THE anti-Terrorism court in Haripur finally announced the verdict in the case of lynching of Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan for the alleged commitment of blasphemy, convicting 31 out of 57 accused with death sentence to the main culprit, while 26 students were acquitted on the basis of lack of evidence. What is alarming about the developments in the backdrop of this decision is that those who were acquitted by the court were given tumultuous welcome by their supporters and mainstream politico-religious parties as if they had returned from the battlefield after fighting for a righteous cause, which indicated religious bigotry at its worst that decidedly is inimical to building a progressive Islamic polity in line with the Islamic teachings and the vision of the founding father. Similar support and appreciation was expressed for the killer of Salman Taseer.
Regrettably the killing of Mashal Khan was not the first incident of mob justice. The land of the pure bears the stigma of a number similar incidents in which people have been subjected to the brutality of mob justice on the charges of blasphemy, particularly the members of the minority community. The carnage of Christian community at Gojra in August 2009, would put to shame even Adolf Hitler, the architect of “The Holocaust”, for having under performed. The most sordid aspect of that gory incident was that those who were lynched and whose houses were subjected to arson were not at all involved in the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. According to the investigations into the incident, some children belonging to the Christian community had cut out some pages out of an Islamiyat textbook and used them as confetti at a wedding ceremony in the village without being aware of the gravity of their actions. The Imam of the mosque of the locality used the incident to incite the people against the Christian community.
A Christian locality near Badami Bagh was also attacked on 8th May 2013 when a Christian man was accused of blasphemy. The mob reportedly burnt 160 houses, 18 shops and two small churches in the locality. That was the exhibition of an ultimate bestiality. All these acts are against the teachings of the Holy Book. In Sura Maidah the Quran enjoins the Muslims to do justice and shun hatred against other communities in these words “Oh Ye who believe, be steadfast witness for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly, that is nearer to your duty”. These regrettable episodes in fact are a ranting manifestation of the religious bigotry and intolerance afflicting our social fabric.
Blasphemy is a very emotional issue for any Muslim, if committed deliberately by an individual or an organization with an explicit purpose to cast aspersions on the person of the holy prophet or desecrate the Holy Quran. But even then it provides no justification whatsoever to the people to take the law in their own hands and perpetrate mob justice on the offenders. There are laws in the country to deal with such matters and it is a responsibility of the state to initiate action against the accused person or persons whatever the case may be and the accused also have the right to be given a chance to defend themselves and prove their innocence.
The growing graph of such happenings is indeed very ominous for peace and respect of law in the society. These criminal acts perpetrated on the hapless victims by the charged crowds abetted and egged on by the religious extremists have not only soiled the image of Islam but have also dented reputation of Pakistan as a progressive Islamic state where liberal minded Muslims and minorities enjoy protection of life and property as equal citizens in the light of the Islamic teachings. The government and the civil society have to stand up and refuse to be a hostage to the bizarre brand of Islam bandied around by the religious fanatics. A loud and clear message should go out to them that there would be zero tolerance against their creed of hate and violence.
As a first step the government should ensure to make an example out of those who have been and are found guilty of fomenting and executing mob killings of Muslims charged of blasphemy as well as the members of the Christian community and destroying their properties. Allowing the law to take its course, however, is only one aspect of dealing with the problem. Since it relates to the religious sensitivities of the people misguided by religious extremists, it also needs to be fought on the ideological front.
There is a need to revisit the Blasphemy Law in consultation with Ulema of all schools of thought because this law in its present form has been widely misused. The religious leaders and media can play a very significant role in erasing the bad influence of the ideologies preached by the religious extremists and creating awareness among the masses about the true spirit of Islam and its emphasis on building a harmonious society boasting peace and tranquillity as its hall marks. This should synchronize with the efforts to bring all the seminaries in the mainstream of our education system and revision of their curricula with greater emphasis on Islamic teachings in regards to the rights of the minorities in an Islamic state and the importance of dispensation of justice through state apparatus. The threat that we face from religious bigotry and extremism and culture of hatred is much greater than the external dangers to our social harmony, security and territorial integrity. We shall be able to quell the external threats with greater confidence if we are strong internally. Any slackness on the part of the government or the civil society towards that end would, God forbid, have disastrous consequences for our very existence as a sovereign state.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.