Sunday 16 September 2012

A Warrant for Lawlessness

Rimsha Masihi is of uncertain age.  According to her parents she is only eleven.  According to a report submitted to a court in Islamabad in Pakistan she is ‘about’ fourteen.  In a way her age is irrelevant; eleven or fourteen, she is a juvenile under the law.  But that did not stop her from being held in a maximum security jail, all the while in solitary confinement.  It would be traumatic for anyone.  It was all the more traumatic for this underage girl because, according to some accounts, she has Down’s syndrome.

The present riots across much of the Islamic world over an insult to the Prophet Mohammed show how seriously people take their faith, and how seriously they react to any perceived offence.  It’s particularly serious in Pakistan, a country where the vast majority of people are Muslim, a country where blasphemy is punishable by life imprisonment or even by death. 

There is a paradox here.  Pakistan, as the Economist noted in a recent report, takes its religion seriously, yes, but it’s also a country where the Quran is routinely desecrated and the Prophet insulted.  Or at least it is judging by the number of cases brought before the courts under the blasphemy legislation. 

Rimsha is one such accused.  Vulnerable, educationally sub-normal and illiterate, she was accused of blasphemy in August after a neighbour and a local imam claimed that she had burned pages of the holy book.  Given that little girl is a Christian, part of the country’s tiny and cowed minority, the alleged offence was all the worse. 

She is the most unlikely and yet the most likely victim imaginable.  No sooner had the accusation been raised than a mob gathered outside her home in a slum district of Islamabad, threatening to burn her family to death.  The whole Christian community had to flee in terror of reprisals, as the girl was taken into custody.

The threat against Rimsha and her family was real enough.  In 2009 accusations of blasphemy against Christians living in Gojira in Punjab province saw eight people being burned alive by a mob.  More recently, a mentally disturbed Muslim man, arrested for blasphemy in the city of Bahawalpur, was dragged out of prison by a 2000-strong lynch mob and set on fire. 

In a recent article for BrooWaha detailing the plight of elderly women in Ghana accused of witchcraft (No Country for Old Women, 6 September) I made the point that there was some similarity in these cases with older forms of persecution in Europe and America.  Superstition is only part of the explanation; the rest is made up of more venal motives, often centring on personal or material factors

A similar process seems to be at work in Pakistan, where false accusations made under the blasphemy laws are used to settle personal scores or to lay claim to property.  In the case of Rimsha it gives all the appearance of pure sectarian intolerance, a convenient way of clearing out all of the local Christian families in the area where she lived.

She has now been released on bail.  Not only is the case against her weak in the extreme but her treatment also provoked an international outcry over the treatment of minorities in Pakistan.  More than that, two weeks after Rimsha was detained, Mohammad Khalid Chisti, the local imam and her chief accuser, was arrested after his deputy at the mosque claimed that he himself had secretly planted the pages of the Quran in her bag to make it seem that she had burnt them. 

But the case has acquired implications going beyond Pakistan’s borders. For some questions of innocence or guilt are clearly irrelevant.  There are those in the Muslim community prepared to speak up for Rimsha.  There are others, like a university student quoted in a recent Times report who said that the bail decision was wrong and against Islam – “As Muslims our goal should be to please God and not the US”, he said, “This decision may force people to take the law into their own hands.”  The threat could not be clearer. 

There have to be questions raised about the mentality and the morality of people who find injustice and persecution ‘pleasing to God.’  There have to be questions about a country that allows blasphemy law to be used as a tool of repression and mob violence.  It’s certainly true that there are those in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party who recognise the problem but they raise objections at their own peril.  Last year two of the party’s leaders were gunned down after criticising the law. 

In the end I think the case against Rimsha will be dropped, after the present national and international fires have damped down.  But no matter what the outcome she and her family are unlikely ever to return to their former lives.  For them there is never likely to be justice, just law that acts as a warrant for lawlessness.  


  1. You might find the following article interesting:

    1. That was excellent, Calvin, it actually feeds into something I'm about to publish about a fictional character and his concepts of gentlemanly probity.

  2. What a pity that the ancestors of these people were far advanced in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and social structure etc. Religion for purpose of fear and control has turned people into a flock of mindless sheep stifling individuality and creativity as during the middle ages in Europe, nothing new under the sun. Conditioning by fear of "Damnation" or "Beheading" is a hard cycle to break the mind free Of. Now is "Reason" was a "Religion" ?

    1. Ah, Anthony, you touch on the vanished glories of Al-Andalus, the height of Islamic civilization. Belief can liberate and it can also enslave.

  3. Today a lot of prayers are also needed for the world of Islam. Remember the Muslim countries and the Muslims. They are trapped and continue to be trapped due to their own greed and self-serving interests as well as due to anti-Islamic powers. This is crippling the Muslims in every sense and they do not comprehend what is happening to them. Deliberate occasions are created for disorder and by showing incorrect responses Muslims inflict further problems for themselves. May God keep them protected in every sense and may God give them sense to follow the teaching of God and what His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) gave us.

    (Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad - Khalifatul Masih V. Friday Sermon 14th September 2012).

    It is one of the ironies of history that members of the Ahmadiyya sect were some of the earliest victims to suffer medieval and barbaric persecution under these draconian laws and the world media refused to bat an eyelid. The Caliph of the Community at the time had warned that very soon the Christians and other Islamic sects will suffer under these same laws which have nothing to do with the true teaching about blasphemy set out in Islamic Law. In a public lecture he declared that:

    Islam goes one step further than any other religion in granting man the freedom of speech and expression. Blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world. Having studied The Holy Quran extensively and repeatedly with deep concentration, I have failed to find a single verse which declares blasphemy to be a crime punishable by man. Although The Holy Quran very strongly discourages indecent behaviour and indecent talk, or the hurting of the sensitivity of others, with or without rhyme or reason, Islam does not advocate the punishment of blasphemy in this world nor vests such authority in anyone.

    (Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad - Khalifatul Masih IV. Islam's Response to Contemporary Issues).

    As a result of the hue and cry kicked up by the media about Rimsha, her case may well and should be dropped but thousands Ahmadis and people from other sects continue to face death or imprisonment under the most inhumane conditions imaginable in Pakistan which has lost its credibility and reputation in the eyes of the world and is seen as the seat of terrorism and corruption. One is reminded of the Hadith (Traditional saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ):

    Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that he heard the Prophet of Allah ﷺ saying 'A time comes upon people when Islam will be left merely in its name. Nothing of the Quran will remain except its letters. Their mosques will be full of people, yet will be empty of all forms of righteousness. Their scholars will be the worst creatures under the firmament of the heavens. Discord will emerge from them and return into them'.

    (Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. Biharul Anwar).

    Note: 'Their' and 'Them' instead of 'My'/'Our'. As an aside here is an interesting example of the corrupt Imams of this age. The Sources of the Nile in the Mountains of the Moon-

    1. Excellent, Rehan, quite excellent. I'm going to research this issue still further, with a view to writing about the Ahmadis.

  4. Replies
    1. This is not exclusively Islamic, Anthony. It was practised by some Christians during the Roman persecutions, and some Jews in Spain after the expulsion of 1492.