Unlawful law

In South Asia on 17. May 2014 at 02:29

Following is what happens each time a blasphemy case erupts; Papers debates intense for some days, social media has huge outrage, only to be silent when the case is not of interest anymore. What remains is a poor soul, either killed or lingering in prison, having his or her life turned upside down. Such continues the cycle each time a new case turns up.

In this process, there is also a debate of those in favour, and those against the blasphemy law. Both argue with faith while latter also include secular arguments. There is this third point of view as well which explains that law is a necessity, but is misused.

Since blasphemy is a subjective understanding – as it defames individual’s personal belief – it is also a huge variety in what becomes an offence. In addition, since law is that vague, there is no doubt that citizen’s lack a security in their life. A security a state is required to secure. Question is not about law should stay or not, but rather how can one argue, both theologically, and by secular means, against such a law, which makes it difficult for all citizens of a state?

Why theological argument

As society is guided by the morals given in a faith it is much easier, and even important, to let society comprehend the necessity of tolerance through given parameters. While the need for Islamic state and a penal code based on codified law with punishment for blasphemy also derives from the same sources, it is fully possible to make an opposite argument from the same scriptures.

Scholars as Maulana Wahiduddin Khan from the orthodox trend among Sunnis in subcontinent does not find any theological justification for blasphemy law. He exemplifies from The Holy Scripture that it contains about two hundred verses where Prophets are denigrated by their contemporaries, but not even one verse which tells of a prescribed punishment. The moral from chapters these verses are from is always to be tolerant. Khan urges the use of propagation of faith by argument and not defending it by violence. Hence, his extraction becomes that of a universal wisdom on which great thinkers would agree. As humanity, in total, through ages, is the vice-regent of Almighty, its consensus, from these wise personalities, becomes the closest we come to truth.

Why secular argument

As truth is universal by faith and moral values, it also applies on worldly manners. Statecraft is a human construction. Made by human to organise itself in the most optimal way possible. Just as aircraft, because it has a need, it is upgraded, adjusted and used. Meddling Almighty’s divine words into an erroneous human beings construction will surely defame the image of the former.

Being organised needs an agreement. That of citizen with the state. As time passed, it went from being loyalty to the sovereign of their time, to a security to the individual within that domain. This after learning that state gets weak by civil war or supressing segments of population until point of no return. This was also the consequence of a long development where citizens were granted rights rather than being merely subject.

Now the understanding became, after periods of ethnic and sectarian war that state needs to be stable and in order to be so it needed equality before the law. Thus, democracy was born, in a secular form, as the ultimate system man has developed yet. Apart from being based on equality and justice for all, it also taught of tolerance. As it was no longer possible to supress others, minorities, weaker parts of a population.

This has become the new reality, which many ethnic nationalists or religious fanatics will not comprehend. That the endless cycle of violence, which starts with a part not tolerating another part, needed to stop. Because what is blasphemy, if not merely a personal disagreement? Why then should state, or the representatives of an entire population, meddle in these affairs? What becomes the consequence of such a law?


With a blasphemy law, as present, it is undoubtedly no difficulty in convicting a counterpart for alleged blasphemy. Pakistan’s current law mentions Ahmadis explicitly, with restrictions on them appearing as Muslims or to call their house of God for being a mosque. In a subtle way, the law also prohibits Shias from practicing their doctrines. While the former makes a small minority in the country, the latter is a big part of the nation’s population. However, numbers should not justify such injustice at all.

Now the major sects in Pakistan agree upon restrictions against Ahmadis. While Sunnis agree among themselves on the restrictions against Shias. Further on, while it yet is not a law, some segments of Deobandi Sunnis do not accept practices and doctrines performed by the majority Barelvi Sunni denomination. They invoke doctrine of tawhid – oneness of God. While at it, the Barelvi counterpart consider Deobandi criticism of their practices for being defamation against the Prophet. Overall, in one way or other, there has become to be, that either subtle or direct or not even in law, it affects and makes life insecure for each citizen of this state.

Children singing Christmas carols next to a mosque can suddenly be witness to mobs looting and burning their Church. Ismaili doctor throwing away a card which having the same name as Prophet, can be convicted of blasphemy. Chants against a Police officer having same name as one of Prophets Companions can give the same charges. Ahmadi replying to some greeting them in Islamic way end up in jail and a petty argument over a glass of water can make Aasia Bibi linger in jail.

This is not the stability or security a state is required to deliver. Differences will never cease to exist. No matter how much blood is spilled, before any annihilation of an entire community state itself will collapse due to anarchy.

Free speech

Heretics, as defined by Calvin, are simply those with whom one disagree. As disagreement could not be tolerated it became inevitable that laws restricting free speech became necessary. Free speech is not limitless, but to what degree, and for how long can one limit free speech?

It is not practical, in a society, with so many views, both on faith and on worldly matter, to ban one set of thoughts, not even defined, yet subject to ban if uttered. What if ban is effective, will it ban private conversations? Limit people to think of cases others might find blasphemous? Blasphemy law itself cannot fulfil its given role, in its entirely, the only effective law against blasphemy becomes the principle of being tolerant.

It was lack of limits against free speech that early arab scientists could think freely on science. In one case, ibn Rushd was told to explain the movement of planets to the Caliph of Maghreb. Looking at his master ibn Tufayl, Rushd asked the permission to present his thoughts without limits, which was granted. Thus, he could share what he believed to be truth, without limiting his genius, and thereby enriching future philosophers with material to work on.

Same case goes with Ramban who had to defend his faith in front of King James I. Before Ramban took the case, he asked the freedom to have free speech, so his defence would not be accused of committing blasphemy during the disputation. As he was guaranteed, he could with full flexibility answer to charges against his Jewish faith.

In the end, it is criticism, and critical voices should be countered with argument, or simply being ignored. Limits to free speech will also limit human progress be it thinking on faith or science. Limiting it just to avoid criticism or pure blatant hate against ones faith has the cost of limiting liberties entire society has, and the security of life.

No matter how civilised one becomes, there will be criticism, which also includes simple hate. To tackle that one needs to tolerate, there is no way around. As consequences are given, the price is high to pay for a task that belongs to Almighty and not its creation.

‘Behold! There is faith in blasphemy. Those that can differentiate between the two, come forward’

-Shah Hayati

No doubt, word needs to reach out, not only to lawmakers, but also to society. It is society that can pressurise reforms, and all segments of society has its part. Among them, the influential and better off diaspora, most of which live under democratic and secular states. As long as the taboo of talking about this unjust law does not break, there will be no progress, and we will be part of those committing this injustice.

Being realistic, for all practical purposes there will be a demand for decency from society itself on issues as contempt of faith, that in addition to deal with communalism was the main reason British brought in the law into Indian penal code. In the given conditions, it might not win critical support to repeal law itself, but it can be modified, by removing passages that are in conflict with values as equality and justice. More directly, the law needs to go back to its original form, as the British colonial rulers introduced it.


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