The Quran is a book of poetry, which demonstrates the power of the poetic form. At the time of Mohammad in Arabia, poets were believed to be gifted and had enormous influence. One of these was Asma’ bint Marwan, who ridiculed Muhammad and encouraged people to fight against him. At this Muhammad asked his companions, “Who will rid me of Marwan’s Daughter?” Upon this, a blind companion of Muhammad’s named Umayr bin Adiy sneaked into her room in the night when she was asleep with her children, with and infant suckling on her breast, and killed her. Muhammad was happy to know about the death of Asma.
Numerous others were also killed who mocked Muhammad. Today such tales found in the Hadith set death as the only legitimate precedent of punishment for blasphemy in Islam.
In recent months, a cartoon contest planned by the Dutch parliamentarian Greet Wilders became the center of attention in Islamic countries. The Pakistani Government recorded their protest on several forums. Greet Wilders received death threats. The Dutch government feared that terrorism could be faced by its citizens on Dutch soil, so Greet Wilders had to cancel this event.
It is astounding how Muslims are willing to kill for cartoons or minor criticism. Life appears awfully cheap according to Islam; Islamic Sharia is absolutely clear in this matter. Muslims demand to preach and practice their religion in non-Muslim societies, but their double standard is evident to religious minorities living in Islamic countries, who are not allowed to preach their religious views, as free speech is not an option in Islam.
After 9/11, extremism further erupted in the Islamic world. The subsequent political and militaristic conflicts have driven the Muslim world toward hardcore Islam. The rise of social media and the internet provided Muslim youth access to Islamic literature unavailable in previous centuries. Hardline Islamic clerics such as Anjum Chaudhry (Great Britain), Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi (Pakistan) and Maulana Abdul Aziz (Pakistan, Notorious Red Mosque Islamabad Imam) and many others have gained a much wider audience. These clerics have revealed the Islamic concept of blasphemy to the general masses according to the Hadith and Fiqah.
The twenty-first century has presented new geopolitical challenges; every idea, including religion, is being scrutinized. Muslims are vigorously questioned about their religion. The Prophet Muhammad as a person is the target of inquiry. According to the Quran, Hadith (Tradition about sayings of Muhammad) and Sirat (Life of Muhammad), he raged wars and plundered, adored sex with women, possessed slaves, ordered torture and murder, had anti-Semitic views, and had little respect for women among many other moral shortcomings. When these are brought to light, Muhammad drastically falls on the humanitarian pedestal and any apologetic defense is almost impossible, which results in an inherent insecurity about Islamo-Critical thought and literature. Consequently, hardcore Muslims abhor modern moral standards that undermine their religion as blasphemous and try to oppose with aggression and force. Liberal Muslims believe “Islam is a religion of Peace,” but in reality, its anything but a religion of peace as it compels Muslims to engage in Jihad against infidels. Regarding blasphemy, both liberals and hardliners loathe free speech and are emotionally hurt, though regarding consequence of blasphemy, the hardline view has gained popularity in recent decades. The slogan “Behead the Blasphemers” is chanted everywhere in the world by Muslims.
Pakistan was created in the name of Islam; 96 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims. Pakistan was willfully radicalized during the Afghan war; thousands of madrassas (theological schools) were created to train Mujahedeen as fodder for Jihad against USSR. The military dictator at the time, General Zia Ul Haq, added the new clauses to the already existing blasphemy laws that demand death penalty for defamation of Muhammad and desecration of the Quran.
The first blasphemy cases started to get registered in the early 1990s. The majority of these cases were filed due to personal vendetta against the alleged blasphemer.
The first case that received mainstream attention was filed against Salamat Masih, an eleven-year-old boy; Manzoor Masih; and Rehmat Masih. All three of them were illiterate and couldn’t read and write, but ironically they were accused of writing insults to Mohammad on a mosque’s wall. The Imam of the Mosque was the witness and had already erased what was written. In February 1995 after a court hearing, an assassination was attempted in which Manzoor was shot dead while Rehmat and Salamat were injured. Salamat, still a minor and Rehmat were sentenced to death by a lower court but were later acquitted through appeal in high court as they were illiterate and couldn’t write. They fled Pakistan fearing for their lives even after being proved innocent. Even a minor cannot be considered exempt from a blasphemy case. Over the years, cases have been repeatedly filed against minors.
In 1997, Judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti was shot dead by Sher Khan for allegedly supporting Salamat and Rehmat Masih. Sher Khan confessed, but mysteriously went missing from police custody, thus marking the beginning of death for any aid to the ones accused of blasphemy.
The first blasphemy-related lynching happened in 1994 when a Muslim named Hafiz Farooq Sajjad was beaten, stoned to death, and his corpse burned at the hands of an angry mob that attacked the police station where he was kept in custody after arrest.
In February 1997, the largest mob attack in which police stood by and watched, the whole Christian colony of Shanti Nagar near Khushab, Punjab, was burnt, a resident of this colony was accused of burning the Quran. More than 1,000 houses, thirteen churches, and more than twenty-five shops were burned. After forty-eight hours, the Pakistan army was charged with bringing an end to the mob violence and maintaining law and order in the area.
Most of the victims of blasphemy cases are Christians. In 2003, a Christian named Samuel Masih was accused of blasphemy. When the poor man caught tuberculosis in jail and was sent to the hospital for a checkup, a police guard killed the already dying man in presence of other guards, saying that it was his duty as a Muslim to kill the blasphemer.
Asia Noreen, a Christian woman famously known as Asia Bibi, is the first Pakistani woman who has been sentenced to death. In June 2009, she had an argument with some Muslim women because she drank from the same water as them, as they gathered berries in the field. She was arrested and tried for blasphemy. Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab Province at time, stood up for her and said that he would help her in any way possible. Taseer was openly vocal against blasphemy laws and expressed that these laws should be repealed. On January 4, 2011, Taseer was killed by Mumtaz Qadri, his own security guard. The death of Salman Taseer at the hands of Mumtaz Qadri has been the most polarizing issue among the Pakistani masses. Liberals and seculars regard Salman Taseer as a hero and titled him a “Martyr of Humanity” whereas religious hardliners and extremists regard Mumtaz Qadri as a hero and Ghazi (Victorious in Battle). Asia Bibi’s case didn’t only take Taseer’s life; Federal Minister for Minorities Shehbaz Bhatti was also killed at the hands of Taliban gunmen for supporting her. To date Asia Bibi is in jail and her case is on halt.
On February 29, 2016, Mumtaz Qadri was executed for killing Salman Taseer. Since Qadri has been hailed as a martyr, more than a million people attended his funeral in Rawalpindi. Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose sermon convinced Qadri to kill Taseer, has become kingpin of extremists trying to enforce strict Islam in Pakistan. He has developed a notion of no compromise or discussion on amendments to blasphemy laws and has arranged huge protests time and again on different religious issues.
On August 1, 2009, another mob attack happened. This time the victims were from a Christian colony of Gojra, Punjab. The attacks were triggered by the allegation of desecration of pages that contained verses of the Quran on a wedding ceremony. The mob was led by veiled youths who reportedly arrived from Jhang to take part in this attack. A total of seven people were burned alive, including a seven-year-old boy, four women, and two men. Eighteen others were injured. Forty houses and a church were set ablaze. Police stood by as the victims begged for help, just like in the Shanti Nagar incident in 1997.
On March 13, 2013, Junaid Hafeez, a faculty member of the English Literature Department at Baha Ud Din Zikria University, Multan, was accused of making blasphemous remarks on social media. It was difficult to find a lawyer for Hafeez, but the late Advocate Rashid Rehman bravely stepped up. On one occasion, he told the BBC it was like “walking into the jaws of death” to defend someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Rashid continuously received death threats because of representing Hafeez. He even received threats in front of a presiding judge in court. On April 3, 2014, Rashid Rehman was shot dead by two gunmen in his chambers. His bravery has been exemplary in humanitarian work. Hafeez is still in jail; his case is progressing at a snail’s pace.
On November 4, 2014, At Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur District, Punjab, a Christian couple employed at a brick factory—Shama, aged twenty-eight, who was four months pregnant, and her husband, Shehzad, who was thirty-two—were accused of burning pages of the Quran. An angry mob tortured them, broke their legs, tore their clothes, and burned them alive in the fire of the same kiln that they worked on. Their eight-year-old son horrifically watched as his parents were tortured, killed, and torched.
In 2017, five Pakistani bloggers who were criticizing the Pakistani Army for their role in Extremism, politics, and the war on terror were abducted by Inter-Services Intelligence. They were severely tortured and interrogated for weeks. International pressure developed, and they were released. As soon as they were released, their online activity was termed sacrilegious and blasphemous. All five of them fled the country fearing for their life and freedom. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad high court took suo moto action against blasphemy on social media to gain prominence and avert attention form corruption cases against him. This judge played a crucial role in the crackdown against liberal and secular bloggers in Pakistan and gave a whole new dimension to misuse of blasphemy laws. Abdul Waheed and Rana Nauman were arrested from Karachi by FIA due to the crackdown instigated by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui. They are on trial and might face the death sentence.
