On Dishonest Maulvis, Harsh Laws, and Minority Rights

Last year when the case was being made to alter or abolish the blasphemy laws, the argument from the liberal and progressive minority of Pakistan was mobilized primarily to point out as to how the law could be misused to persecute minorities. At that point, the case of Asia Bibi was at the forefront of the struggle. That debate was stilled soon after the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhattit.

The case of Rishman (I do not think this is not her real name but I use it to assert her humanity) has taught us that we were right all along. Here is an instance where a local imam himself inserted the pages of the Qur’an in a bag that was brought to him as evidence. His reason: “This would make the case stronger in getting the Christian family evicted.”

There are many things wrong with this action. First of all, it is an immoral act of the highest degree: bearing false witness is a serious offense in Islamic jurisprudence, especially since the punishments are so severe. In fact here is how one Hadith describes it:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.7  Narrated by  Abu Bakra

Allah’s Messenger (saws) said thrice, “Shall I not inform you of the biggest of the Great Sins?”  We said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (saws)”  He (saws) said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to be undutiful to one’s parents.”  The Prophet (saws) then sat up after he had been reclining and added, “And I warn you against giving forged statement and a false witness; I warn you against giving a forged statement and a false witness.” The Prophet (saws) kept on saying that warning till we thought that he would not stop!

Secondly, it tells us the absolute internalized intolerance toward minorities that these mullahs and their followers display. If the poor minority citizens of Pakistan are to be evicted from their shanty towns and hovels, where are they expected to go? Why is it necessary to get them evicted through malicious and falsified accusations?

Thankfully, an honest Muslim named Hafiz Zubair, and we need more of them, came forward to testifythat the Maulvi himself had inserted the pages of the Qur’an in the plastic bag, which, according to the definition of blasphemy by the maulvis, is a serious offense. We would now like to see the maulvi taste the same medicine: he should now be tried under the same law, for his act is not only illegal and immoral but also blasphemous according to the very law that he and his ilk support and have killed for.

We Pakistanis often use India as the bogeyman to justify our policies and our communal behaviors, but compared to Pakistan, India is much more complex and tolerant democracy in which minorities do not just live as passive right-holders at the mercy of the majority. It was, let us not forget, the fear of minoritization that had become the main cause for the Pakistan movement. Now that we have been a nation for over sixty years, we have been responsible of the same actions toward minorities that we had feared would be our lot in a united India.

For all of us who believe in human dignity, honesty, and compassion it is imperative to speak up and to challenge all messengers of hate and injustice: If  Islam has to survive and remain pertinent in the modern world, its best attributes must guide us and not its most intolerant interpretations.



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Rishman: Another Victim of Unjust Laws and Communal Hatered

It seems that those who claim to police the sanctity of the majority religion in Pakistan are on a constant and unending witch hunt. Their victims, or targets, mostly always happen to be poor and destitute women from the Christian minority that already lives a perilous existence in our increasingly intolerant country. A few years ago we witnessed the case of Asia Bibi who was charged under the blasphemy laws and in the wake two courageous opponents of the law were killed by the so-called protectors of the faith.

The victim this time is a poor, unlettered minor named Rishman. Those who have accused her of blasphemy assert that amongst the papers that she collected in the street to use as fuel for a cooking fire were some pages of the Qur’an. And thus having burned those pages, she has, somehow, blasphemed. Needless to say that our first concern should be to speak about the nature of this life: why does a child have to gather fuel in the streets to cook food in the so-called Islamic republic of Pakistan.

A board of seven physicians have attested that Rishman is a minor and does not even have the IQ commensurate with her age. No one saw her burning the so-called pages and, most importantly, being unlettered, she would have not even known what she was burning. Neither the intention nor the act can be proven. So, how is it that this case is even on trial and that she awaits her fate in jail without a recourse to due process or even a bail.

Is this what we have become as a nation: a bunch of ghundas who pry on the weak in the name of religion. Is this how Islamic jurisprudence works? Does Islam permit arresting and jailing children for committing offenses even when they might not even had the metal capacity to discern right from wrong. My reading of the Sharia tells me that the justice system in Islam cannot be arbitrary and that the rules of evidence are extremely strict to protect people from false accusations.Which Qur’an are these mullahs and their followers reading?

