Friday, January 07, 2011

The debate over Islamic law in Pakistan

Juan Cole hosts an excellent discussion by Aadil Wainwright about the issues at stake in the blasphemy issue, which led to the recent assassination of an important provincial governor.  An excerpt:

The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has laid bare a crucial debate within the Pakistani public over the nature of Islam and the place of Islamic law in national affairs. That it is a debate among Muslims with more than one side is a point that sometimes gets lost in Western discussions of Pakistan.

An investigation into the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, killed Wednesday 4th January, has been opened. According to Stratfor, it will try to identify why Malik Qadri, the assassin, was able to fire two magazines full of bullets before being apprehended, as well as how Qadri (who was already considered suspicious because of his religious views) was allowed to become part of the personal security detail of a politician whose secular positions had aroused much ire.
Despite confusion over the extent of organisation and the number of individuals involved, the motive of the assassin himself appears clear. Qadri told photographers as he was led away that he was proud to have killed a ‘blasphemer’. It was through actively defending Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death under the blasphemy law in November 2010, that Taseer had became infamous.
Like many others, Taseer had insisted Aasia Bibi was innocent. The claim was brought against Bibi six days after a spat with two Muslim women of her village refused to drink water from a glass she had touched because they said it had been defiled due to her Christian faith. Six days after the argument, her accusers said she had insulted the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), Bibi said they were merely trying to settle an old score.
Taseer became a campaigner for Bibi and for reform of the blasphemy law, attracting approbation. Despite threats, he continued to be vocal on the issues he cared about, pointing to the way the blasphemy law is abused as a political tool against minorities and the vulnerable. In a recent interview he said, “This is a man-made law, not a God-made one.”
Looking in to the historical origins of the blasphemy law is beyond the scope of this article, here we merely seek to identify the parameters of the debate.
It will be useful to quote two different authorities interviewed recently about the blasphemy law. Dr. Khalid Zaheer of the University of Central Punjab is against the death penalty for blasphemy and says: “One must concede that there are a few instances that have been mentioned in Hadith literature where the death punishment was apparently inflicted upon people who were involved in the act of blasphemy. However, if you look at these instances and then study the Quranic text, it seems there is a conflict or contradiction.”
By comparison, the leader of the well-established conservative movement Jamaat e Islaami in Karachi, Miraij ul Huda Siddiqui, said of the blasphemy law, “It has been derived from the Quran and Hadith and there is unanimous consensus on this by scholars of varying sects and they also agree with the death penalty.”
Effectively Dr. Zaheer is saying that, though there may be examples of it being implemented in the Hadith, we do not need to consider these because they disagree with what can be described as the humanistic spirit of the Qur’an. Mr. Siddiqui’s argument, on the other hand, is based purely on the legal texts of the Islamic tradition and does not explicitly mention a role for human reason.

Though these are merely quotes from newspaper interviews and the interviewees don’t go into detail, these words illustrate some of the fundamental issues at play here.

Lots more substantial analysis where that came from.

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