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The not-so-curious case of Rimsha Masih and Imam Jadoon

No one is saying blasphemy must go unpunished, but who is to determine the nature and extent of the crime in an environment where the fog of intolerance has made it impossible to see even a few inches ahead?

Image Credit: Reuters
Police escort blindfolded Muslim cleric Khalid Jadoon as he is brought before a judge at a court in Islamabad September 2, 2012. Pakistani authorities have arrested Jadoon on suspicion of framing Christian girl Rimsha Masih who was arrested under the country's controversial anti-blasphemy law, a police official said.
Gulf News

Truth has an inherent way of making its presence felt, stripping away the layers of malice and lies. Idealistically, it should set an example that would deter similar deceit in the future. But, in reality, often, the lessons learnt are forgotten, blunted with justifications or what-ifs and grandiose fantasising about ‘doing things different the next-time-around’ scenarios.

But there are instances where an exposed falsity resounds with the din of its accompanying shame to such an extent that it cannot but force one’s conscience to question the moral high ground many in our society perch upon, and the calcification we have allowed to set so deep in our moral fibre that we have nearly lost the crux of the religion of peace and tolerance.

Take for example the Rimsha Masih blasphemy case that gripped not only Pakistan’s but worldwide attention in recent weeks. An unexpected twist of fate and the case has now taken the proverbial turn.

Luck this time is on the 14-year-old Christian girl Rimsha’s side — whose mental age is of a younger child — who remains in police custody since the past three weeks for allegedly burning pages of the Quran.

Apparently, the imam of the local mosque, Khalid Jadoon in Mehrabadi —where Rimsha lived on the outskirts of Islamabad — who ‘saved’ her from the wrath of a mob by handing her over to the police, is now in the dock. The testimony of a witness, who saw Jadoon adding burnt pages to the ashes retrieved from Rimsha’s hands, has landed the imam in jail.

Whether the imam’s investigation is properly carried out lest some religious party’s influential leader steps in or the witness who courageously spoke out at this instance retreats in fear of being targeted remains to be seen, but what is important is that Rimsha’s case is now stronger. But, even if Rimsha is spared the death penalty for the alleged defilement of the Quran or the lesser punishment of life imprisonment, would she be able to resume life with her family in the same community?

Or would she, despite being a juvenile, not to forget one that is mentally challenged, suffer the same fate many others have been subjected to?

Some may call those handed a life imprisonment lucky in comparison to those who have been killed, beaten and burnt to death by angered mobs. A case was witnessed as recently as July when a 2,000-strong mob raided a police lockup and beat and later burnt a man held for alleged blasphemy.

Much has been written about Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, a descendant of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The contentious amendments to the Blasphemy Law (295-B and 295-C) pertaining to clause 295 has turned it into a lethal weapon against not only minorities, but practically anyone whose belief in and respect towards Islam could be called into question by anyone at any time, irrespective of intent.

It is not only Christians, Hindus or Ahmadis that have been targeted, but also other Muslims have come under the sword based on personal enmity–led preposterous and fabricated charges.

Zia’s legacy

The gift was one among the many handed over by no other than former president, the late General Zia ul Haq, whose contribution to destroying Pakistan’s institutions and sowing the seeds of sectarianism and extremism remains unsurpassed.

Pakistan, as a nation, may be reaping the benefits of Zia’s legacy and that of successive supine leaders but what good is lamenting when the tools of change lie rusting in our very hands?

The blasphemy law may be a draconian double edged sword that has been used ruthlessly by the religious-political lobby to consolidate their influence and hold any ruling government hostage, but it’s a law that has been imposed on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan whose foundations were built on the principles of peace, justice and tolerance.

The most confounding aspect is how everyone whipped by a religious frenzy of punishing the blasphemers forgets the greatest example set by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) — forgiveness, tolerance, compassion and love. Such was the power of the Prophet’s actions and behaviour exemplifying these basic principles that it converted even the most extreme haters to Islam and into his most ardent followers.

No one is saying that blasphemy go unpunished, but who is to determine the nature and extent of the crime in an environment where the fog of intolerance and conflated ills of hate and self-righteousness have made it impossible to see even a few inches ahead? What of the construed cases motivated by jealousy, hatred and for reasons dictated by material causes like land or property acquisition?

Who will be the arbitrator?

The state institutions, especially the courts, are there to ensure the full rights and protection of minorities. Whether they ‘do’ or ‘can’ deliver is another case that needs to be tackled and set right not by the next government, but by the people.

Let the next election decide the denizens of the corridors of power based on their commitment to bringing about social and legal reforms in areas that negate the basic teachings of a great religion and those that have given birth to the politics of hatred under the guise of religion.

Procrastination and waiting for some messiah to come and fix the ills at home so far has not solved anything. In fact, the longer we wait for someone to clean the mess we allowed to accumulate, the worse it gets.

Rimsha’s case is not unique, but it may prove to be the catalyst that may speed the ‘need to change’ phenomenon that has already been set in motion. The chorus of the mob may be loud but the sacrifices of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti loom large.

Given the alleged crime of imam Jadoon, let his punishment be greater than of any other blasphemer for he has committed a travesty that transcends far beyond, by planting evidence on Rimsha to frame her for a crime she may not even have committed.