December issue 2010
Interview: Mairaj-ul-Huda Siddiqui of the JI
“Scholars of varying sects agree with the
death penalty for blasphemy”
– Mairaj-ul-Huda Siddiqui,
Amir, Jamaat-e-Islami, Karachi
Q: Jamaat-e-Islami Amir, Munawar Hassan, in a recent statement, said that the government should not try to pardon Aasiya Bibi or send her into exile, and instead follow the due process and go into appeal. Could you elaborate on the JI’s stance on Aasiya Bibi’s case?
A: We believe that the name and stature of prophets should be safeguarded and no disrespect should be allowed. Disrespecting 124,000 prophets amounts to disrespecting all of humanity. If in Pakistan there is a law pertaining to this, which protects their dignity, then such a case should be dealt with by implementing that particular law.
Now the procedure is that if a sessions court has convicted a person, then the higher court should be approached for an appeal. Anybody who adopts a different methodology than this is sending out a clear message that the person has neither faith in the law, nor in the courts or the judiciary of this country.
Q: As far as the Blasphemy Law is concerned, do you think the death penalty is the appropriate punishment?
A: What do you think should happen to a person who disrespects the Prophet (PBUH)?
Q: From where has this law been derived? Is it found in the Quran?
A: It has been derived from the Quran and Hadith and there is unanimous consensus on this by scholars of varying sects and they also agree with the death penalty.
Q: What about the message of forgiveness in Islam? Can’t a person be forgiven in this case?
A: No, it is not for any man to forgive a person who blasphemes.
Q: Why is there more emphasis on punishment rather than the message of tolerance?
A: We have always preached tolerance. Have we ever called upon people to burn holy books, or defame the prophets or be disrespectful towards others’ religions? Never. But you will find several examples where the Quran and our Prophet (PBUH) have come under attack.
Q: There are times when accusations of blasphemy are false and court investigations do not always reveal the truth. In Aasiya’s case it is being alleged that the charges have been trumped up. How do you view the situation in light of this?
A: The courts are in place; those who say the accusation is false can take it up in the court by presenting evidence instead of starting some kind of public trial. With some saying it [the accusation] is correct and others saying it is not, this will only create anarchy in society.
This law is in place to eliminate anarchy from society and to assure the people that if someone disrespects humanity, then the law will be used to protect the dignity of humanity. So if somebody commits such an act then he/she will be dealt with in accordance with the law, otherwise investigations and evidence will prove a person innocent and the public will accept such a verdict.
What we do not understand is that all those people who are talking about a pardon at the moment are the same people who have been sworn in by the same laws [that govern the state and which include the Blasphemy Law]. Yet they show no faith in the law or the judicial system.
Q: If Aasiya Bibi’s case is taken to an upper court, and that court decides that she is indeed innocent, will that verdict be acceptable?
A: If this law stays in place and after a court trial it is determined that the charges are false, then yes the people will accept it.
Q: We have numerous cases before us where such matters have been settled out of courts and on the streets, where people – rather lynch mobs – have threatened or killed people.
A: The very first thing here is that this is a law that even members of the government are not satisfied with. When the people who run a state themselves do not put faith in the laws then what law can possibly be upheld in such a state?
As far as the Blasphemy Law is concerned, I will say that it aims to keep the norms of society in place and intact. In fact, its existence discourages people from taking the law into their own hands as the courts can settle such matters. But God forbid, if this law is abolished, it will create anarchy in society.
Q: A debate is underway now, not to abolish the law but to amend it…
A: Before the creation of Pakistan, this law was not in place. Raj Gopal wrote a book in which he was disrespectful towards the Prophet (PBUH). The sessions judge of the time acquitted him on the premise that there was no law in place to address such an issue. But Raj Gopal could not escape punishment. The dignity of the Prophet (PBUH) is far greater than that of 1.6 billion Muslims. And somebody who has hurt the sentiments of so many people cannot possibly survive.
Today which law in Pakistan is being implemented? People contend that false cases are registered under the Blasphemy Law, but does the same not happen under other laws? Are cases of theft not falsely registered and who knows what else. Does that mean that all the laws in Pakistan should be abolished? No. In fact the constitution and law should be followed and this should be done first and foremost by those who are in positions of power.
Q: Sherry Rehman has tabled a private bill in the National Assembly in which she has proposed that the death penalty be reduced to life imprisonment, and life imprisonment to five years. She is not seeking to repeal the law, but to amend it. Do you agree with these changes?
A: I think that the current Blasphemy Law that we have in place should be followed and implemented, and it is not correct to abolish it, nor make changes to it. This law is reflective of the sentiments of the people of this country. When we say democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people, then we should ask the people of Pakistan their opinion and I think they love the Prophet (PBUH) immensely and want to protect his dignity and want such a law in the country which safeguards their Prophet’s (PBUH) name.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.