By Khaled Ahmed
March 18, 2017
In February, the chief justice of the
supreme court of “Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir” (AJK) imposed
compulsory namaz on the court bureaucracy, and no one in Pakistan thought it
was anything out of the ordinary. Chief Justice Ibrahim Zia actually made his
inaugural speech impressive by his own reckoning as a
Muslim-first-and-judge-later, telling his staff they should offer their prayers
punctually behind him. Then he added something that should have caused alarm:
“Your annual salary increments will now hinge on your offering prayers
regularly and on the prescribed times. To make sure you offer your prayers
regularly, I will be secretly checking observance”.
Justice Zia was an advocate of the AJK
Supreme Court from 1984 and was elected president of AJK’s Supreme Court Bar
Association. That he must be a pious man, there is little doubt of. But why
does he want to do something that his counterpart in Pakistan’s supreme court
is not doing?
Pakistan suffered this kind of coercion in
2009 too. In Malakand, the de facto ruling Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi
(TNSM), led by Sufi Muhammad, imposed Qazi courts in the territory under his
son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah. Prayers became compulsory, but like Saudi Arabia,
the lawyers were no longer allowed in the courts. Sufi Muhammad is now in
prison and his terrorist son-in-law has fled to Afghanistan as chief of the
Pakistani Taliban. Another warlord, Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency, had imposed
compulsory Namaz in the mosque by outlawing it at home. He too is now in
Judges happen to be most attracted to
coercion under Islam. Namaz is regarded as “farz” (compulsory) like Zakat
(religious charity tax), and presumably enforceable on pain of punishment. Some
judges, not able to lay down the law from their court, showed the way by their
behaviour. One judge of the Lahore High Court would withdraw to a mosque near
his residence and perform a pious night vigil, covered by the media. He
couldn’t impose the practice on others because Islam, Muslims say, doesn’t
allow coercion. Heavily bearded Justice Nazir was so fond of punishing
blasphemers, he told a public meeting in Lahore that they should kill
blasphemers on sight.
The latest news is about the pious judge of
the Islamabad High Court, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, allegedly shown in a
photograph when, as a lawyer, he kissed the killer of Punjab governor Salmaan
Taseer after the governor was accused of having defended a poor Christian girl
under a death sentence for having allegedly insulted the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
(Siddiqui denied it was him.) But now, as a judge of the Islamabad High Court,
his passion for Islam has been cause for some in-court theatre.
On March 9, Siddiqui wept copiously as he
pointed to the grave insult to the Prophet (PBUH) he had seen on social media.
He ordered the department concerned and the federal interior minister to
present themselves in his court to undertake the arrest of the blaspheming
bloggers, so that the court could sentence them to death — the minimum
punishment for those who dare insult the most revered personage of Islam.
He ordered the government of Pakistan to
open an investigation into online blasphemy and threatened to ban social media
networks like Facebook if this was not done. He wept some more the following
day and was angered by the interior minister not turning up. (It was reported
later that the minister was getting his eye operated on, but on his return he
treated the nation to: “We will go to any extent including permanently blocking
all such social media websites if they refuse to cooperate.”)
Reporting the incident, AFP wrote: “Rights
groups say the label of blasphemer is liberally applied by religious
conservatives in order to silence criticism of extremism. Even unproven
allegations can be fatal. At least 65 people including lawyers, judges and
activists have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since
1990, according to a recent think-tank report.”
Siddiqui is a particularly pious judge. He
banned this year’s Valentine’s Day. One reported incident had the police
arresting a boy selling red balloons with hearts printed on them, symbolising
the day. Lawyers around the court feared if he wrote his banning order in the
strict Islamic framework, the Supreme Court too would be forced to bow to his
piety, reinforced by madrasas. One “blasphemous” media website was blocked in
Pakistan on court orders for four years.
Siddiqui’s piety goes back a long time: In
2002, he tried to get elected — without success — on an MMA ticket, the
clerical alliance that ruled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but fell out with the
Supreme Court because of its draconian lawmaking. In 2007, he defended the
extremist cleric of the Red Mosque in Islamabad who had offended China. He is
also said to have defended the blasphemy-killer of Governor Salmaan Taseer.
According to reports, he has cases against him pending with the Supreme Judicial
The policeman, Mumtaz Qadri, who shot
Taseer, was hanged in 2016 after being sentenced by a judge of an
anti-terrorism court. The judge left immediately for Hajj after the sentencing,
but the prosecutor complained of death threats being flung at him daily. Qadri
has a grand mausoleum just outside Islamabad, where thousands go to pay homage
to him. The son of the murdered governor, Shahbaz Taseer, was kidnapped by the
Taliban and kept under savage conditions in Afghanistan for three years before
he was able to escape.