Carol Grayson -
The recent case of Aasia Bibi sentenced to death for blasphemy, insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the Qur’an has led to much controversy and heated debate around the world. Concerns have been raised that this woman, a Pakistani Christian has been singled out because of her religion and an independent report claims she is innocent.
Surprising then to learn from The Express Tribune that 84% of blasphemy cases in the Punjab are actually Muslim not Christian and “of the convicts, 12 prisoners, among them Aasia, have been condemned to death.” (Others have been awarded different punishments, including life sentences and fines.)
The paper goes on to say that “only eight Christians have been jailed under the blasphemy laws in Punjab since September 29, 2001.” It would appear though from looking at reactions from scholars and human rights activists, politicians and ordinary citizens that this case is in danger of polarizing public opinion and turning the issue into a battle of religions.
However, further examination shows that common ground can be found between Muslims and Christians and perhaps ironically the most radical way (that can be the hardest to follow at times) is a middle path of tolerance and understanding toward each other.
It is natural for followers of a faith to protect their beliefs and spiritual way of being and Shahnawaz Farooqui does have very valid points in his article claiming that there is both a western disdain for Islam from some quarters, a fear of what is not understood and also perhaps at times what indeed could be interpreted as a religious “envy” http://www.asiadespatch.com/2010/12/opinion-the-western-double-standards-on-the-blasphemy-law/
I heard this from an unexpected corner this week in the words of my own father, a Christian who remarked after watching a news item which included Muslims being interviewed that “you can’t help but admire such conviction and devotion to their faith, I look around and sometimes feel something is missing in the way we live our lives.”
My own growing attraction to Islam is the fact that over the years I have discovered a tolerant religion and felt on occasions a desire to defend that experience when others are fast to criticise. I was not let down in my opinion when the other day I was copied into an article entitled “Aasia Bibi Deserves Mercy From The Nation Of Prophet Mohammad, Mercy To The World.” A writer for a group called Pakistan Cyber Force with the pen name of “Enticing Fury” put forward a compelling argument for compassion for Aasia stating that the blasphemy laws do not apply to non- Muslims since non- Muslims do not know about Islam and its glory. He goes on to state,
Sharia Law protects the rights of the minorities to such an extent that non-Muslims are termed as “ZIMNI” (those whose protection is guaranteed by the State, this (blasphemy) law abuses them in such a way that they are directly sentenced to death without being properly presented with the truth about Islam. This is not Shariah Law in the first place rather it is Zia- Ul- Haq’s corruption of Pakistani laws and it is anti-Islam. Such laws won’t bring non-Muslims closer to Islam rather will push them away from the mid-way and a possible Muslim convert of the future will remain Kaafir (unbeliever) due to the “barakah” of such indiscriminating laws. Had such laws been existing at the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. the woman who would throw garbage on our beloved Prophet s.a.w. would never have entered Islam in the end. Moreover when she has asked for mercy publicly several times then there remains no cushion for any Muslim to enforce punishment on a peace seeking human being in the light of the Qur’an where it orders to give peace to the peace seekers even in the battlefield. ( Kashifiat have serious reservations with this statement) (http://networkedblogs.com/aUrfC
The Pope has also joined in calls for Aasia’s release drawing comparisons with St Juliana of Liege who was persecuted by members of the clergy. His message (now played on a video on Youtube) does give thought for the human rights of others but focuses on “Christians” when many non-Christians equally face persecution both internally and outside of Pakistan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CLuby46hmw&feature=channel
If we believe truly in humanity then there must be the same human rights for all without undue favour to some and withdrawal from others. Perhaps then those asking for clemency on the part of Aasia should also call for compassion for another woman in captivity, a Muslim named Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist sentenced to 86 years in a US court for attempting to shoot American soldiers at a police station in Afghanistan.
Supporters argue that the sentence is barbaric and disproportionate given that although shots were fired no soldiers were actually hit. There are still questions to be answered regarding her case whether or not she was secretly detained for a period of time as a “ghost prisoner” at Bagram Detention Centre, Afghanistan. There are also calls for Aafia (known by some as the “daughter of Pakistan”) to be repatriated from the prison where she is held at the Carswell Medical Facility, Texas, back to her home country.
