ISLAMABAD – The arrest of an imam on suspicion of planting evidence to frame a Christian girl accused of defaming Islam is sparking divisions in Pakistan, with some residents see the detention as a plot against the religious leader.
“This is a conspiracy against him (Imam), and he is being penalized for raising this issue,” Malik Banarus, a member of the Ameena Mosque, told OnIslam.net on Monday, September 3.
“We all stand alongside him.”
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Imam Khalid Jadoon was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of putting two burnt pages of the Noble Qur’an in the page of Christian girl Ramsha.
Jadoon was ordered to remand in custody on Monday till September 16, after Hafiz Zubair, a mosque Muezzin, testified in court that the imam had put the burnt pages in Ramsha’s bags “to underpin the blasphemy charge against her”.
Two more eyewitnesses also backed Zubair’s testimony, a claim denied by the imam.
But residents cast doubts on the testimonies.
“Hafiz Zubair is not even an n area resident,” Banarus said. “But even that, he forcibly pokes his nose into mosque affairs.”
Malik Shaukat, a member of the mosque committee, also denies the charges against the imam.
“Hafiz Zubair harbors bitterness for Imam Jadoon,” he told OnIslam.net.
“He (Zubair) a few months ago conspired against the former imam of this mosque, who had been leading prayers here for last 22 years, on the pretext of wrongly accentuating Qur’anic verses.
“There are witnesses who saw her (Ramsha) throwing the plastic bags, carrying half-burnt pages of the Holy Qur’an on a pile of trash in the locality,” he said, arguing that the mother of the Christian girl not only admitted the “mistake” committed by her daughter, but also sought apology.
“We did not take law into the hand despite the fact the area residents were enraged. We have taken the matter to the court, and we expect justice.”
Rimsha, which is reported to be suffering from down syndrome, was arrested last month under Pakistan’s blasphemy law over holding burnt pages which had Islamic text and Qur’anic verses on them.
But the arrest has prompted outcry from Western governments, the Vatican and rights groups, who have complained that blasphemy law are often abused to settle personal scores.
A conviction for blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
But the imam’s arrest triggered a “wait-and-see” position from Pakistan’s religious parties.
“It is premature to say anything definitive in this regard,” Syed Munawwar Hasan, Chief of Jammat-e-Islami, one of the two mainstream religious parties in Pakistan, told OnIslam.net.
“Let the court do its job. It is not a right time to give any reaction at this stage.”
He opines that any interference in judicial rulings will be counterproductive.
“The most important thing in this matter is that the culprit should be taken to task, and innocent should be released.”
Allama Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of Ulema Council, called for the release of the Christian girl.
“The arrest of the imam and statements (of witnesses) against him have proved that the girl is not involved in desecration of the Holy Qur’an. Therefore, she should be released immediately,” Ashrafi told OnIslam.net.
“She (Ramsha) is the daughter of Pakistan. I demand the government to release and provide her full security.
“If the government cannot provide her security, then Ulema Council is ready to perform this duty,” he said.
Ayaz Ameer, a veteran columnist and a member of the National Assembly of the right-wing Pakistan Muslim League (N), said he personally had investigated the incident and found that the half-burnt pages were not from the Qur’an, but from Noorani Qaeda, a primer for children learning Arabic alphabets.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws came under the spotlight in 2010 after a Christian woman was sentenced to death in a case stemming from a village dispute.
In January 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard over his criticism of the blasphemy law.
In addition to Taseer death, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the government, was assassinated later on March 4, 2011.
According to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, insulting any Prophet in Pakistan, a country where 95 percent of the population is Muslim, is a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment.
The law, commonly known as 295-C, was introduced in early 1980s by late President General Zia-ul-Haq.
Since then, some 700 cases of blasphemy have been registered, half of which are against Muslims.But rights groups say the law is often exploited to settle personal scores.
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