Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology has described violence against those accused of “blasphemy” as being “contrary to Islamic principles”.
The statement comes in response to two recent high-profile cases of mob violence, in which two “blasphemy” suspects were killed.
In December 2021 a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Priyantha Kumara, was beaten to death by a mob of several hundred people. In February a Muslim man, Mushtaq Ahmed, was stoned to death with bricks.
Founded in 1962, the Council of Islamic Ideology is responsible for providing legal advice on Islamic issues to the government of Pakistan.
In a statement issued on 23 February, the council gave its opinion that subjecting anyone alleged to have committed “blasphemy” to violence was “against sharia [Islamic law], inhumane and contrary to Islamic principles”.
“This meeting once again staunchly condemns such incidents and expresses deep sorrow over them,” the statement continued. “Such brutal torture by a violent mob is neither logical nor in line with the injunctions of the religion.”
The council further recommended that texts from the Quran and the hadith (traditions recording the life and teachings of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam) focusing on the value of human lives should be displayed in mosques, schools and other public places, as well as being discussed on television and other media platforms.
“Tolerance and interfaith harmony”
Incidents of mob violence against “blasphemy” suspects have been widely condemned in Pakistan, including by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Special Representative on Religious Harmony Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi.
According to Ashrafi the Pakistan government will launch an awareness campaign opposing mob violence. “We are forming committees at all federal and provincial levels to promote tolerance and interfaith harmony,” he said.
Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws (Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code) are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia.
“Everyone knows that blasphemy laws are abused in settling scores,” said Zohra Yousuf, former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “If we must have such laws, they should be reformed in ways that are not abused.”
One suggestion for the modification of the “blasphemy” laws is the adoption of the sharia principle of qazaf. Used in relation to accusations of adultery (zina), the qazaf principle is that false accusations should be punished almost as severely as the crime itself.
Adoption of this principle in relation to “blasphemy” would mean that false accusations could result in fines or imprisonment.
“Blasphemy” laws have existed in the region since 1927 and were incorporated into Pakistan’s Penal Code at the country’s founding in 1947. The laws were strengthened under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (in office 1978-88), including the addition of mandatory life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran (1982) and the death sentence for defiling the name of Muhammad (1986). A subsequent decision by Pakistan’s constitutional court making the death sentence for “blasphemy” against Muhammad mandatory came into effect in 1991.
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