It is time we stood up against these messengers of hate: we need to declare once for all that Pakistan does not only belong to Muslims. That all those who live and abide by the laws of the country are its citizens and are inherently equal. Let us stop our mullahs and their followers from dictating as to what kind of nation we ought to be.

Let us stop blaming and arresting children in the name of religion: it defies the basic dictates of human dignity, cheapens the value of law, and darkens our future.

Yes, no more of these witch hunts. No more public or legal prosecution of minorities. No more injustice in the name of religion.

We have had enough of your  bigotry!

Commentaries Politics Religion

Pakistani Blasphemy Laws: Resources

The coat of arms of Pakistan displays the nati...
Image via Wikipedia

(From Citizens for Democracy)

Religion or Politics?: Tracing the history and origin of 295-B and C, the most misused sections in the chapter on Offences Related to Religion – by Farieha Aziz, Newsline, Feb 27, 2011

No punishment for blasphemy in Quran – detailed study by the eminent scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, downloadable pdf file

Blind Faith: A short documentary film about the blasphemy law in Pakistan by Sara N. Haq

How Should We Deal With Blasphemy? By Dr Khalid Zaheer (from his blog)

Release Aasiya Bibi, Repeal Blasphemy Laws, Abolish Shariat Court | Baaghi

The non-reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws tells a wider story about Zardari’s failure to foster true democracy – By Ali Dayan Hasan in OpenDemocracy, Dec 30, 2010

Overcoming ‘blasphemy law’ hype – Beena Sarwar « Journeys to democracy, Dec 30, 2010

The blasphemy law by I.A. Rehman, Dawn Nov 25, 2010


When Gen. Zia imposed Arabic

The introduction of Arabic as a second language in Pakistani schools concretized Pakistani identity as inherently Islamic and restructured our desires in Islamist terms.

The role of national languages in defining and articulating national identities is a hackneyed subject, but, somehow, the privileging of learning a sacred language has not been explored much in the debates on nationalism. In this brief article, I intend to draw attention to the rise of Arabic studies in Pakistan and its long-term consequences for the Pakistani public sphere.

In his 1983 book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson provides three major causes for the waning of the pre-national empires and the rise of modern nation-states. One of the reasons, according to Anderson, was the rise of vernacular languages in place of what were considered the sacred languages, Latin and Arabic included. I have long maintained that Anderson misses the point as he only looks at the official use of these languages and not about the symbolic aspects of their power.  In case of Arabic, for example, while it never was the official language of Muslim India, it still remains a language that wields immense symbolic power.

In fact, this symbolic power never really recedes and actually comes to haunt and shape the politics of Pakistan in the mid nineteen seventies. Those of us who are old enough to remember it probably know that until the mid-seventies, most of the government schools offered Persian as a second language. There were quite a few reasons for it: Persian, having been the lingua franca of the Mughal court, had been the language of Muslim administration of Northern India for quite some time; Persian was also a mother language for Urdu language and Urdu poetry and prose; Persian was also a language that, at least, impacted the border regions of both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and, most importantly, Persian was the language of our close RCD ally, Iran.

In the mid seventies as the Shah of Iran was deposed, the Saudis emerged as the leading powerbrokers in the Islamic world. One aspect of their deep investment into Pakistani culture was the replacement of Persian as a second language with Arabic. This shift also suited Zia-ul-Haq who was using Islamization as a legitimating strategy for his power. We could have not guessed it then but this choice of a second “sacred” language has had long-tem, negative consequences in defining Pakistani nationhood.

When we learned Persian as a second language, we learned it as language of poetry with a deep awareness of its place in the Pakistani secular sphere; we never associated it with religion as it was not considered a sacred language, not even by our Shia brothers or sisters who, despite their affiliations with Iran, still considered Arabic the primary sacred language. Persian as a language of high culture had the capacity to structures our desires about a larger culture of art without much emphasis on religious sentiment. How many of us can very easily recall names of Persian poets: Hafiz, Saadi, Khayyam, Attar, Rumi. Now, try recalling the names of Arab poets: I am drawing a blank (This is not to imply Arab literature is not rich). The introduction of Arabic as a second language in Pakistani schools concretized Pakistani identity as inherently Islamic and restructured our desires in Islamist terms. This language learning was no longer about its utility as a language of commerce or secular culture: its single utility was as that of the sacred language, as the language of the Qur’an. Our flirtation with Arabic, therefore, was deeply religious just as it was for those who experienced it every day in reading the Qur’an or listening to the Arabic calls for prayer. Now there is nothing wrong with this experience, for Pakistan, after all, is a predominantly Muslim country. But introducing Arabic as a second language in our schools also caused two effects: it reasserted a supranational, historical sacred and it structured our perception of the nation in predominantly Muslim terms. Thus, the children from religious minorities, for whom Arabic was not really a sacred language, in a way, could be considered less Pakistani than their Muslim counterparts. Also, as the language was sacred, our expectations of it also became religious for when we learn Arabic in the classroom we do not necessarily go looking for works by Arab authors such as Naguib Mahfouz or Aliffa Riffat. Chances are that by learning Arabic we also learn to direct our attention to the Qur’an as a sacred text but also as the most important text for a Pakistani identity, a practice that was already quite established in the madrassas. With the introduction of Arabic as a second language in our school system, thus, the federally funded school system also, in symbolic terms, became an extension of the madrassas.

