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Apostasy From Islam in Pakistan

Dr. Stephen Gill

2005/10/20 

Islam is divided into two main sects of Sunni and Shia. Sunnis form the majority in Pakistan and also in Saudi Arabia . They prescribe execution for an apostate from Islam.

Next to Sunnis there are Shias who are mostly in Iran . Shias are about 12 percent in Pakistan . Shias also prescribe execution for their apostates. Hojjatoleslam Hassan Eshkevari is one of the Iranian apostates who has received a wide publicity. He is a prominent writer, cleric, director of the Ali Shariati Research Centre, and contributing editor of the now banned monthly newspaper Iran e Farda. He was arrested on his return after attending an academic conference on Iran in Berlin and charged with apostasy and "corruption on earth" that carrys the penalty of death. The second such Iranian is Nancy . In April 2003, Voice of Martyre reported the plight of "Nancy" (not her real name), who had fled to Canada from Iran when threats were made on her life after she converted to Christianity. In March 2004, Egypt arrested its 22 apostates.

Both Sunnis and Shias prescribe disinheritance and death for their apostates. Moreover, their apostates lose their possessions and face penalties, including beating, torture and prison. If both parents apostate from Islam, their children are to be taken away by other members of the family. Even the people who try to save the life of the apostate are punishable by death. To avoid the attention of the Western style media, the apostate is often framed in crimes like defilement of the name of the Prophet Mohammed. Fatwa ( a religious edict) is also issued by clerics in which case assassins are not persecuted as they should be, because assassins follow the Sharia laws (Islamic).

The classic example is of Naimat Ahmar, a 45 year old Christian who was a school teacher and a progressive award-winning writer. Farooq Ahmad, a twenty-year old student of science, stabbed Naimat seventeen times at about 9.30 in the morning in the compound of the District Education Office of Faisalabad, Pakistan. This savagery was enacted in front of students and teachers in 1992, on the 6th of January. Naimat Ahmar fell on the floor all covered with blood. Farooq Ahmad straddled him and slit his throat with his knife in front of the staff. No one uttered a word.

The police officer who came to arrest Farooq Ahmad first hugged him for doing his duty. The killer was visited daily by people who garlanded and gifted him for his courage. Several clerics and Muslim organizations issued statements in his favour, calling him a hero. In jail, he received special treatment because the jail authorities adored his passion for the Prophet Mohammed. "So blatantly prejudiced is the case in Farooq's favour that Peter John Sahotra, the State Minister for Minorities Affairs, vociferously expressed his dissatisfaction, particularly with the manner in which the police was handling the case."1 Naimat Ahmar was alleged to have defiled the honor of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Washington Post reported that "Naimat Ahmar was brutally murdered on the street in front of his school by a radical Muslim who had never personally heard Ahmar disparage Mohammed. He had learnt of the accusation from a poster in a village. After murdering Ahmar, he reportedly danced over the body and was greeted by kisses from the police. Muslim religious leaders hailed him as a hero, local lawyers offered him free legal advice, and villagers streamed to his cell with flowers and cookies."2

This and several other incidents and Sharia (Islamic) laws confirm that freedom to convert from Islam to another religion does not exist in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that was carved out of India in 1947 on religious grounds. Pakistan has 95 per cent Muslims and about 3 per cent Christians. The penetration of Islam is visible in every aspect of life, including the departments of the Pakistan government. It is visible in sports even, particularly the game of cricket. Take the case of a chricketer Yousaf Youhana.

To please the majority and also to achieve the goal for which Pakistan was created, Zia ul-Haq, a military dictator, introduced a set of Islamic laws in 1986, called the Blasphemy Laws. The article 295-C of the Blasphemy Laws says that "Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine."

The law was challenged in the Islamic court to prove that the life imprisonment was repugnant to the Koran. The Islamic court ruled in October 1990 that the punishment according to Islam should only be death. Consequently, the punishment of imprisonment was removed. On May 1, 1991, death punishment became mandatory for those found guilty under the new statute. A Muslim who changes his religion defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed and therefore that apostate is punishable by death.

There are passages in the Blasphemy Laws which are flexible enough to apply to any situation against any person. There is the climate of hatred against minorities that has been created by the separate electorate system. Hate is propagated also through the media, hostile text books in educational institutions and through other means. During the election, Muslim candidates instigate their voters against other religions and give their assurance to do more for Muslims if elected. Hatred against other religions is preached openly.

In this climate of hatred against non-Muslims, there are the most vague and most discriminatory laws of blasphemy that were introduced by Zia-ul-Haq. These nebulous pieces of legislation have been misused and will continue to be misused to accuse anyone of defiling the name of Prophet Mohammed. For their thorough critical evaluations, refer to my document The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan.

To make the matter worst, eminent high court judges and religious leaders have urged the citizens to kill blasphemers on the spot. One of them is a judge of the Lahore High Court, Justice Nazir Akhtar. He said that anybody accused under blasphemy charges should be killed on the spot by Muslims as their religious obligation. There was no need for legal proceedings for a blasphemer. These remarks of a judge appeared in the national print media of Pakistan , including the Urdu publications Insaf and Khabrain of 28 August 2000. Justice Akhtar said, Shaheed law is available to respond to any blasphemy against the prophet. "We shall slit every tongue that is guilty of insolence against the Holy Prophet'.

 

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