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Muslims 4 Liberty Calls for the Release of Rimsha Masih and a Referendum on Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

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By Davi Barker, M4L Assistant Director
August 26, 2012

Also published in The Libertarian Review

As an organization dedicated to demonstrating the necessity of liberty to the Islamic faith, Muslims 4 Liberty is calling upon the Pakistani government to release Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl who was arrested on blasphemy charges after being accused of burning pages which contained Quranic verses, and demands restitution to the Christian families terrorized when an irate mob stormed their neighborhood and threatened to burn down their homes.

There are conflicting accounts of Rimsha’s age ranging from 11 to 16, and by some accounts she suffers from Down Syndrome while by others she is merely illiterate. In any event, the arrest of a minor for such a crime, especially if she has a mental disability, is an intolerable violations of core Islamic principles that must be remonstrated immediately.

Under the current blasphemy law in Pakistan, Rimsha faces execution. Many people mistakenly believe that the law is taken from Islamic law, when in reality it was added to the constitution during the reign of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who enacted it among numerous policies intended to promote an extremist brand of Wahabbi Islam. The law is regularly misused by people to settle personal scores by making false accusations. And while the majority of Pakistanis do not support the law, there has been no widespread public condemnation of the law, largely because extremists have targeted prominent political leaders who have addressed the issue with assassination. The governor of Punjap, Salman Taseer was shot and killed last year after coming to the defense of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Shortly after, the Christian minister of minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered for appealing for changes in the law.

Rimsha allegedly tore pages from an Arabic textbook to use as kindling for cooking. Later she was spotted holding the burned pages which some claimed contained verses of the Quran. In response hundreds of angry neighbors gathered outside her home in Mehrabad, a suburb of Islamabad. Pakistani police reacted quickly to arrest her, they say in part to protect her from the angry mob. Fearing a backlash, many local Christian families fled their homes too, after the mob threatened to burn them down.

Police report that when the girl arrived at the station she was terrified, and unable to speak normally, but she was able to tell them she had no idea there were verses of the Quran in the pages she burned. Some police doubt that was ever the case, because they couldn’t find verses among the remaining pages. She is expected to go before the court by the end of this month.

Any way you slice it, this is a colossal miscarriage of justice in violation of multiple central tenets of Islamic law. First and foremost of these tenets is that the person’s intention must be taken into account when attempting to prove that the action was deliberate. Even if the pages did contain Quranic verses, which is in doubt, and even if burning Quranic verses was a legitimate offense, which is odd considering fire is the prescribed method of disposing of the Quran in Islamic law, the simple fact that girl is illiterate makes it impossible for her to have the requisite intention to commit the crime.

A second tenet is that a minor may not be held accountable or punished for their actions. And a third tenet is that if she does have Down Syndrome, then any person with a mental disability, which is defined as the inability to distinguish between right and wrong or to recognize the consequences of an action, may not be held accountable or punished.

Imam Zaid Shakir responded to our inquiry by saying “A child, or those who are mentally or socially disabled should not be held into account for their action to the degree of enforcing a punishment against them…. generally a person who is disabled should not be held into account in such a way according to the basic principles of Islam.”

This principle is derived from a Hadith that is narrated in all the major collections of Hadith including Muslim and Bukhari in which the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “The pen has been lifted for three: the insane until he regains his sanity, the child until he reaches puberty, and the sleeper until he wakes up.” The scholars are unanimous in their acceptance of this hadith. In his book The Criterion, Ibn Taimiya comments on this hadith saying that that actions and statements of such a person who falls into any of these categories, “have no legal significance, result in no reward or punishment, and are regarded as completely meaningless.”

There can be no doubt, in this incident the criminal is not Rimsha Masih, it is the angry mob who terrorized the Christian community of Islamabad, and publicly threatened to burn Rimsha’s home and body. These unconscionable behaviors are not only gross human rights violations, they are also falsely committed in the name of Islam. For these reasons, Muslims 4 Liberty urges that the following actions be taken:

  1. Rimsha Masih be immediately released and provided with police protection;
  2. More concrete actions be taken against those who terrorize their Christian neighbors or engage in vigilantism; and
  3. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws be subjected to a public referendum.


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