Perspective: Falling prey to the blasphemy law | Rabia Ahmed

Last week a teenage boy, a hapless student at a madrassah in Kasur, was ‘caught’ burning pages of the Quran. He and his teacher who had instructed him to do this as the right way to dispose of pages that contained holy words were both booked for blasphemy. It appears ‘religious scholars’ now approve of just two ways of destroying pages with Quranic verses inscribed on them, and burning is not one of those ways. The two are: covering the pages in a cloth and burying them, or placing them in running water and allowing them either to flow away, or allowing the ink to wash off and then disposing off the pages whatever is left of them. Which leaves people living in parched places such as Thar with just the one option, and since sands are said to be habitual shifters the pages would often get exposed leaving either the entire population exposed to blasphemy, or to have little choice but to station a person permanently over every burial spot to make sure it was always covered. I wonder too what people in frozen places would do, with no flowing water (glaciers) and no soft earth (ice)? And people who cannot read at all, they’d need to keep every scrap of paper they possess, just in case. As for those like me who are bilingual, we’ be able to read Urdu and English fine, but when it came to Finnish, or Chinese or another language with a different sound and an altogether different script, we’d be stumped indeed or in prison, because heaven knows, we wouldn’t know what we’d throw away inadvertently because verses from the Quran are translated into 114 different languages, and the entire book into 47 languages of the world. Or does blasphemy not apply to these other languages?

But strange about the burning of the pages, because I myself was always told that if one must be pedantic burning is the way to go. I guess religious scholars become ever more intelligent with each generation taking the definition of blasphemy with them. ‘No, it isn’t blasphemy,’ said Mark Twain. ‘If God is as vast as you say, He is above that. If He is as little as this, He is below it.’ Which about sums it up. Unless you wish to check out some of the names of Allah: Ar-Rahman (the Beneficient), As-Salam (the Source of Peace), Al-Muhaymin (the Protector), Ar-Rahim (the Merciful), and Al Majid (the Most Glorious one). Which leaves you with the twin dilemma: which of these names suggests that the God we worship is happy for a teenage boy (or anyone else) to be charged in such a case? And the other dilemma, of how to dispose of these pages now that these last few lines have been printed on them.

Because this young lad is not the first, oh no. There have been other cases such as in Joseph colony where people were accused of blasphemy based on land disputes, and also Asia Bibi, I know you were wondering when she would come up. Really, she ought to come up a lot more often, in fact its more than time she came up and out of prison because she, a young mother, has been there the past seven years. Indeed she should never have gone in in the first place, because which is the blasphemy, bringing water for someone who is thirsty while incidentally, being Christian and they Muslim, or accusing the person who brings you water of blasphemy because she happens to be Christian?

A few years ago, a cousin brought his new wife over to introduce her to us. She is Ukranian, white, and Christian. Our cook at the time, a woman also incidentally from Kasur, did the needful… brought in the cold drinks, followed by tea and what not, and later confided in me her opinion that my cousin’s wife was very pretty. She knew the new wife was Christian because she noticed the cross around her neck and commented on that too.

The following week a battle was launched in our house. Our cleaning lady, also Christian, drank water when she was thirsty as humans do. And since in our house we do not separate our dishes from our employees as many people do the cook demanded that we install a separate set of dishes for the cleaning lady. When I refused the cook separated her dishes from all of us. This was the same cook who had quite happily used for herself the dishes my cousin’s wife had eaten in. The reason was not that my cousin’s wife was any less Christian but that she was white. The cleaning lady on the other hand being a local product was a shade darker than most of us. What was right for the goose was clearly not right for the gander, which makes it wrong, unjust and definitely not something prescribed by Islam…not by my Islam the religion I love, believe in and try to practice.

Both these cases of the young boy and Asia Bibi illustrate the fact that although ignorance, bigotry and the dubious teachings of self-styled custodians of religion are behind such sentiments and practices, that’s not all it is. There are also personal enmities and more than a generous helping of racism and social discrimination involved. Had the teenage boy and Asia Bibi belonged to a different socio-economic class and in Asia Bibi’s case also looked different, they would have been perceived in quite a different manner besides being beyond the reach of such mentors and law enforcement personnel.

As Pakistanis it is time we got our priorities straight. Do we go along with this stuff by failing to condemn it and perpetuating it by practices within our homes, or do we register our stance as a leading national daily was recently and publically brave enough to do in quite a different instance, a political case in support of one of its journalists? Unless we do this and stand up for what is right, we cannot expect either respect or our rights to be given us in return. So choose.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at

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