By S Iftikhar Murshed
September 16, 2012
The hideous but undeniable truth is that in the last few years more people have been killed in Pakistan because of religion than in any other country of the world. Shias have been ruthlessly slaughtered; Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have been target-killed and their places of worship desecrated; Muslims accused of blasphemy or suspected of apostasy have not been spared.
The rot began with the adoption of the Objectives Resolution by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 under which Islam became the state religion. In his 2001 book, Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan, the eminent lawyer, Hamid Khan, observes with uncommon perspicacity: “Once the state establishes a religion, it leads to confrontation between various sects.”
Five decades earlier, the Munir Report of 1954 on the anti-Ahmadi riots in Lahore concluded: “The sublime faith called Islam will live even if our leaders are not there to enforce it. It lives in the individual, in his soul and outlook, in all his relations with God and men, from the cradle to the grave, and our politicians should understand that if Divine commands cannot make or keep a man a Musalman, their statutes will not.” The document, which runs into 387 closely typed pages, was the outcome of skilful but courteous grilling of the ulema (religious scholars) by a committee headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir with Justice M R Kayani as its member.
The two judges cross-examined scores of Islamic scholars and the leaders of religious political parties who were asked to define a Muslim. The response of Maulana Maudoodi (1903-1979), the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was that only a person who believed in one God, all the prophets, all revealed scriptures, the angels, and the Day of Judgement qualified as a Muslim. Justice Munir observed that curiously absent from this definition was the finality of prophethood.
The telling comment in the Munir Report was: “Keeping in view the several definition of a Muslim given by the ulema, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines agreed on this fundamental?”
The Report mentions that a pamphlet had been circulated by the respected cleric Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani in which he sought to demonstrate from the Quran, the Sunnah (the Traditions), ijma (consensus among religious authorities), and qiyas (deduction by analogy) that the Islamic punishment for irtidad (apostasy) is death. The motive was to justify the killing of Ahmadis because they were regarded as apostates.
The learned judges sternly disagreed: “The death penalty for irtidad has implications of a far-reaching character and stamps Islam as a religion of fanatics... the doctrine of irtidad as enunciated in the pamphlet strikes at the root of independent thinking and Islam becomes the embodiment of complete intellectual paralysis.” They also observed that the death penalty for apostasy is not prescribed by the Quran.
In none of the twenty instances where apostasy is mentioned in the Quran is there any indication of punishment in this world, leave aside the death penalty, because the apostate, according to former chief justice S A Rahman, “will be punished only in the Hereafter.” In his exhaustive 1972 work, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, Justice Rahman also questions the chain of transmission (isnad) in the hadith which proclaims “...kill whoever changes his religion...”
Qiyas, which means “measure” or “scale” or “exemplar” and, hence, “analogy,” is built around the untenable principle of deriving laws on matters about which neither the Quran nor the Traditions of the Holy Prophet are explicit. This is rejected by the Quran, which states: “For, most of them follow nothing but conjecture: (and), behold, conjecture can never be a substitute for truth...” (10:35)
It is from this verse that the renowned jurist Ibn Hazm (994-1064) categorically rejects qiyas because it seeks to derive religious laws which are “supposedly implied in the wording of the Quran or of the Prophet’s teachings, but not clearly laid down in terms of law.” The theologian, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (1149-1209), famed for his Quran commentary titled “The Keys of the Unseen” (Mafatih al-Ghayb) from the verse “With Him are the keys of the unseen” (6:59), was even more dismissive: “...every deduction by analogy is a conjectural process and is, therefore, inadmissible (in matters pertaining to religion).”
Twenty years after the publication of the scholarly Munir Report, Ahmadis were excommunicated from Islam through the Second Amendment to the Constitution shepherded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP government. Despite its secular pretensions, the party wears religion on its shirt sleeves. On August 25, former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani bragged after attending the Khatm-e-Nabuwat Conference in Golra that in 1974 the PPP had accomplished the mission of Pir Mehar Ali Shah, the patron saint of Golra, by declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
Thus bigotry is not the exclusive preserve of the clerics. Secular leaders, whether civilian or military, have, without exception, worn the mask of false piety for no higher motive than pursuit of power. In 1984, Ziaul Haq promulgated Ordinance XX which prohibited Ahmadis from indentifying themselves in any manner as Muslims. When this was challenged through a writ petition, the ruling of the court was that believers were perfectly within their rights to object if Ahmadis posed as Muslims.
The impact of Ziaul Haq’s eleven-year rule was the distortion of Islamic tenets. The Hudood Ordinances promulgated in 1979 and enforced the following year have been critiqued often enough by various commissions and committees, starting from the Zari Sarfraz Commission in 1983. The 2003 Special Committee headed by Justice Majida Rizvi observed that the Hadood laws “do not reflect the correct principles of Islamic criminal law and are not in accordance with Islamic injunctions.”
During an interview in September 2008, Justice Khalil-ur-Rahman Ramday of the Supreme Court recalled that a review was undertaken in the early 1980s to determine whether any of the laws that had been in place since 1841 were contrary to the injunctions of Islam. The findings were that hardly any of the laws enacted during the colonial era were repugnant to Islam “and whatever little un-Islamic provisions were found, unfortunately, were the ones enacted after 1947, and not by the British.”
This applied as much to the blasphemy laws, but it did not dissuade Ziaul Haq from introducing Section 295-B in the Pakistan Penal Code in 1982, under which “defiling the Holy Quran” became punishable with life imprisonment. Subsequently, in 1986, Section 295-C was added, mandating capital punishment for the “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet.”
According to an analyst, only seven blasphemy cases were registered in South Asia between 1927 and 1986. But in the last 26 years, the number increased dramatically to 1,058. The accused included 456 Ahmadis, 449 Muslims, 132 Christians and 21 Hindus. Though non-Muslims constitute a mere four percent of Pakistan’s population, they account for 57 percent of those accused of blasphemy.
Rimsha Masih, the little Christian girl afflicted with Down’s syndrome, is the most recent victim of the blasphemy laws. Though her dreadful ordeal has brought shame to the country as well as indescribable anguish to her family, she has unwittingly achieved more than anyone else in convincing even the clergy that the blasphemy laws are liable to misuse.
In an article carried by a major English newspaper earlier this month, the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, wrote: “Pakistan belongs as much to the non-Muslims as to the Muslims. Blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal vendettas...strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent.” Like a gentle breeze from the spice island of hope this suggests that there is a possibility of reforming the blasphemy laws with the cooperation of the clergy.
S Iftikhar Murshed is the publisher of Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@ gmail.com