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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blasphemy laws have got to go

Blasphemy Laws Today By Rev. Swing

I am please to append the piece written by Dr. Swing below, as a Muslim, I am fully endorsing his opinion.

Rev. William E. Swing is speaking the truth and I agree with him on this one. As Muslims we have to stand up for Islam, he is doing the right thing and is indeed standing up to protect the essence of Islam, to protect the name of Islam.

Prophet Muhammad has set several examples;

This story is narrated by Muslims literally every day to teach about treating others when they are not nice to you. When the Prophet took a walk to go Kaaba, the place of worship in Mecca, a lady invariably threw trash on him right when he passed in front of her house. One day, he did not get the trash thrown on him, he was concerned about her well being, so he goes to see her to find out if she was alright, she was indeed ill, the prophet takes care of her. The real lesson was, this is how one should treat another human with grace. Unfortunately the story is told with a conversion angle - that lady converted because of his grace.

Even if the greedy converters want to convert others, they should do it with grace. Instead of the blasphemy laws, they should be nice to them, then they have a chance to harvest (The un-civil word used by the greedy converters like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) them to their faith. The blasphemy laws are dumb from that point of view.

Prophet Muhammad was pelted stones by the miscreants on his way to Taif, angel Gabriel and his associates were ready to go thrash the bad boys, But what did the Prophet do? He held the avengers back and instead asked them to pray with him for God to grace them with goodness.

No wonder, Allah assures the followers of Islam to do their work and not worry about the religion, he will protect it. The wisdom was simply to protect the human kind, lest they become aggressive and compel others to do or undo and create havoc like the Blasphemy laws in Pakistan or some other Muslim majority nations do. These laws have to go. It is against the spirit of Islam - there is no compulsion.

We all should work to ban Blasphemy Laws - I have some honey for the greedy harvesters, by banning the blasphemy laws, no one would be tempted to play the game and relative peace prevails. The arrogant people can go harvest poor souls to convert, just as the greedy Christian Missionaries do, serving people should be the goal and not harvesting them.

We have to stand up against these senseless blasphemy laws, they are against the spirit of Islam and go against the peace models Prophet Muhammad taught.

To be a Muslim is to be a peacemaker, one who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; that is indeed the purpose of religion, any religion. Mission statement

Mike Ghouse/ world Muslim Congress.com

Blasphemy Laws Today
By The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing

President of the United Religions Initiative
Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California

On March 27, 2001, almost immediately after I had arrived in Lahore, I was taken to the Pakistan Movement Workers' Trust where I was interviewed by a large number of journalists. I was on a three nation (Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan) visit to show solidarity with new United Religions Initiative groups and to enhance our exposure. Interfaith was my mission. But the first and clearly the loaded question from the reporters was, "What do you think of our blasphemy laws?" Clearly they were baiting me to condemn Pakistan's laws which were sometimes ripe excuses for bringing terror and intimidation to people of minority religions. I had hardly been in town an hour and was publicly on the spot.

I said something like this. "There probably is such a thing as blasphemy. When someone mocks the Divine Creator of the Universe. Blasphemy could be felt silently or expressed overtly. It could be with clear intent or it might merely be a clumsy choice of words that seem like blasphemy but are not. Or when someone who desires to bring ultimate harm to another, that someone could lie and claim that the other voiced blasphemy. Whatever blasphemy is, God should be the one to determine the intent and to mete out a just sentence. When human beings begin to take the place of God and pass judgment on intent and mete out death for blasphemy, I think that human beings are in a most presumptuous, dangerous and unwise state."

Later on in that trip I saw first hand the terror and intimidation that comes from blasphemy laws. I was in the kitchen of a Christian family in Lahore, and the parents were sending their little children off to school. The parents warned their children not to kid around or tease or be in any way offensive to Muslim children. Those Muslim children, if aroused to hatred, could claim that they heard a Christian child mock the Quran or the Prophet. On the basis of one male witness or four female witnesses, the blasphemy machinery could be put in motion and culminate in the death of your child.

This becomes a broader threat when blasphemy is understood to be an indignity toward the religion as well as a contemptuous assertion about God. Further, it gets more complicated when a religion is linked with a nation. That ends up with people who say something against the nation or the religion or God being accused of blasphemy. A theocracy of all these invites blasphemy laws.

In Jewish history Mosaic Law tells us that death by stoning was the punishment for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16). In England in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, blasphemy was punished by death. In Scotland it wasn't until 1837 that blasphemy was punishable by fine or imprisonment or both but not by death. Even in the United States some states had blasphemy laws that had prescribed punishments. Pakistan is merely the latest nation to wrestle with this ancient and unreliable concept.

When I think of the central figures in the creation of Pakistan, I think of The Great Leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and also Allama Mohammed Iqbal. These were most certainly not religious extremists but moderate, modern innovators. As a matter of fact Jinnah described religious minorities as a "Sacred trust of Pakistan." Originally the blasphemy laws of Pakistan were passed to deal with "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."

For forty years these broad sensibilities prevailed. But in 1986 a new Blasphemy Law (Amendment Act No. III) was introduced that brought a mandatory sentence of death (section 259C of the Pakistani penal code). If a claim of blasphemy is made, a person is arrested and put in detention. If the charge of defaming the Prophet Mohammed is upheld in the courts, the sentence is mandatory death. If the charge of desecrating the Holy Quran is upheld, the sentence is life imprisonment. If a mob decides that blasphemy had been committed, the sentencing is swift and deadly.

Presently convictions are made possible without proof of deliberate intent on the part of the accused. In this past twenty years almost 650 have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan even though this law is in contradiction to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan (Article 6 of the Constitution).

Time has passed. Most blasphemy laws throughout the world have been repealed. They don't accomplish what they set out to do. All civilized societies are figuring that out. Today Muslim Pakistanis immigrate to other countries and are themselves a minority religion and are terribly glad that there are not blasphemy laws in these new counties which could lead to their children's death. We all live together in one great big world. We are all in a religious minority or a religious majority or a grouping that eschews or ignores faith. Yes there probably is such a thing as blasphemy but that is for God to determine. Yes there probably are blasphemies against things sacred in our midst. Nevertheless our main job in all of this, it seems to me is not to spend our time and resources figuring out the blasphemy crimes and punishments but to rise to new levels of mutual respect and willingness to acknowledge differences and create healthier communities.

Having had conversations over the years with Pakistani Supreme Court Justices, legislators, ambassadors and religious leaders I am certain that all of them were as horrified as the rest of the world by the recent burning of Christian people and homes in Gojra. It appears that the perpetrators of this violence did so under the belief that they were carrying out the intent of the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan.

If such laws could inspire such terror, I am not surprise to find the Government of Pakistan appointing a Commission to review these laws.

I work with people in Pakistan who strive to promote interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to build cultures of peace, justice and healing. These people want religious minorities throughout the world not only to be protected from mob rule but to build new, stronger bonds of understanding between people of majority and minority religions in every country.

Therefore I heartily endorse the intent of the Commission and hope that they day will come when Blasphemy Laws will be repealed or amended and that new paths of interfaith living might be fostered.

# # #

We have to speak up, if we want goodness to prevail.
If not the extremist would have their say,
then the good people become bystanders.

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