An officer at Mansehra police station holds the controversial shoe. (Photo supplied)
Clerics of a major political party have issued a religious decree urging careful inquiries into blasphemy cases following a police raid on a shoe shop in northwest Pakistan.
The fatwa was issued after police arrested five people on Feb. 11 from Forever Boot, a shop in Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Local journalists had earlier filed a blasphemy case against the shop owner for allegedly printing the name "Muhammad" on a shoe sole.
On Feb. 13, clerics of Dar al Fatah seminary in Mansehra declared those arrested as innocent.
“Careful consideration is needed to confirm this crime. Allegations of this crime without a complete inquiry and consultation with scholars can be dangerous and target an innocent. Therefore, it is needed that such matters should be avoided being public. It can cause unrest and riots. Law enforcement agencies should also consult clerics in such matters,” the clerics stated.
“The photo was examined carefully but nothing objectionable was found. The criticized design under the shoe is a mere design, flower or a print of a dye. An open-minded person cannot imagine it as the name of Muhammad. A predetermined person can cause presumption. Therefore, it is not right as per Sharia and law to act against the shopkeeper based on this argument.”
Five clerics of religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) also advertised the fatwa in local newspapers.
It is not right to allege blasphemy based on suspicion or a notion, they stated in the notice.
The alleged blasphemers were released on Feb. 15 but Forever Boot remains closed.
“The name Muhammad carried two Ms [in Urdu]. This isn’t the case here. The issue is very sensitive. This major sin could endanger peace in the country. The shoe manufacturing company has been notified. We thank our clerics for their timely intervention,” Umar Farooq, the brother of the shop’s owner, told UCA News.
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries an automatic death penalty for anyone accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad. Critics have repeatedly said that the laws are misused to settle scores and personal vendettas. Minority Christians have often become the target of accusations of blasphemy.
Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, urged the government to take “concrete steps” to stop the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
“We are witnessing a record increase in blasphemy cases against all members of society irrespective of their faiths. This has become a norm here but we are glad that a lot of our Muslim siblings have spoken out against the treatment to our community,” he stated in a recent meeting of Church of Pakistan clergy at the head office of Raiwind Diocese.
Last month Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights launched the country’s first human rights information resource portal.
The portal, developed in partnership with the European Union, is envisioned to serve as a “central repository of up-to-date and cutting-edge human rights knowledge” for students, academics, practitioners and citizens at large.