On April 13, 2017, Mashal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan who identified himself as the humanist, was lynched to death by university employees and fellow students. Apparently, he made antireligious remarks on his Facebook that defamed Prophet Mohammed. During Khan’s lynching, many people recorded video of this incident using their cell phones, and it went viral on social media. Again, a polarization was observed between liberals and radicals. One side was saying an innocent life was lost due to blasphemy allegations; the other side was trying to prove that Khan was a blasphemer and deserved to die. The religious left provided legal aid to Khan’s murderers, hailing them as heroes of Islam. After a year the case was concluded. Half of the accused were released, and just like Mumtaz Qadri were showered with rose petals. The rest of the accused went for appeal in High Court, where the case is still to be conducted.
Viewing blasphemy cases in Pakistan, more than sixty people on trial have been killed since 1990. The number of people killed without any legal proceedings is even more. In Pakistan, allegation of blasphemy is a license to kill. Mullahs encourage mobs to act there and then. Police and law enforcement appease the extremists or avoid confrontation. The situation has become worse after the death of Salman Taseer and the glorification of Mumtaz Qadri. There are many Qadri wannabes looking to kill anyone accused of blasphemy. Those accused of blasphemy are among the lowest of low in the Pakistani society and standing up for them is not possible even for the most powerful.
Pakistan has had its recent election in July 2018. In this election a new political party, Tehrik-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah formed by Alama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, got 2.3 million votes, which was more than many veteran political parties such as Muthida Majlis-e-Amal, ANP, and MQM, even though this party is only a year old and participated in their first election. Their election propaganda is blasphemy and Khatam-e-Nabooat (Belief that Mohammad is the last prophet of Allah); photos of Mumtaz Qadri were displayed on their campaign banners. Last year in a sit-down strike they brought the whole country to a standstill by closing highways in major cities on the issue of a minor change to the oath of members of national assembly.
The Issue of blasphemy is being further politicized. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan denied amendments to blasphemy laws. He has also yearned to get blasphemy laws implemented on the international level through the United Nations.
Muslims wish to globally enforce their medieval and brutal ideals. During the recent Greet Wilders scenario, a Pakistani present in Amsterdam asked help from fellow Pakistanis to kill Wilders. Khalid Latif, a Pakistani Cricketer, offered a bounty of $25,000 for Wilder’s head. Khadim Hussain Rizvi urged the Pakistani government to launch a nuclear missile against the Netherlands if the event was not cancelled. Pakistanis have become accustomed to forcing people to respect their brutal and barbaric ideology. They are now trying to threaten and terrorize people such as Greet Wilders, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, and many others who practice freedom of speech in the free global society.
Though Wilders cancelled, he has succeeded in showing what Muslims and Islam are made of. The majority of Muslims living in the west might be peaceful, but it’s the violent minority that shows the true face of Islam; Islam is not a peaceful religion. There are many parts of the Quran and Hadith that demand violence and are against human rights such as freedom and free speech. Many alternate interpretations exist, but as long as only a single extremist interpretation is followed, Islam will always be a harbinger for terror and death.
Our modern world came about through rationalism, which is the direct fruit of freedom of speech, questioning ideologies, and criticizing ideals. Blasphemy is in accordance with freedom of speech. It makes ideals less sacred; without making ideas less sacred, there would be stagnation similar to the Dark Ages. Being confined to the Bible or Quran for all knowledge is a dangerous idea. When this idea was abrogated, the world moved forward, but the Islamic world is still stagnant. Muslims want religion to have the last say in every matter, and they don’t want it to be scrutinized. Muslims want to drag us back to the Dark Ages; they want to restart witch hunts and death at the stake.
Blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan have contributed to injustice and inequality. Minorities have been persecuted and deprived. Though the ideal of blasphemy is enough insult to humanity, formal laws are much worse. Before inclusion of capital punishment for defamation of Prophet Mohammad and desecration of the Quran—namely articles 295 B and C of the constitution—extrajudicial killings and mob violence never happened. After these laws were enacted, such incidents appeared and then increased. The popular notion is that repealing these laws will further contribute to angering extremist factions in the society and extrajudicial killings will multiply. Repealing these laws is impossible in radical Pakistan as Islamic indoctrination is not easy to reverse, especially when the possibility of a discussion is almost impossible. To repeal these laws, extremism has to be vigorously contested, for which there is neither a will nor a way—and won’t be for decades to come. Abolishing blasphemy laws can be a major symbolic step toward a better Pakistan, where every citizen has equal rights. If these laws continue, Pakistan will destroy itself through extremism.
Shama and Shehzad
Shanti Nagar Incident
Timeline of Blasphemy accused till 2014
Pakistani Reaction on Greet Wilders