Shehbaz Sharif gives in to extremists against Shias
Millions of Shias in Pakistan are deeply distressed at the federal government’s recent decision to weaponise the blasphemy law even further.
The state and its various proxies have been using draconian anti- blasphemy laws to transform Pakistan into a rabidly Sunni country where even other Muslim sects had to suffer humiliation and severe punishment for trumped up charges for allegedly insulting the Prophet or Quran or any other related matters.
The Shehbaz Sharif government, failing on multiple fronts, chose to push through a Bill on January 17 to raise the level of punishment in cases related to the blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad’s companions and His progeny. The period of detention has been raised from three years to a minimum of 10 years up to lifetime imprisonment along with a fine of 1 million Pakistani rupees (around $3,600). The bill also stipulates that the crime would be treated as a non-bailable offence. The bill awaits the Senate clearance in April before it becomes a law.
The Shias, comprising close to 20 per cent of the country’s population, are up in arms against the bill which they believe has been put into place to punish the minorities even more. Shias have been targeted by the Sunni majority ever since they fiercely opposed Zia-ul Haq’s diabolic plans to `Sunnify` the country. In fact, the blasphemy provision, Section 298-A, was first inducted into Pakistan Penal Code through Zia’s presidential order XL IV of 1980.
The law clearly violated Articles 19 and 20 of the Pakistani Constitution which granted every citizen the freedom of expression to profess, practice, and propagate their faith. Since 1980, hundreds of cases have been filed against Shias as well as other minorities for blasphemy.
The fraudulent nature of most of the cases can be seen from the sheer absurdity of charges–accusations of blasphemy for: holding a religious
gathering inside a private residence, holding a procession, distributing food and water in remembrance of Karbala; claiming on social media that the Holy Prophet had only one daughter, as mentioned in the Shia historical books; and denouncing Yazeed, the killer of Imam Hussain.
Other sects like Ahmadis live a life of terror with their religious places increasingly destroyed, their faith questioned by law and their graveyards dug up now and then. Ahmadi Muslims have fled in thousands because of the repression let loose by the state and its Sunni proxies. Those who live in Pakistan, live under great duress and trepidation, prone to accusations of blasphemy.
Other non-Muslim minorities like Hindus and Christians have been facing religious vendetta for long and had not dared to question the state’s support of such heinous actions.Of the many state-sponsored pogroms against them, the most dangerous is the blasphemy laws. Many hundred Hindus and Christians have been threatened, accused, lynched, jailed and charged on charges which are most often fake and induced by vendetta.Many have been dragged out of police stations or their homes by angry mobs, assaulted, brutally killed and their bodies set on fire. The few who managed to escape the Sunni fury have been incarcerated for years, many facing death sentences for mostly fraudulent cases of blasphemy.
Most often shy of coming down heavily on false accusers, the Supreme Court at least on two recent occasions has been forthright. In the 2015 landmark judgement against Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for supporting a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, the apex court held that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy, and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community.” In another blasphemy case In September 2022, the apex court pointed out that “many a time false allegations are levelled to settle personal scores and cases are also registered for mischievous purposes or on account of ulterior motives.”
Giving no credence to such concerns, the Shehbaz Sharif-led ruling coalition’s complicity with Sunni extremist organisations is clear from the drafter of the draconian addition to the law. The bill was drafted by once- banned anti-Shia extremist outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The draft was prepared by Atta Muhammad Deshani, president of ASWJ’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter, along with ASWJ’s Islamabad party head, Abdur Rehman Moavia. In July 2020, they presented the draft to the National Assembly Jamaat-e-Islami member Abdul Akbar Chitrali. The bill was placed in the Assembly by Chitrali which was readily accepted by the ruling coalition led by Shehbaz Sharif. The extremist group celebrated their victory by placing banners across the country.
Since there are different views between Sunnis and Shias over the issue of `companions`, the new law makes it dangerous for Shias to practise their faith and prone to prosecution. Majority of Sunni scholars consider who had viewed the Prophet with naked eyes and died a Muslim to be
`companions`. Shias have added an exception to this condition– those who opposed, cursed, or waged war against the family of the Prophet are not considered “companions”. The Shia texts are full of incidents in which companions of the Holy Prophet cursed, fought, and even went to war with other companions or the family of the Prophet. Would such narratives be considered blasphemous? And what would happen to hundreds and thousands of madrasas where such texts were taught? As the country is spiralling largely because of the pussilaminity of the state and conflicts within different organs of the state, the marooned Shehbaz Sharif government is more than inclined to give in to rabidly Sunni elements, much like what Imran Khan and his military supporters did in shoring up Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and support widespread arson and violence across the country over the issue of blasphemy.