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Islam and Sectarianism ( 21 Nov 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Is Pakistani Girl Rimsha Masih's Acquittal From Accusation Of Blasphemy A Light At The End Of The Tunnel?


By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

Rimsha Masih, the 14 year Christian girl of Pakistan who was charged with blasphemy in August has been acquitted by the Lahore High Court. Her acquittal has once again highlighted the abuse of what Salman Taseer called the Black Law in Pakistan. Her acquittal can be seen as the light at the end of the tunnel in a country where thousands have been falsely implicated and hundreds incarcerated on the charges of blasphemy --- not to speak of those who have been extra-judicially killed on the issue. However, human rights activists have expressed concerns over the safety of Rimsha and her family as the country has seen extra judicial killings of at least 52 people acquitted of blasphemy charges so far. Ironically, out of the 52 people killed for blasphemy, 25 were Muslims, 15 were Christians, 5 Ahmadis, one a Buddhist and one a Hindu.

It shows how the Muslims have been implicated in blasphemy cases in Pakistan. Last year, A 45 year old Christian woman named Asia Bibi was convicted in a blasphemy case and given out death sentence though she pleaded that she was framed because of personal enmity at the place of work. Salman Taseer, the then Punjab Governor and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian minister were killed for opposing the Blasphemy Laws and defending Asia Bibi.

In 2011, a doctor belonging to the Ismaili sect was framed by a medical representative whose name began with the prefix Mohammad. The medical representative accused the doctor of throwing his visiting card bearing his name on the ground. This way, he claimed, the doctor committed blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is one of the instances how blasphemy charges are brought against professional or religious opponents which are most often dismissed by the courts. However, acquittal by the courts does not end their woes as many Khudai Faujdars are ready to punish them extra-judicially. One such high profile case was of Rahmat Masih and Manzoor Masih of whom Manzoor Masih was killed by religious fanatics.

Blasphemy Laws existed in Pakistan since its inception and blasphemy cases came up occasionally but after Gen. Ziaul Haque’s Islamicisation of Pakistan, blasphemy laws became more stringent as he added 5 clauses in the blasphemy laws to deal with the Ahmadis and the Shias specifically. It was during his tenure that the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims and any attempt by them to call or demonstrate themselves to be Muslims was made a legal offence for which they could be imprisoned for upto three years. These clauses were added during the 1980s and it was observed that number of blasphemy cases shot up alarmingly after the new laws were introduced. If we study the statistics of the blasphemy cases in Pakistan, it will become obvious that desecration of the Quran and defaming the Prophet (PBUH) are the common allegations against the accused. And most of the accused are the Muslims, followed by Christians and Ahmadis. This itself proves that the blasphemy laws in the country have become a tool to frame political, religious and sectarian opponents. After 1988 more than 1,000 cases have been filed for desecration of the holy Quran and about 50 cases have been lodged for blasphemy against the holy prophet (PBUH). It is a matter of investigation how so many cases of desecration of the Quran and insult to the prophet (PBUH) can occur in an Islamic country where the majority have great respect and are ready to lay their lives or take the lives of others to protect the sanctity of the Quran and the prophet (PBUH).

Though the Pakistani government is aware of the gross misuse of the blasphemy laws and in fact has shown some will to amend them but the religious leaders and extremist outfits like the Taliban and the Jamat ud Dawa have opposed it tooth and nail, and since the Pakistan politics is very much dependent on these religious ideologues, the government finds itself helpless in this regard. Recently, Sherry Rehman, a minister in the Zardari government had presented a proposal to amend the laws in the Parliament but had to go underground following death threats from the extremists.

However, in the case of Rimsha Masih, a considerable number of clerics came forward to defend her. The assistants of Maulana Khalid Jadoon who brought false charges against Rimsha deposed against the Maulana as also a member of the local police station deposed against him showing that the collective conscience of the Pakistani people is still alive. This gives us hope that the general masses of Pakistan will rise against the misuse of the blasphemy laws and would one day force the government to amend or repeal the laws so that innocent people do not lose their lives or languish in jails in the name of the sanctity of the prophet (PBUH) and the Quran. The media and the powerful religious and political leaders have to run campaigns to create awareness among the general Muslims in the country about the damage and loss these laws are causing to the image of Pakistan and more importantly of Islam. But unfortunately, the Pakistani media which cries hoarse over the arrest of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan for custom violations or cricketing affiliations of Sania Mirza has been silent over the acquittal of Rimsha Masih and their learned columnists do not have time to ponder over the safety or the lack of it of this innocent teenage girl suffering from Down Syndrome.

S. Arshad is a regular columnist for