CIP Calls on Pakistan to End Blasphemy Persecution
by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz
The Center for Islamic Pluralism calls on the government of Pakistan to immediately cease the persecution of Aasia Bibi, 45, a Christian, for alleged "blasphemy" against the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahualeyhisalem). We note that Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities in the administration of president Asif Ali Zardari, has called for Aasia Bibi to be pardoned and her family protected from harm.
Zardari's regime has, however, failed to act with appropriate speed in addressing this scandalous case. The lethargy of the Islamabad authorities, who have also neglected their duty to protect Shia Muslims and Sufis under assault, like the complicity of Pakistani military and intelligence authorities in terrorism in Kashmir and against India, reflects the reluctance of Zardari to break with radical forces both inside and outside his administration.
Laws and punishments against controversial religious speech have no basis in Qur'an, the foundation of the Islamic revelation. Qur'an says, by contrast, "bear everything they say with patience; celebrate the praise of your Lord" (50:39).
Legal sanctions and physical penalties imposed by Muslims against allegations of blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, and similar charges are, as we observe them, largely confined today to countries like Pakistan that are dominated by or under attack from Islamist radicals, who often use these accusations for political ends or to satisfy personal grievances. They are common in the Wahhabi-dominated Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and under the Iranian clerical dictatorship. Charges of blasphemy and apostasy frequently lead to bloodshed.
Indeed, members of the radical Deobandi sect and other jihadist elements in Pakistan incite violence against Muslim and other religious minorities, but are tolerated by the authorities. Destruction of religious monuments, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have become common in Pakistan, no less than in Saudi Arabia, where mosques, shrines and gravesites associated with Muhammad, his Companions, and his Successors, as well as later Muslim saints, have been demolished.
Critical speech about Islam, cartoons, and other expressions of opinion cannot harm Islam to the degree that the religion has been damaged by the deliberate vandalism of Wahhabi and other radicals. In an illustration of the contradictory nature of radicalism in Islam, the same bigoted authorities who call for the death of a non-Muslim who may speak ill of Islam and its Prophet express no qualms about the razing of the site in Mecca where Muhammad and his wife Khadijah lived, and replacement of the structure with public toilets.
In all cases, however, expression of religious opinions, whether Islamic or anti-Islamic, should no longer be criminalized by Muslims anywhere, except when, as under the laws of all normal countries, language is employed to directly incite violence. As CIP international director Dr. Irfan Al-Alawi stated in Geneva last year, "Islam benefits from debate and criticism. Islam needs free speech, and Islam is strong enough to withstand negative speech."
The government of Pakistan should free Aasia Bibi and immediately abolish regulations governing non-violent religious opinion, while mandating and reinforcing the full freedom of non-violent religious expression by members of all faiths.