A recent event on the 1st December 2010 held in London was attended by Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee and director of Cage prisoners and the organisation’s patron, journalist Yvonne Ridley. The Quu’ran teaches mercy and the Bible preaches forgiveness, also the law of America is supposed to include the process of rehabilitation, regardless of religion there is the question of basic humanity. Human rights legislation as argued by Heather Blake attempts to put that principle of humanity into practice http://www.asiadespatch.com/2010/12/a-commonwealth-perspective-against-blasphemy-laws/ The following article on Aafia written by author and journalist Andy Worthington highlights her case in more detail http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com/2010/11/dr-aafia-london-event-wednesday-texas.html
Debates centred on mercy for Aasia Bibi have referred to concerns that Muslim lives are not valued in the same way as Christian lives which produces a great deal of anger and rightly so. Yet despite this British Pakistanis were quick to respond to Aasia’s plight by organising an online petition asking for the death sentence to be repealed.
One legal case where justice must be served is the murder of Marwa al Sherbini now known as the “veiled martyr” an Egyption wife and mother living in Germany, insulted and falsely called a “crazy Islamist” and terrorist” then later brutally murdered for wearing the veil (hijab). The killing caused an outcry as it actually took place in the courtroom in Dresden where neighbor Axel Weins (accused of racism) stabbed Marwa 18 times in front of her husband and child. The husband was also shot by police after he tried to protect her from Weins, which led to allegations of racial discrimination. According to Press TV Marwa’s family “have filed a case of Klaageerzwingungsverfahren, (action enforcement process) which will force the higher regional court to review the case” http://www.presstv.ir/detail/153890.html The incident so moved me I wrote a tribute to this lady when I first heard about the incident.
In memory of Marwa Al Sherbini (who died for wearing a veil)
What was it that you chose to see
That veiled your own humanity?
Playground darkened with abuse
Racist rage from mind obtuse,
Obsessive thoughts, projectile hate
That sealed a muslim woman’s fate.
An ordinary day, routine,
Just another courtroom scene
Until your anger knew no bounds
Inflicting deep and fatal wounds.
A husband leaps to save his wife
Mistaken, shot, fights for his life,
Marwa falls, blood all around
Draining, dying on the ground,
Her child cries out in pain and fear
No mother’s arms to hold him dear.
What was it that you chose to see
That veiled your own humanity?
To return to the case of Aasia, as Hamza Ameer states, blasphemy is recognised as an “irreverent behaviour” but as he also points out “as per the constitution of Pakistan, article 45 of the Constitution says, ‘ the President shall have the power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority” http://www.asiadespatch.com/2010/12/debating-blasphemy-an-invitation-to-chaos-in-pakistan/ It can be argued that each country is judged by how it treats and protects its most vulnerable and those on the margins of society irrespective of ethnicity or religion.
The Daily Times published that the “Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti on Saturday condemned the announcement of reward for the killing of Aasia Bibi by a cleric in Peshawar.”
What Aasia, Aaafia, and Marwa’s family need is not extreme reaction but a will from ordinary citizens to put aside ignorance, hatred and personal prejudice and display a collective humanity. There is support for all three women globally which can be challenged to good effect within the belief systems of both Islam and Christianity, it would seem to be down to interpretation and personal motivation. Aasia and Aafia have children and Marwa leaves behind a son. No child should be unfairly punished whatever the circumstances of the mother and observing the human rights of the mother will help support the family unit. I know both Islam and Christianity incorporate teachings of a moral code of behaviour, of understanding and tolerance if we consider a middle path. We are all in some way interconnected on this planet and one way forward towards a more peaceful co existence is to recognize this and put it into practice. The decision whether to take such a step and a responsibility to act lies within each individual.
Carol Grayson is Director Coordination Asia Despatch and a UK independent researcher/campaigner on global health/human rights