By Mohammad Shehzad 13 APRIL 2013 Newsline
This interview was published as part of a special report on recent attacks on Pakistan’s Christian community.
Allama Tahir Ashrafi is chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council and a member of the Council for Islamic Ideology. He was the first cleric to raise a voice in favour of Rimsha Masih, a minor girl with Down’s Syndrome who was falsely implicated in a blasphemy case by cleric Khalid Jadoon at the behest of the land mafia in August 2012. She was acquitted in November 2012.
On March 20, 2013, Ashrafi convened a National Solidarity Conference in Lahore, which was attended by Muslim, Hindu and Christian religious/political figures. Except for Punjab Home Minister Rana Sanaullah, a legislator from the Nawaz-League, all the participants unanimously condemned the Badami Bagh incident and the misuse of the Blasphemy Law. Newsline spoke to Maulana Ashrafi about the blasphemy laws against the backdrop of the Badami Bagh incident.
The right wing, which you represent, says blasphemy laws are indispensable to maintaining peace in society. If that is indeed true, then why is it that whenever a blasphemy case is reported, an angry mob runs amok and starts killing innocent people and looting or damaging their property?
Independent investigation always revealed that whenever a case of blasphemy was reported, it could never be proved. The Shantinagar, Gojra and Rimsha Masih cases are examples of this. The notorious land mafia masterminded all such incidents and they used clerics to implicate innocent people (regardless of their religion) to grab their land. The same mafia is also behind the Badami Bagh case. The land mafia exploits the common man’s ‘love’ for the Prophet (PBUH) for its own gain by using maulvis. Shame on the so-called religious figures like us who do not educate the masses to protect the minorities, respect them, treat them with love and justice. The popular perception here is: ‘Kill the one who is accused of blasphemy.’ We have never used the mosques to make people understand that taking the life of a human being is the greatest sin. Further, there is another highly pernicious concept that we have never attempted to change, which is that Christian citizens of Pakistan are not loyal to the country. They are loyal to either the US or Europe, more specifically Britain. Some religious elements play a lead role in this evil act. And they go unpunished.
Why are they not punished?
Due to politics! I can bet that the culprits of Badami Bagh will never be punished. In order to secure votes, the politicians must have the support of the Islamists. Therefore, they will not punish the culprits.
The judiciary also keeps its eyes shut to these crimes. In the Rimsha Masih case, the High Court said that it was a malicious attempt to blacken Pakistan’s face, and stopped at that. It could have gone further and ordered the arrest of Khalid Jadoon, but it did not. Moreover, the civil society also condoned it. Not a single NGO took to the streets to demand that Jadoon be punished.
We met Interior Minister Rehman Malik on the issue of Jadoon. Malik admitted before us that the desecration of the Quran was committed by the cleric himself. He ordered the Inspector General Police of Islamabad to register a case against Jadoon. But all the witnesses reneged on their statement within just three days. An attempt was made to kidnap me. A character assassination campaign against me was also launched on the social media because I was insisting that Jadoon should be punished. Did your so-called civil society or NGOs, who receive heavy funds in the name of fighting blasphemy, stand beside me? Had Jadoon been punished in the Rimsha Masih case, the Badami Bagh incident would never have happened.
The right wing praises the blasphemy laws. What’s more, they oppose the acquittal of any of the accused and, in fact, incite people to kill them.
Everybody is projecting himself as a ‘pious’ Muslim in this country. The easiest thing to do in Pakistan is to kill someone in the name of blasphemy.
The blasphemy laws have not made us better citizens. So should they be abolished?
If the blasphemy laws were abolished, then people would take the law into their hands and become Ghazi Ilm-ud-din. We should change the procedure for registering the First Information Report (FIR). If anyone falsely implicates someone under the blasphemy laws, he should be punished under the same laws and awarded a death sentence, because by concocting an incident of blasphemy, he himself is committing blasphemy. The plaintiff and the accused should be kept in police custody until the matter is thoroughly investigated.
But the accused is killed even before an FIR is registered and the houses of innocent people are burnt and looted.
True, but it does not happen in every case. More than 1400 cases were registered under Section 295-C, but not all the accused were killed.
Fortunately, society and the police have developed a certain measure of awareness after Rimsha Masih’s case. Students of universities and colleges rushed to help the victims of Badami Bagh. We, the religious figures, will have to tell people at the grassroots level that we should not insult the religion or the religious figures of any faith. We will have to step out of our drawing-rooms and work hard.
You are an influential religious figure. Will you shelter one accused of blasphemy or someone who has been acquitted in a blasphemy case?
Yes, I am ready to do whatever is within my capacity to protect such people. Being Muslims, it is our duty to protect non-Muslims. And we must stand up against the oppressor, even if he is a Muslim.
This interview was originally published in the April issue.