“He will not enter paradise whose neighbor is not secure from his wrongful conduct” – Prophet Muhammad
In the most recent manifestation of rising intolerance against minorities in Pakistan we have yet another instance in which blasphemy laws, amended under the military dictatorship of Zia-Ul Haq in the 1980′s have been used and manipulated to abuse and harm the most vulnerable.
This time an 11 year old girl by the name of Rimsha Masih has been arrested at the incitement of a mob on charges of allegedly burning a few pages of the Qur’an.
This is not the first time such egregious assaults on the conscious in Pakistan have come to our attention.
A few months ago a mentally ill man in Bahawalpur was accused of insulting Islam by burning the Qur’an, he was beaten by a mob, police intervened and jailed the man for his protection. This however did not sit well with the mob or their thirst for vigilante ‘vengeance’. The mob besieged the police station, forced their way inside, overwhelmed the impotent police force, dragged out the man, and beat and burned him alive.
Before that incident there was the high profile case of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy by her co-workers. In the resulting aftermath the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer was murdered by his own security guard for speaking out about the injustice of the blasphemy laws and the treatment of Aasia Bibi. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minority Affairs, was quite vocal regarding his opposition to the law and the way Aasia Bibi was treated, he too was gunned down.
Such horrific cases are not limited to Christians: Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmedis, Sunnis and Shias have all been subjected to the injustice of blasphemy laws, in one form or another. The laws are generally used according to observers as a means to settle personal scores.
Critics among Pakistan’s embattled liberals say the law is regularly misused by people to settle personal scores and dispossess neighbours from land.
Now, 11 year old Rimsha Masih sits in a dingy jail cell, as in other cases ostensibly for her protection.
How did this tragedy unfold?
Some doubts and questions exist about whether or not Rimsha Masih is actually 11 years old and suffers from Down syndrome as most media outlets have portrayed,
Christian, and some Muslim, neighbors said Ms. Masih was 11 years old and had Down syndrome. Senior police officers dismissed those claims; one described her as 16 and “100 percent mentally fit.”
Discussions about Masih’s mental faculties and age miss the point and are irrelevant considering there is agreement on the most important facts.
According to most accounts, Rimsha and her family are impoverished street sweepers who lived in a slum near Islamabad. According to her landlord the controversy erupted when a local cleric was informed by his nephew about Masih holding a burned copy of a book called the “Noorani Qaida” which is used to teach children the Quran.
Malik Amjad, landlord of the family’s rented house, said the controversy started early last week after his nephew saw Ms. Masih holding a burned copy of the Noorani Qaida. The nephew informed a local cleric, Khalid Jadoon, Mr. Amjad said.
Desecration of Muslim holy texts is illegal in Pakistan and punishable by death. But Mr. Amjad said the incident bothered few local residents initially and caught fire only at the instigation of the cleric and two conservative shopkeepers.
“He tried to shame people by saying, ‘What good are your prayers if the Koran is being burnt?’ ” Mr. Amjad said.
Mr. Amjad said he handed the girl over to the police for her own protection and criticized the cleric’s role. “He exaggerated the incident and provoked people,” he said.
It was not clear how, or even if, Ms. Masih had come across the burned religious book. One neighbor, Malik Shahid, said it might have simply become accidentally swept up in a trash pile she was collecting.
The situation has been roundly condemned by Pakistani Human Rights campaigners and activists, government officials and politicians.
Senior government and police officials agreed with Christian leaders that the accusations against Ms. Masih were baseless and predicted that the case would ultimately be dropped.
Imran Khan, a leading politician and frontrunner in Pakistan’s 2013 Presidential elections sent out this message,
Shameful! Sending an 11yr old girl to prison is against the very spirit of Islam which is all about being Just and Compassionate.
The Poor child is already suffering from Down Syndrome. The State should care for its children not torment them. We demand her immediate release.
Pakistani journalists and bloggers have also been quite vocal about the shocking situation.
We have been alerted to two separate petitions calling on Pakistan’s Minister of Human Rights and the government to protect and immediately release both Aasia Bibi and Rimsha Masih (h/t: Hatice).
It is important to sign and share these petitions, so as to make clear where the world stands on these issues. It is vital foremost for Muslims to do so.
Some may question why we are highlighting this particular case, since Loonwatch focuses on exposing rampant anti-Muslim and Islamophobic bigotry. We believe sharing the above petitions are important most of all out of respect for basic human dignity and because such attacks also harm Muslims everywhere, especially in the West. A bigot or an Islamophobe may use it as justification for his (or her’s) nefarious anti-Muslim agenda and or as an excuse for violent reprisals. It is also important to point out the great irony of all of this, that such mobs, excited by ignorant and blind passions of “defending the faith” stand condemned by Islam–unequivocally. Nowhere, not even in classic, medieval Islamic jurisprudence can one find an interpretation permitting vigilante, extra-judicial torture and murder of any person who allegedly committed a crime–let alone killing and beating the insane, handicap and poor. Indeed, those individuals who took part in the mob should be found, arrested and given the harshest judgment possible under the law. To be made examples.
Clearly the implementation of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan has proved defective and only increased divisiveness, sectarianism and injustice. It calls to mind the urgent need to implement what Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan called “An international moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty” in Muslim majority countries–and to go further, a repeal of unjust laws such as the current blasphemy law in place in Pakistan which overwhelmingly prosecute and persecute the innocent, the poor, the vulnerable and the minority.