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Resist these mullahs, Benazir

POLEMIC You don't execute people for failing to be polite, says Ziauddin Sardar
The death sentences imposed on two Christians, a 14-year-old boy Salamat Masih, and his uncle, Rehmat Masih, by a Pakistani court, are an affront to fair-minded Muslims everywhere. The two have been found guilty of throwing pieces of paper containing blasphemous words into a mosque. Does such an act, even if deliberately provocative, really deserve the death penalty?

This absurd and extreme sentence breaks every canon of Islamic law, in which the accent is strongly on mercy. In a more enlightened Islamic court, the accused would have been given a warning against causing fitna (social unrest) and sent home. But in a Pakistan that has been hijacked by a syndicate of mindless mullahs, every act against Islam, however minor, becomes a threat to the very existence of the Islamic civilisation. Every utterance, every criticism, is an offence to the dignity of Islam and must be avenged!

In fact, there is no such thing as blasphemy in Islam. The "corrupt word", according to the Koran, "has no permanence". The Koran unequivocally states that the punishment or reward for insulting God lies with Him alone - muslims, mullahs and the courts have nothing to do with it. The "penalty" for blaspheming or abusing the Prophet, even though it affects every fibre of a believing Muslim, is forgiveness.

Islamic law does not recognise blasphemy. Indeed, the classical jurists could not even define it. While acknowledging that every individual has a duty to express his or her opinion, Islamic law only asks that the opinion be expressed with due decorum. And you don't execute people for their failure to be polite.

Then there is the important matter that one of the accused is a minor. Salamat Masih was 11 when he committed the offence. In Islamic tradition, an 11-year-old is a bundle of innocence and virtue.

Naughty young boys are "punished" by providing them with examples of good behaviour; not executed.

The case offers Benazir Bhutto, the lame-duck and ostrich-like prime minister of Pakistan, a chance to redeem her integrity. She has expressed her shock and unhappiness at the sentences; and has been accused by a Pakistani lawyer of contempt of court for so doing. She should take this contempt a step further and use her prime ministerial prerogative to pardon the accused.

Only by standing up to those who have declared a full-frontal assault on human dignity can Ms Bhutto regain the confidence of the Pakistani people.

She should also abandon the foolish notion of amending the blasphemy law. This law, introduced in the wake of the Rushdie affair under pressure from the mullahs, should be confined to the legal scrap heap where it belongs.

The zealots in Pakistan need seriously to ponder why "blasphemies" against Islam are spreading like wildfire. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the mullahs have lost their humanity. As self-appointed guardians of Islamic purity, they have not only legitimised violence at every opportunity but made paranoia and mob rule the order of the day.

It is time they started following the example of the Prophet in whose name they are committing such gross acts of viciousness. It would be nice if they could, just occasionally, follow the path of forgiveness, compassion and innate sense of justice which the Prophet Mohamed displayed during his dealings with those who abused and persecuted him.

The writer is co-editor of `Muslim Minorities in the West', published by Greyseal, £25.