At least 200 recognized clerics of Pakistan recently issued a landmark declaration denouncing individual clerics giving fatwas that go as far as calling people apostates.
At a conference coordinated by Maulana Ziaul Haq Naqshbandi in Lahore, they said suicide attacks were un-Islamic and terrorists who were killed by the security forces were not martyrs. But at the same time, they wanted the government to free Mumtaz Qadri, the police commando who assassinated Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, inspired by fatwas against him.
Veteran Supreme Court advocate Salman Akram Raja says the Pakistani constitution and law do not give any individual the authority to declare anyone an apostate. “This power rests with the state and the parliament,” he asserts.
But fatwas continue to come, often against people who are not even given a chance to explain their position. The most recent of such edicts targeted Information Minister Pervez Rashid. After he said some madrassas were “universities of ignorance”, noted cleric Mufti Naeem of Jamia Binoria declared him an apostate, arguing that he had “ridiculed the bastions of Quran and Hadith”.
The law does not give any individual the authority to declare anyone an apostate
The minister’s speech at a book launch in Karachi resulted in a tirade of condemnation from the religious right. Wafaqul Madaris, a board of seminaries, castigated Mr Rasheed and announced countrywide protests. Jamatud Dawa also jumped in the fray. Several other religious and Jihadi outfits were equally furious.
The it was Mufti Naeem who hit the extreme, and according to some, without realizing the ramifications of an edict that declares a sitting federal minister an apostate.
“We are going to propagate the fatwa,” the Mufti says. “He ridiculed seminaries where Quran and Hadith are taught.” Asked if criticizing madrassas could be equated with criticizing Islam, he said the seminaries represent Islam. “We don’t teach our children the Naseebo Lal songs.” Mufti Naeem did admit he did not give the minister a chance to explain or retract his statement.
Mufti Muhammad Qavi, another noted religious scholar, does not agree with Mufti Naeem. He says only those Muslims who categorically and publicly reject belief in the omnipotence of Allah, the finality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or the Judgment Day could be declared apostates. “In my humble opinion, the minister did no such thing,” he said. “I reject this fatwa, but I demand it from the minister to explain his position.”
“My statement was only about those seminaries that are promoting the culture of terrorism,” Pervez Rashid explained during a Senate session on Monday. “I am sure you will believe me and will help persuade those who have issued decrees to kill me,” the information minister said to JUI-F’s Maulana Attaur Rehman. “If my words have hurt you, I apologize.”
According to Mufti Qavi, the revered 11th century Muslim jurist Imam Ghazali had said anyone who would not enlighten himself with modern knowledge shall be called an ignorant person. “The selection of words by the minister could be inappropriate, but the context was not incorrect.”
In his speech in Senate, Mr Pervez Rashid clarified that he was referring to the flawed education system “that has divided the society, and forced us to pray in the protection of guns”.
“We have forgotten to teach our children the lessons of peace,” he said. “Even places of worship are not safe today.”
By then, television channels had shown banners put up in Islamabad that said the education minister must be hanged. “That has put my life and the lives of my daughters in danger,” Pervez Rashid said.
The National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism, conceived and executed after Peshawar massacre, envisaged modernizing the seminaries after they were all registered with the government. Some religious groups opposed the move, seeing it as a campaign against madrassas. The interior minister said in December that “10 percent” of madrassas were involved in terrorism.
Khurshid Nadeem, a religious scholar, said the fatwa against the information minister seemed like an attempt to gag criticism of the seminaries. He said it was legitimate to ask questions about the role of certain madrassas. “And this is by no means an apostasy. I have failed to understand the logic behind Mufti Naeem’s fatwa.”
Many in the country are alarmed by the edict. Not too long ago, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was targeted in similar fatwas, compelling his own bodyguard to kill him with his service weapon.
Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist