Indian Ulema Must Oppose Anti-Blasphemy Laws

They must expunge them from their texts
Image Courtesy: Reuters

Sunni Islam’s top theological institution Jamia Al-Azhar in Egypt has issued a much-needed Fatwa condemning the recent ghastly attack on the Christ Church in Pakistan, categorically stating: “We demand legal action against all extremists in the world”. It should be a common knowledge now that on August 16, a large number of extremists and zealot Islamists in Pakistan attacked several churches and set them on fire because two Christians had reportedly insulted the Holy Quran.

On August 17, Jamia Al-Azhar strongly condemned the attacks on several churches in East Pakistan and outrightly rejected the religious legitimacy for such acts in its statement. It reads: The Holy Quran, which is attacked by some extremists under the protection of some governments, is the same book that commands that the places of worship of Muslims and non-Muslims alike should be protected. And there should be no abuse or violence in these places of worship. It added: The attackers did to the churches exactly what those who desecrated the Holy Quran did, because both are henious crimes that violate the sanctity of religions, holy books and human and moral standards. Condemning these criminal and barbaric actions, Al-Azhar stressed the need to prosecute all extremists in different territories across the world who attack other religions and their adherents in their nefarious anti-blasphemy acts, be it an attack on Holy Quran, churches or any other religious places.

Al Azhar concluded: “This religious and educational body emphasize all legal procedures to protect the sanctity of religion and it demands that legal action be taken to ensure that this type of act never happens again, and that these actions are based on prejudice, hatred and dissent”.

Church attacks are not new in Pakistan. Neither are the anti-blasphemy acts and attacks an isolated phenomenon. A pervasive, prejudiced and clearly selective application of blasphemy laws gives rise to these incidents in Pakistan. Discrimination based on religion and belief is the fate of religious minorities and heterodox sects in the self-styled Islamic nation. Human rights bodies and activists both domestically and internationally have highlighted the fact that Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are discriminatory and brazenly violative of the human rights guaranteed by international treaties. However, the radical Islamist organizations and individuals who believe the blasphemy laws are part of their faith, vehemently disregard all the international treaties.

Since the creation of Pakistan, minorities have been repressed, discriminated and religiously persecuted by the state in the name of several Shariah laws. But the blasphemy law has undoubtedly been the worst of all. It has affected all minority communities in Pakistan to a greater or lesser extent, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadiya community and Shia Hazaras. Since the 1990s, the minority Christians, who make up just 1.6% of the population, have been systematically targeted in numerous anti-blasphemy attacks. As the second largest minority, Christians and their sacred places are most affected by the brutal blasphemy laws juxtaposed with the Sunni theological underpinnings. Thus, the Pakistan-centric radicalisation in the name of blasphemy is a lived experience in the daily life of the religious minorities. A sword of blasphemy law is always hanging on their heads, not just in the courts but also on streets and public places.

But what is more worrying is that the Pakistan-centric anti-blasphemy radicalism is no more confined within the walls of the so-called ‘Islamic’ nation. It has rather snowballed, catapulting itself to the democratic polity of India, exploiting the internal security threats, various social and current communal challenges as well as the community grievances, to further the nefarious ends. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, radical organizations tried to indoctrinate youths into an anti-blasphemy extremist ideology to spread communal disharmony in the country. Remember the Nupur Sharma episode! It was a trying time which candidly exposed the extent of insanity behind the extremist anti-blasphemy theology that was on the rampage not in Pakistan, but in India with the likes of TLP’s radical Sunni-Barelvi Islamists having complete temerity to kill Kanhaiya Lal Teli, an Udaipur tailor, for supporting Nupur Sharma’s blasphemous statement.

Mohammad Riyaz Ansari and Ghous Mohammad, the two terrorists who beheaded Kanhaiya Lal clearly asserted their theological underpinnings before the gruesome slaughter. They told us in a pre-recorded video that they were going to avenge the denigration of the Prophet by killing one of the thousands of supporters of Nupur Sharma, the original blasphemer. Now don’t try to argue that the two anti-blasphemy murderers were a miniscule minority within a subgroup of Sunni-Barelvis. Let’s not forget that Mumtaz Qadri, the terrorist and assassin of Governor Salman Taseer, was also seen as an individual and not a representative of the faction he belonged to. Even the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan mistook him and his ilk as a “small segment”. But we all know the truth and the sorry state of affairs that the minorities and their places of worship face there at the hands of anti-blasphemy radicals. The death penalty sentenced to Qadri caused more uproar in Pakistan than what we saw with horror in the wake of Asia Bibi’s acquittal by the Apex Court. The consequent protests by the Sunni Islamist hardliners across the country were much less now than the turmoil which was created to “exonerate” Qadri as “Ghazi” (man of religious valour) and “Shaheed e Millat” (the one who was ‘martyred’ for the sake of community).

