08/10/2009, 00.00
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Scrap blasphemy laws which bring shame on Islam and Pakistan, Muslim scholar says

by Nirmala Carvalho
Prof Asghar Ali Engineer expresses all his heartfelt sorrow for the violence Christians have endured in Pakistan. He promises to do battle to defend them, starting with the repeal of the blasphemy laws, which have been used for a variety of reasons to perpetrate “juridical murders”.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) –Blasphemy laws should be scrapped as early as possible. It brings a bad name to Islam and shame on Pakistan, this according to Asghar Ali Engineer, an Indian Muslim scholar and Islam expert. In an interview with AsiaNews he expresses full solidarity with the Christian communities victimised by recent violence in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The infamous blasphemy laws, which impose the death penalty on anyone who offends the Qur‘an and the prophet Muhammad, were introduced in Pakistan in the 1980s when the country was ruled by then military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Ever since, they have been to perpetrate endless violence against Christians and members of other religions.

Charges, often false and motivated by sordid reasons, have led to scandals and driven enraged mobs to take justice into their own hands. People arrested under the law on the basis of charges of just one witness are in danger of police violence and torture. As a result of mob pressure, egged on by local mullahs, several judges have imposed the death penalty without a shred of evidence.

There have been three blasphemy cases recently. In Koriyan and Gojra a number of Christians were slaughtered on false accusations (see Fareed Khan, “ Eight Christians burned alive in Punjab,” AsiaNews, 2 August 2009); in Muridke, a factory owner and two other people were killed in similar circumstances; in Sanghar a woman came close to dying after a merchant laid charges against her for not repaying her debts in time.

In an editorial published on 13 June 2003 in the Pakistani daily Dawn, Professor Engineer wrote:

To date, almost all cases registered under the iniquitous Blasphemy Laws have proved to be false and concocted out of malice, mischief, or misunderstanding. The trials have been unfair; defence lawyers have been harassed; trial courts have been under religious pressure or threat; the judgements of courts against those accused have been arbitrary, whimsical, biased, or based on mere conjecture or on the flimsiest foundation: naked and transparent injustice in the name of Islam, the sentences of death have been virtual juridical murders.

Since 1986 when they were adopted, the blasphemy laws have been the cause of death of 25 people.  According to some sources, about a thousand people have been charged with blasphemy in the same period.

Professor Asghar Ali Engineer, what can you say about the latest anti-Christian violence in Punjab?

I condemn the gruesome attack on the Christians in Pakistan in the strongest terms. This attack on them is largely due to the failure of the government and the administrative machinery to protect the minority Christian population. Most of the perpetrators of this heinous crime against the innocent vulnerable Christian community belong to the party of Nawaz Sharief1 and this is a shame on Pakistan.

Churches are attacked in Iraq, Christians are attacked in Pakistan . . . . Don’t you think that violence against Christians in Muslim countries is up?

No, it is not a question about the Muslim world but one about the increasing menace of extremists in every country, like the case of India too, where Christians and Muslims are being targeted by extremists and fundamentalists groups.

What do you think about the Blasphemy Law?  

The Blasphemy Law should be scrapped as early as possible. It was introduced by General Zia ul-Haq for his own political gains.  However, once it was introduced no other government dared to remove it, not even General Musharraf with his progressive ideas. I had written about this Blasphemy Law long ago when it was introduced.

What message can you send Christians who live in Muslim countries?

There are Christians living in many Muslim countries. Occasionally there are tensions and perhaps minor incidents but such heinous attacks against Christians (as in Pakistan) do not occur. To the Christian spiritual leaders of Pakistan I offer my deepest condolences. My sympathies are with them. I assure them that I will support them in any forum, and I stand with the suffering people in this hour of peril

Let us talk about ‘reciprocity’. The Christian world has often sought brotherhood and dialogue with the Muslim world. Can Muslims share this attitude?

Reciprocity is important and constructive dialogue must continue even in the face of such barbaric violence.

[1] Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Some suspect that blasphemy charges were made and Christians in Gojra slaughtered by members of this party to force Christians to flee and improve the party’s electoral prospects.

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