Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 03 July 2007
The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today - Page 6
Sectarian groups in Islam
3. Sectarian groups within Islam
The Baha'is in Iran
The Baha'i religion was founded in the nineteenth century in Iran as an offshoot of Twelver Shi'ism that came to be seen as heretical by the orthodox establishment. As a result, Baha'is in Iran have undergone repeated cycles of persecution. Granted a respite under the last Shah who treated them well they prospered for a while until the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The clerical ruling elite was virulently hostile to the Baha'i faith as a heresy which must be blotted out, and there has been severe persecution of the Baha'i community ever since. In the first six years following the revolution over 200 Baha'is, mainly community leaders, were executed. Baha'i institutions have been disbanded, their property confiscated, their holy places and cemeteries desecrated. Baha'is cannot hold government jobs, enforce legal contracts, practise law, collect pensions, attend universities or practise their faith. They have been deprived of all civil rights.
Zabibullah Mahrami was a mid-ranking civil servant in the Department of Agriculture of the Provincial Government of Yazd. Soon after the revolution he publicly renounced his Baha'i faith, following the Shia doctrine of taqiyya which permits dissimulation in times of danger and persecution. His adoption of Twelver Shia Islam was at the time reported in the newspapers. Many other Baha'is made similar pronouncements at the time in order to protect themselves from persecution, stay out of trouble and keep their jobs, as many Baha'is were dismissed form state jobs and had their pension rights suspended.
After a few years of lying low, Mahrami guessed that the revolutionary zeal had abated and began to visit Baha'i meetings and participate in Baha'i festivals. In August 1995 he was charged with apostasy in the Yazd Revolutionary Court. Mahrami admitted that he had made his conversion to orthodox Shia Islam because he had been afraid for his own safety and that of his family, and that when he thought that Baha'is would no longer be harassed, he reverted to his Baha'i faith.
Following Shari'ah guidelines for dealing with apostates, the court first tried to guide him back to Islam. When he refused, he was charged with apostasy and with insulting Islam, and on 2 January 1996 the court declared him guilty of these charges and sentenced him to death.
While the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not mention apostasy under its penal code, the court cited a legal exegesis of Ayatollah Khomeini as the basis for its decision. The verdict was passed on to the Supreme Court for approval, and it ruled that the Revolutionary Court was not the appropriate tribunal for this kind of case and referred the case to a Civil Court.
The authorities however did not comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Instead they brought new charges of espionage for Israel against Mahrami in a Revolutionary Court. In February 1997 the court sentenced him to death for spying.
The Ahmadiyya in Pakistan
The Ahmadiyya is a Muslim revivalist movement founded by Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (Punjab) in the 19th century. While considering themselves to be true Muslims, the majority Sunni population of Pakistan, as well as the Shia minority, have always viewed them as heretical for claiming their founder was the promised Mahdi and had a prophetic function. Since its founding there have been many calls by orthodox Muslim groups for its suppression by state legislation and by the state enforcement agencies. Pakistani governments gradually yielded to the demands of Islamic extremists who also instigated violent riots against Ahmadis, and in 1974 a constitutional amendment was introduced by then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declaring Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority. In April 1984 President Zia-ul Haq promulgated sections 298B and 298C in the Pakistan Penal Code which made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims, to employ Muslim terms and appellations associated with Islam, to use Muslim practices of worship or to propagate their faith. As a result Ahmadis have been subjected to a wide range of abuses, based mainly on the blasphemy laws which have been used to harass, intimidate and detain members of this community.
Mirza Mubarak Ahmad Nusrat
Mirza Mubarak Ahmad Nusrat, an Ahmadi of Mirpurkhas, was arrested in 1989 for allegedly distributing "prayer pamphlets" (Mubahila), and was detained in the police lock-up. While offering his prayers in lock-up a Sunni opponent, Mullah Ahmad Mian Hamadi, visited the police station to enquire on the progress of the case and was infuriated to see Nusrat praying as a Muslim (according to Pakistani law Ahmadis must not "pretend" to be Muslims). He brought a charge against Nusrat and a criminal case was registered against him at Tando Adam police station under section 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code for posing as a Muslim and offending the feelings of Muslims.
Nusrat was held for eleven years in jail while his case was heard at various locations: Tando Adam, Sanghar, Hyderabad and Karachi. The accused and his advocate, Ali Ahmad Tariq, had to travel thousands of miles for the appearances in the various courts. The case was referred to the Sindh High Court on three occasions and finally that court ordered it transferred to Hyderabad. On 20 May 2000 the judicial magistrate of Hyderabad, Fida Hassan Mughal, convicted Nusrat for an offence under section 298 for offering prayers posing like a Muslim facing Mecca and prostrating himself. The judge took into account the eleven years the accused had already spent in jail and sentenced him "only" to a period of two months and 21 days and a fine of Rs 3,000.
Nasir Ahmad, an Ahmadi of Nankana in the District of Sheikhupura, issued invitation cards for his daughter's wedding that was scheduled for 15 May 1992. The card carried the normal greetings for such occasions, including phrases like "In the Name of God, the gracious, the Merciful", "We Invoke Praise and Blessings on the Noble Prophet", "May Peace be Upon You", and "Inshallah". A radical mullah of the local Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Association brought a charge against 13 persons of the family accusing them of blasphemy and of offending the feelings of Muslims. The police sought advice from their legal department which based its decision on the precedent of an earlier decision by the Lahore High Court and directed the police station to register the criminal case. Two of the accused were women and one was a nine-month old baby.
Nasir Ahmad remained in prison for three months, until released on bail. The judicial process lasted three years. First the Lahore High Court decided a charge under section 295C could be applied. Then the case went before the Supreme Court where the Additional Advocate General, Farooq Haider, representing the state, claimed that the state had reached its limit of patience at tolerating these people (Ahmadis) in Pakistan. The Supreme Court decided that section 295C was not applicable to this case but other sections of the Penal Code were.
Finally on 23 April 1995 the Additional Sessions Judge in Sheikhpura sentenced Ahmad to four years imprisonment under 295A and to two years imprisonment under 298C.