Do we think this correlation is just incidental? Being episodic in our condemnation of the anti-blasphemy acts and attacks won’t serve the purpose. If we really want to seek the solution, we need to take this intricate issue with more caution, curiosity and carefulness. Let’s try to understand one thing, in an honest way: Anti-blasphemy extremists are headed for a death row not just for themselves but also for the whole community. In India, they are hellbent to hurt the peaceful image of the whole Muslim community, which is otherwise seen as sane and non-violent. Thus, if we don’t stem the tide of theological underpinnings for anti-blasphemy violence and its roots, they will henceforth be considered as extremist as their Pakistani counterparts. Then, I regret, the difference between Indian and Pakistani Muslim community will be erased. All the praise and appreciation that Indian Muslims have drawn worldwide for their patience and stoicism with which they have faced daily provocations for years, and have thus protected their life and limb, will vanish.

This is the grim situation which requires from us to make it patently clear that any theological support for the anti-blasphemy acts is dangerous for us and our survival and reputation as the moderate Muslim community. Therefore, ulema of all hues and the theologians of both classical and modern Islamic studies must call for repealing not just the draconian blasphemy laws from the Islamic countries but also removing the anti-blasphemy content from the madrasas and the Islamic textbooks. Therefore, Indian Muslims should demand and support the enactment of a law against the anti-blasphemy acts. In fact, an Act by the Parliament should be passed to prevent this mindless violence in India and thus save the Indian Muslims from becoming as notorious as their Pakistani counterparts for terrorism and violence. Punishments to the anti-blasphemy supporters with a view to minimising their public support and influence, will augur well as measures for mitigation.

But the most gigantic and urgent task is for the Indian ulema. In Pakistan, Islamic theological bodies extend the applicability of blasphemy laws to non-Muslims living in Muslim countries. Not to speak of radical Barelvi organisation ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ (TLP) or the Deobandi ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’ (TTP), even the well-known Barelvi and Deobandi theologians, Muftis and Qazis (Islamic jurists) and more scandalously, even the so-called Sufi-Sunni clerics are openly or tacitly supportive. They aver that it is incumbent upon an Islamic government to execute all blasphemers, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. On the pretext of protecting the Prophet’s dignity called Tahaffuz-e-Namus-e-Risalat, the Islamic postulate of Prophetology has always been misused by the hardcore Islamists in Pakistan. But in reality, the holy Prophet (pbuh), whose sanctity the extremists claim to defend never sentenced to death the Meccan pagans, who cursed, ridiculed and plotted to kill him. Even when the pagans desecrated the Prophet’s sanctity accusing him of ‘forging’ the Qur’an, he acted upon the divine instruction indicating that only Allah can decide the punishment for even as grievous a sin as ‘fabricating’ and ‘concocting’ the Qur’an. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Do they claim that the Messenger himself has fabricated it? (If so), tell them: “If I have fabricated it, then you have no power to protect me from Allah’s chastisement. He knows well the idle talk in which you indulge. He suffices as a witness between me and you. (46:8)

Deplorably for the Indian Muslim community, our Ulema and Madrasas never quote the above verse from the Qur’an in their Khutbas (sermons) and provocative public speeches in which they embolden their audience to take revenge on the issue of blasphemy. As the most responsible community leaders, their job was to dissuade Muslims from this dastardly, inhuman, un-Islamic, anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim act. But in place of the Qur’an, what they preach on the issues of blasphemy are dangerous texts (Matan) and their commentaries (Sharah) which they themselves have studied in their respective madrasas, either Barelvi, Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith. Motivated by a distorted and twisted sectarian Islamic theology, they call for beheading blasphemers, apostates, and even Muslims who deviate even slightly from the views of the founder of their sect (Maslak).


A Regular Columnist with, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Indo-Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary in India, and acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and a Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. He has also participated in the 3-year “Madrasa Discourses” program initiated by the University of Notre Dame, USA.

Courtesy: The New Age Islam



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