Thus, while our students never learn much about the various languages of their own nation, they do learn a language that puts their expectations beyond the nation-state (Saudi Arabia) and structures their loyalty for a glorious past that never really existed but is inherently supranational and idealized. In this way, it seems, in terms of structuring of desires that inform our politics, the introduction of Arabic in our school systems has worked to weaken the teaching of the nation and replaced it with an atavistic and uncritical engagement with those regions of the world that are “sacred” but also represent the most undemocratic and repressive regimes on the planet.

For the postcolonial nations, national languages play an important role in creating a sense of the nation especially through literary artifacts. Sadly, this important role has been deeply contested in case of Urdu by insertion of a foreign and “sacred” language. There is nothing wrong with a post-national politics of a cosmopolitan national identity; in fact I find it extremely important for any nation but especially for Pakistan. But, as Fanon suggests toward the end of The Wretched of The Earth, a post-national identity—especially the one invested in the past—cannot precede the creation of a national identity. In case of Pakistan privileging regional languages and enhancing our study of Urdu and Urdu literature would help in reinvesting our desires in the nation instead of aligning our politics and emotions with a mythical Muslim-Arab past.

(From Viewpoint Online)

Commentaries Religion

Pakistani Ulama and Their Rhetoric (6): Maulana Nasrullah Khan

(From Mashal Books)

Speaker: Maulana Nasrullah Khan
Location: Jamia Masjid Umar Farooq, Chichawatni, Sahiwal
Sect: Deobandi
Language: Punjabi
Time: June 2010


[audio:|titles=Maulana Nasrullah Khan]


Whoever does not acknowledge/believe in the Quran will be humiliated in this world and the Hereafter. Allah says namaz saves you from shamelessness and bad deeds. The point to ponder is why doesn’t namaz save us from lies, fraud and corruption?

Listen to this: Hazrat Umar is in the mosque and is leading the believers. A young girl is also saying her namaz behind him. She has travelled two KM to the mosque to stand behind him for the Friday prayer. She has her small brother with her. But when a young boy saw the girl his sexual desire was aroused. The boy said to her: fulfil my desire, but the girl put her own condition before him. Normally women love gold more than they love their husbands but this girl was different. She said pray behind Hazrat Umar for eight days and after that come to me and tell me your desire.

Listen to this: Hazrat Umar is on the rostrum of namaz and he is someone who speaks the language of Allah and the Quran too speaks his language. The boy said namaz behind him for a week and on the eighth day he is found praying to Allah: O Allah I am a sinner please forgive me! The youth is still crying during the Friday namaz when the girl too reaches the mosque and tells her brother to go and locate the boy. Her brother found the boy in a corner of the mosque crying. He did not listen to the voice of the girl’s brother but went on crying. The brother asked: My sister wants to know what is your desire of her? On this the boy grew angry and said go away my desire is now for Allah.

When the heart is with Allah then there is no attraction in worldly things. Once Hazrat Saad was saying his namaz when a snake fell on the chest of his infant son. He thought if the snake stays there he will kill my son but Allah looked after his favoured ones. Allah’s bounty increased and He protected the infant. When the Prophet PBUH heard this he told Saad that when you say your namaz the mercy of Allah is at its highest point. Had you gone on all night Allah would have looked after your son and the snake would have actually stood guard on him.

In our case, o People, if a fly sits on our face our namaz is ruined! Allah says: say the kind of namaz that is without shamelessness and evil. Had our women been pious they have inculcated namaz in their children.


To follow