expressed the resolve not to allow any body to challenge the writ of the state. Though the situation right now seems under control as no violent reaction has come forth as a result of the detention of TLP leadership and institution of cases against its workers but that should not be a cause for complacency. Besides administrative and legal measures against the elements challenging the writ of the state it is also imperative to neutralise the narrative of the entities who preach mob justice and militancy. Religious scholars and the media can play a leading role in correcting the perceptions of the people in regards to the blasphemy issue.
There are no two opinions about death penalty for a blasphemer and nobody in his right mind can take an issue with it. However, what the people need to understand is that it was not for them to punish any alleged blasphemer as the onus for that rested with the state and the judicial system in place. Further that the verdicts of the courts must be respected and accepted. Judiciary is the most sanctimonious institution of the state on which the edifice of the state is erected. Flouting its verdicts or denigrating its judges is neither permissible in Islam nor anywhere around the world. Asia Bibi was acquitted by the highest court of the law because it found no credible incriminating evidence against her. The reaction of TLP and its supporters against this verdict was unwarranted as per Islamic injunctions and teachings of Islam. It was really regrettable to hear that the SC gave that decision under pressure from the western governments and the abuse hurled at the honourable judges and other government high ups.
The chaos and ambience of uncertainty created by acts of these organisations has not only harmed Pakistan internally but has also adversely impacted on foreign investments in the country besides tarnishing image of Pakistan in the comity of nations. If Pakistan has to move forward and earn its respectable place in the comity of nations, priority will have to be given to addressing the social fault lines, establishing the writ of the state and ensuring rule of law in the country. DG ISPR while briefing the media last week rightly stressed the need for addressing internal fault lines maintaining that they had given the enemies of Pakistan the chance to malign it as well as the great religion of Islam. It is however, encouraging to note that the incumbent government and the military leadership are on the same page in that respect and have repeatedly reiterated unequivocally that nobody would be allowed to challenge the writ of the state on any pretext whatsoever. Civil society whose majority subscribes to this view also needs to contribute to this national effort.