*First posted on Laaltain.
From Aasia Bibi, Rimsha Masih to Shama and Shehzad; blasphemy in Pakistan hangs like a sword over Pakistan’s religious minorities.
However, amid the cases, there is a concerted effort underway to push for reform regarding the blasphemy law in Pakistan, by the name of Engage.
A non-profit research and advocacy organization, Engage is pushing for the reform through research and dialogue, by way of which it aims to impact and change the discourse; legal, social and cultural frameworks surrounding the issue of blasphemy in the country.
Unlike the usual frameworks, such as those of human rights, used to structure debate and discourse against the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, Engage is rooted in the singular framework of Islamic tradition for the pursuit. During his recent talk at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, researcher Arafat Mazhar, who is one of the main individuals associated with the organization, continuously reinforced that authority has to be established in order to counter the dominant narratives prevailing on the issue in the country; and that this authority and evidence has to be derived from the same source which is used as a legitimating basis for the Blasphemy Law i.e Islamic tradition.
Engage, therefore, pursues the important deconstruction of what it calls the erroneous basis of the law through Islamic tradition; chiefly through Imam Abu Hanifa’s position that blasphemy is a pardonable offence for non-Muslims.
Moreover, Mazhar spoke of Ismail Qureshi, architect of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’s, and his disastrously incorrect reading of Ibn-e-Abideen (1836) whom he referenced to lend weight to the law. It was Ibn-e-Abideen, who, in fact, pointed out the line of false narration regarding the Hanafi position on the issue of blasphemy by non-Muslims.
And as written in his articles for Dawn, he reinforced the significance of this Islamic tradition by mentioning that the position of blasphemy as a pardonable offence for non-Muslims “was approved and signed by no less than 450 of the most prestigious names in the Hanafi ulema, not just from South Asia, but around the world” (which included Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, founder of the Barelvi school of thought to which, ironically, Mumtaz Qadri belonged).
The organization’s site is prompt to state that:
“Our research actually shows that the law is built on erroneous religious foundations including misquotations and misrepresentations of authoritative classical Islamic jurists.
[and by demonstrating the abovementioned through informed, thorough research and historical evidence]
It is only when this narrative – the public sentiment– is reshaped that legal reform can be addressed.”
In Mazhar’s words, “legal reform cannot take place in a vacuum in Pakistan” without addressing the popular social and cultural acceptance and prevalence underlying the Blasphemy Law.
In short, Engage aims to make use of solid research in Islamic tradition to delegitimise the basis of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and engage the general public, society, culture, institutions such as the government, judiciary, religious scholars and groups such as non-governmental organizations and the civil society in Pakistan along with the international community of Islamic scholars, in order to push for reform of the law.
As part of its efforts, Engage has established a Fatwa Drive which seeks scholarly endorsements recognizing the erroneous position on cases of blasphemy relating to non-Muslims; that if an alleged blasphemer seeks pardon, he should be forgiven. The Fatwa Drive includes visiting major madrassahs, masjids, Islamic jurists and scholars for the purpose. For Engage, this is based upon the idea that “Together, the moral authority of these opinions can be used a force for legal and popular reform.”
Well-aware of the ire, controversy, dangers and suspicions such a campaign can and does invite, Engage seeks to maintain a clean character of its campaign – free of affiliation, association with different interests – by seeking funds to support itself and its objective through crowdsourcing.
Engage’s campaign can be contributed to at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/engage-reforming-pakistan-s-blasphemy-law
Arafat Mazhar can be contacted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arafatmazhar
And truly, if Pakistan is to chart a peaceful and pluralistic future for its citizens and religious minorities, it is essential to engage with and overcome all that sustains the Blasphemy Law.
~ Hafsa Khawaja