World View: Pakistan Court Acquits Asia Bibi of Blasphemy

protesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010/Akhtar Soomro
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Pakistan Supreme Court acquits Asia Bibi of blasphemy, triggering widespread riots
  • Pakistan Supreme Court defends Mohammed’s covenant with Christianity

Pakistan Supreme Court acquits Asia Bibi of blasphemy, triggering widespread riots

Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman with five children convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 who has remained on death row since then. The court’s scathing decision not only acquitted her, but also accused the two women who accused her of blasphemy, as well as the prosecutors who took the case to trial of their own acts of blasphemy against Asia’s religion, Christianity.

Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the political party of the loony Barelvi sect of hardline Sunni Islam, has called for nationwide riots and the assassination of the three Supreme Court judges, who are being given additional protection. Widespread protests erupted on Wednesday in cities across Pakistan, including Lahore and Karachi, shutting down roads.

It was feared that the government would bow to the Barelvi/TLP demands and ignore the court’s decision. That has not happened so far, and the new prime minister Imran Khan has endorsed the court verdict and condemned the protesters:

These protesters are not ‘protecting’ Islam; they are just trying to fill their vote banks. They are enemies of the state that are doing politics in the name of the religion. People cannot get to their jobs. A laborer, who had to get to his work place and would be unable to feed his children because of this.

Do not force the government to take action. Do not clash with the state or hurt the country only for political gains.

However, there are still concerns that the Barelvi/TLP terrorists will prevent Asia Bibi from leaving the country, now that she is free and several countries have offered her asylum.

The blasphemy charge occurred when a bunch of women started arguing with each other. Several women refused to drink out of the same cup as Asia because she is a Christian. Five days later, they decided to charge her with blasphemy. She was prosecuted and has been in jail until today.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province in Pakistan, called for the release of Asia Bibi and was shot 28 times in broad daylight in an open marketplace on January 4, 2011. The killer was his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. The motive, as described by Qadri, was to punish Taseer for objecting to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and for calling for the release of Asia Bibi. Qadri was not just a national hero, but he was a Barelvi hero, and it is that execution that led to the rise of TLP. Since Qadri justified his murder of Taseer with a phony blasphemy charge, the TLP political movement is based almost entirely on phony blasphemy charges. Qadri was showered with roses and treated as a hero in 2011 after brutally murdering Taseer. Qadri was finally executed last year, but not before he became a national hero for killing Taseer over a phony blasphemy charge.

So Asia Bibi has been a political foil for the loony Barelvi sect for eight years. If she is successful in leaving the country, at least that part of saga may be over. BBC and Deutsche Welle and Dawn (Pakistan, 13-Oct)

Pakistan Supreme Court defends Mohammed’s covenant with Christianity

The court’s opinion is very long, 56 pages. Each statement or conclusion is supported by a verse from the Koran. It is in roughly three parts.

The first part is the history of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The second part describes the evidence against Asia Bibi.

The third part is a scathing criticism of the women who accused Asia of blasphemy and of the prosecutors who tried the case, repeatedly lying and ignoring exculpatory evidence. Furthermore, the court accuses the women and the prosecutors and even the trial courts of violating Mohammed’s covenant with Christians and Christianity, and of being guilty themselves of blasphemy for having blasphemed the religion of Asia Bibi, Christianity.

The following are extracts from the latter parts of the opinion. According to the judgment, Asia Bibi’s prosecutors repeatedly lied and so the prosecutors were in violation of the Koran:

20. The glaring and stark contradictions in the evidence produced by the prosecution in respect of every factual aspect of this case, noticed by me above, lead to an irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth or at least not to divulge the whole truth. It is equally disturbing to note that the courts below had also, conveniently or otherwise, failed to advert to such contradictions and some downright falsehood. All concerned would have certainly done better if they had paid heed to what Almighty Allah has ordained in the Holy Qur’an:

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah: verse 8)

“So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, acquainted.” (Surah An-Nisa: verse 135)

The court was particularly suspicious that Asia was only accused of blasphemy five days after the alleged incident occurred, and that Asia’s accusers themselves had insulted her (Christian) religion. They say that the Koran demands every Muslim believe in all the holy prophets, including Jesus Christ, and that therefore Asia’s accusers were themselves blasphemers:

23. The statements made by [prosecutors] before the trial court revealed that the alleged blasphemy had been committed by the Christian appellant after her Muslim co-workers had insulted the appellant’s religion and had injured her religious sensibilities only because she believed in and was a follower of Jesus Christ. According to the Holy Qur’an a Muslim’s faith is not complete till he believes in all the Holy Prophets and Messengers of Almighty Allah including Jesus Christ (Isa son of Maryam) (Peace Be Upon Him) and all the revealed Holy Books of Almighty Allah including the Holy Bible. From that perspective insulting the appellant’s religion by her Muslim co-workers was no less blasphemous. Almighty Allah, the Creator of mankind, knew how a human being whose religion and religious sensibilities are insulted is likely to snap and retort and that is why it was ordained in the Holy Qur’an that

“And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.” (Surah Al-An’am: verse 108)

The Muslim co-workers of the appellant had violated the command of Almighty Allah by insulting the Deity believed in and the religion followed by the appellant and, even if the prosecution’s allegations against the appellant were to be accepted as correct, the stated reaction to the same by the appellant was not different from that warned about by Almighty Allah.

The court went on at length to describe how Mohammed was committed to protecting Christians and Christianity, and so Asia’s accusers were actually violating one of Mohammed’s covenants:

24. In view of the glaring contradictions in the evidence produced by the prosecution it has appeared to me to be equally plausible that due to the quarrel taking place between the appellant and her Muslim coworkers at the spot without any offending word having been uttered by the appellant the quarrel was reported by the Muslim ladies to others who then, after deliberating over the matter for five long days, had decided to go after the appellant with a false allegation regarding commission of blasphemy. If that were so then the Muslim witnesses in this case had violated a covenant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) with those professing the Christian faith. [One covenant is with the] Monks of Mount Sinai. It is reported that in or around the year 628 A.D. a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery, the world’s oldest monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), requested for his protection and he responded by granting them a charter of rights. That charter, also known as The Promise to St. Catherine, was translated from Arabic to English language by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq as follows:

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

The promise made was eternal and universal and was not limited to St. Catherine alone. The rights conferred by the charter are inalienable and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had declared that Christians, all of them, were his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant. It is noticeable that the charter imposed no conditions on Christians for enjoying its privileges and it was enough that they were Christians. They were not required to alter their beliefs, they did not have to make any payments and they did not have any obligations. The charter was of rights without any duties and it clearly protected the right to property, freedom of religion, freedom of work, and security of person.

The court reaches its final conclusion, completely acquitting Asia Bibi:

[25.] Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous. It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’ but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Leare, “more sinned against than sinning.”

26. For what has been discussed above a conclusion is inescapable and irresistible that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. This appeal is, therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts below are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her. She shall be released from the jail forthwith if not required to be detained in connection with any other case.

Although not mentioned in the opinion, the implication is that TLP is also guilty of blasphemy. Pakistan Supreme Court (PDF) and Christianity Today and BBC

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Pakistan, Imran Khan, Asia Bibi, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, TLP, Barelvi sect, Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri
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