Politics

Let common sense rule over Pakistan Bibi blasphemy case – by Yvonne Ridley

Pakistan's historic ruling on Asia Bibi blasphemy case - but isolated, as many believe justice has prevailed

The Asia Bibi blasphemy case is harming Pakistan’s reputation overseas while causing untold damage at home, says Yvonne Ridley

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Anyone who knows me knows that I have a great affection and affinity for Pakistan and its people – it’s an amazing country which should be one of the world’s top holiday destinations because of its climate, mountains, sandy beaches, history and dramatic landscapes.

Hospitality is virtually without comparison. However, since around 60 per cent of its budget is lavished on the military and less than 10 per cent on education it’s hardly surprising that most tourists give the country a wide berth when picking their holiday destination.

And, of course, it doesn’t help when high profile court cases like that of Asia Bibi’s dominate the news. She is the Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after eight years on death row after The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last week, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.

The whole drama around Bibi erupted in June 200 when a row broke out over a bucket of water while locals were harvesting fruit. Some women said that because Bibi had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean. It was, of course, a stupid comment to make which has absolutely no truth or foundation in Islam.

However, as the row continued the women involved said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and it was then that she allegedly made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response. She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. The fact her confession was delivered in front of a crowd “threatening to kill her” appeared to matter not to the local police and so the ten-year drama began.

Last week’s verdict was a victory for common sense. Bibi was accused of insulting Muhammad, the beloved Prophet and founder of Islam. Having just written a book on this amazing man I feel that I can say, with a degree of confidence, that Muhammad would not have wanted Bibi’s death carried out in his name*.

The Prophet of Islam was known for his compassion, tolerance and kindness and I really believe he would have stopped this farcical trial before it had even started had he still been alive today.

Pakistan hardline religious fanatics and some of the country’s leaders have probably done more harm to the reputation of their nation overseas because of the Bibi case and, of course, they’ve certainly done no favours for the great Faith of Islam, either.

Asia Noreen – commonly known as Asia Bibi – was convicted in 2010 of insulting The Prophet Muhammad during a row with neighbours. Thankfully, under the leadership of Imran Khan, we can only hope that this destructive element of Pakistan society will eventually be defanged. However we did see violent protests after her acquittal and on Saturday her lawyer, Saif Mulook, fled Pakistan, saying he feared for his life.

Instead of freeing Bibi the government has now agreed to try to stop her leaving the country despite several offers in the West of political asylum. This sort of reaction stirred up by jealous, spiteful people damages Pakistan’s reputation abroad.

Apparently, Pakistan’s authorities have struck a deal with the hardline Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) party in order to end protests over Asia Bibi’s acquittal. As part of the agreement, officials will start proceedings to bar her from leaving the country.

I imagine Khan’s government is attempting to resolve the situation without resorting to violence when, in fact, they should be challenging TLP head on. There are some amazing Islamic scholars in Pakistan, wise men with a great depth of wisdom in a country where Islam is the national religion and underpins its legal system.

While public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong, these great scholars should use their knowledge to calm the situation around Bibi. Only through knowledge and education can this be achieved instead of whipping up crowds of vigilantes with petty and vengeful mentalities.

* Yvonne Ridley’s book: MUHAMMAD – Don’t Shoot The Messenger is expected to be published in 2019.


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