Pakistan was born from a vision full of hope. It was born with the ideals that all would be equal and minorities would be permitted to live with full protection and freedom from oppression. It was never intended for Pakistan to be a religious state and especially not one with religious divisions. Yet sadly, this is what is has come to be known as, especially in the last couple of years.
The Blasphemy laws of Pakistan date back to the 1980s , beginning in 1980 where a number of clauses was added to the Pakistan Penal Code, these are categorized in two sections, the anti-Ahmedi laws and the blasphemy laws. The Anti-Ahmedi laws state that Ahmedi’s are forbidden to call themselves Muslims, use Islamic terms to describe their religious practices or places of worship. The blasphemy laws were created and modified over the years. In 1980, a clause was added to the law, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages an offense.” In 1982, another clause prescribed life imprisonment for “willful” desecration of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was “death, or imprisonment for life”, in that order.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12621225)
Today I do not want to spend too much time divulging on the blasphemy laws themselves but rather on the case of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl with Downs syndrome from the impoverished Mehrabadi district in Islamabad. Rimsha Masih was arrested for blasphemy when she was accused by her neighbor, a cleric named Khalid Jadoon Chishti of carrying a book which contained burnt pages of the Quran. In a rather uncanny twist of events, Chisti was later arrested when his deputy and two others informed police that it was in fact Chisti who had tampered with Masih’s bag and had added to it burnt pages of the Quran. His motive behind framing her was simple, he wanted to use her as bait to intimidate other Christians living in the area to leave.
There are a number of factors that deeply perturb me about this case; the one that effects me the most is the motive behind this ‘imams’ attack on Rimsha. Why does it perturb me so much?
Firstly, in every news report and article written on this case, Khalid Jadoon is described as a ‘cleric’ or an ‘imam’. Let me first define what an Imam is to me,
an Imam is a religious leader elected or appointed by the majority of the people in his community. The acquisition of his title is a result of knowledge of all kinds be it religious or/and academic. It is a result of a display of character, a character which should in the most ideal cases be wise, kind, compassionate, gracious, humble, merciful, selfless and devout to his Lord and most importantly (in my opinion) accountable to the very people who gave him the title in the first place.
Now Khalid Jadoon fails to meet the above criteria. In fact he fails so profoundly that I wonder who made him Imam in the first place. You see this is a problem which occurs everywhere, the problem of self appointed egotistical religious leaders. My mother once told me that when she was growing up in the remote villages of Pakistan, it was very rare for anyone to be educated past a certain level, so the one who was the most educated and charismatic would be appointed as village Imam. It was a natural process, and one which makes sense. But what we have now is that very same style of system is still being used even when they’re are more capable and better people available for the position. Now what we have is the one who exerts himself the most, or talks the loudest, or possesses the most land appoints himself or gives no other option to the people. There is no ‘job specification’ or group of people that list a criteria that one must meet before attaining the status of Imam. And even if there is, I can confidently say that in most cases they are biased.
Not only does he fail to meet the criteria but he fails because he lacks the basic knowledge of Islam. The fact that Islam teaches compassion and mercy, especially to your neighbors. You see this is one thing that really frustrates me when I hear stories like this, there have been cases where a group of Muslims have declared war on their non Muslim neighbors and treated them like hell, we’ve heard the stories of the group who burnt the poppy etc etc. What frustrates me is that they claim to be doing this in defense of Islam but really they are in fact going against the whole principle of the religion, that of peace! I remember as I was growing up, I was taught that your neighbors and your society had a right over you, in order for you to be a good Muslim you need to treat all equally and all with compassion, you have to help your community and be a service to them, not a problem and you have a duty to protect the vulnerable and the minority.
This takes me back to the Rimsha Masih case, Khalid Jadoon wanted to force the minority of Christians living in his area to leave. As an Imam, what he doesn’t realize is that in fact he owes them protection. If he is the appointed leader then he has to make sure they are treated justly and fairly.We have so many examples of the Prophet PBUH treating the minority who lived with the Muslims in Medina justly and compassionately. In fact some would argue that they were given more rights because they were a minority, they were given rights to practice their religion freely, to do business freely and to integrate as equals. This is reinforced in the Quran where God says;
“God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from dealing kindly and justly with them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly. God only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – (forbids) that you make allies of them. (Quran 60 v 8-9)
What God is basically saying in the above is that, if you are not oppressed by the majority or if you are not oppressed by non Muslims, then be just with them. God loves those who act justly, i.e those who are compassionate and merciful to each other . It is only excused for you to not act accordingly if you are being oppressed or dealt with unjustly i.e if you are in a war zone or conflict area. In this particular case, was Khalid Jadoon being oppressed? No. Was he living in an area where he, his community or his family were under a threat because of their religion? No.In fact, I would argue that he is the perpetrator of oppression! He is the one who is oppressing others because of their faith.
In addition to this the Prophet PBUH is narrated to have said
“The angel Gabriel was so adamant in reminding me to be charitable with my neighbor that I thought he might make him my heir.”
Thus I hope the above has clarified that Khalid Junoon did NOT act in accordance to Islamic tradition or prophetic legacy. In fact he acted in the completely opposite way.
The second factor which bothered me in this case, is one that bothers me frequently. It was when I read that many were calling for Rimsha Masih to be punished, even when the Khalid Jadoon was arrested for framing her. Furthermore there have been previous cases in Pakistan, where an individual has been released and then murdered by people who take it upon themselves to become defenders of the faith.
I have written frequently about the effect of mob mentality and unfortunately these cases are crystal clear demonstrations of mob mentality. One person shouts that Rimsha Masih should be executed for blasphemy (even though she was framed) and then you have a whole group of people threatening to kill her. I personally believe that this is a direct result of a combination of factors, from education, to a weak judicial system. It is ignorance. And a level of ignorance which is very dangerous, as what it essentially means is people are taking the law into their own hands. What bothers me most is the fact that again many act in this way because they feel that they are defending Islam,or that by standing up and being so vocal in their opposition means they are brave soldiers of God. What they don’t realize is that in fact they are acting totally in the contrary. God preaches mercy more then he preaches violence, and certain Muslims really need to get that fact into their heads. Secondly surely it should be Khalid Jadoon who should be punished for framing this girl, or is he excused because he is a self appointed imam and therefore seen to be infallible? My point is if you are truly so bothered by this case, and you want to seek justice for the blasphemy that has occurred (albeit by the imam) then do it in the appropriate manner. Don’t start jumping up and down declaring war on the Christian minority, who are at no fault here, or by threatening to murder an underage girl. That is not what Islam preaches.
And if you are going to do it, don’t do it in the name of Islam. This religion has been tarred and tainted by too many people in the past decade, your really not helping anyone by your barbaric behavior. I guess the positive of this case is that many prominent Imams came out in defense of Rimsha Masih and I was very pleasantly surprised by that. It gives us hope that Pakistan is heading towards a better future, or in the least, challenging many of its corrupt status quos. I conclude this post with a quote that I found to be so apt.
Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.
(Lyndon B Johnson)