On Blasphemy in Pakistan

On January 4, 2011, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab was shot and killed by one of his own security guards, Mumtaz Qadri. The reason for this was Taseer's defense of the proposed amendments in the Country's blasphemy laws, as well as his support for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammad. The murderer Qadri was subsequently sentenced to death for his crime.

However, while his appeal was being reviewed, an extraordinary thing happened. Some religious parties had the audacity to offer blood money (Diyya) to the Taseer family on his behalf.

I say audacity but they really were not being audacious. They were well within the law of the land to offer the money and well within their rights to do so. This is because the Shariah compliant Qisas and Diyat ordinance was passed in 1990. This ordinance was replaced in 1997, when Qisas and Diyat provisions became a law through an Act of Parliament. In Islamic Shariah Law, Qisas is equal to "an eye for an eye" while Diyya is the financial compensation or blood money paid to the victim or the heirs of the victim in case of murder.

This law basically made murder a private matter and not a crime against society or the State. As such, the victim's heirs can forgive the murderer/criminal in exchange for money, thereby putting the onus of punishing the murderer on the victims' family.

Please excuse me while I take a moment to slow clap this magnificent idea.

Let's be very clear here, Qadri murdered a man. He should be punished for it because he took it upon himself to do so, to save the honor of his religion. As such, this is not a private offense but a crime against society (even if the State doesn't consider it a crime against itself). If the Taseer family had been less honorable, taken the money and forgiven this menace to society, he (and others like him) would be given the green light to commit such a heinous crime again.

This law, as many other Shariah compliant laws, is rubbish and should be abolished along with the blasphemy law. Many times, people from poor and not well connected families of victims are coerced into forgiving criminals and take blood money in exchange. Thus the guilty are either given minimal punishment or allowed to roam free.

Honor killing is a shameful practice in this country and often families who have had their girls killed in the name of honor, have got off scot-free because they forgave themselves under this law.

What a lovely way to dispense justice! I say again, this is a law that should be done away with because murder is not a private offense and forgiving the murderer then sets him or her free to repeat their action, or at the very least gives others the freedom of doing so.

The State of Pakistan must really think about whether it wants to join the rest of the world in the current century and promulgate and implement laws that provide security and safety to its citizens. This is the responsibility of the State and it must not be allowed to shirk it in the name of religion. Pakistan must do away with instituting 7th century laws that have no basis in today's society. It is not hard to do so.

This and many other Shariah laws have no place in the world today. Most of these laws exponentially favor some people and are not very considerate to women, minorities and the poor. And any demand to impose them over society, instead of secular laws, is not an idea that we should accept. We must step up and be vocal about their abrogation. And let me be very clear, it is not that they are not implemented properly. No, just their existence is a slap in the face of society at large. Just for that they must be replaced.

Saima Baig is a Consultant for Environmental Management, Environmental Economics and Climate Change.

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