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Rokhsana’s tragic tale and the threats posed by ignorance

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By Rooh-ul-Amin

Rukhsana was stoned to death. And her fiancé was flogged. The couple’s only crime was “love and elopement”, a matter of family honor. She defied marrying a man who was of her grandfather’s age and by a profession a “maulvi”. Stoning one and lashing the other shows how much misogynist is the society, we live in.

It doesn’t mean at all, I am pleading that the lad must have met the same tragic end.  The tragic tale of Rukhsana, a 19-yeard old Afghan girl—numbed my brain. I was unable to work smoothly for a couple of days. Her pitiful cries are still haunting me. The two-minute video clip shows a group of men throwing stones with precipitating intensity at her while standing her in a dug-out hole in the ground. This incident happened when Afghanistan was trying to come out of the shock caused by the tragic story of Farkhunda—a 27-year old Afghan woman, who was beaten to death by an angry mob in Kabul on 19 March. The angry people ran a car over her corpse, set her dead body on fire, and then threw her charred remains onto the dry riverbed of the Kabul River opposite Shah-e-Dou Shamshera Shrine.  Both the tragic incidents have many things in common.

Farkhunda was allegedly involved in burning a copy of the Qura’n—an act of blasphemy and perhaps apostasy as well. Later on it was found out she was innocent. And Rukhsana was stoned to death allegedly for having “zinna”—(adultery). This is strange that marrying a man of your choice is considered “zinna”.  In both the cases, the public took the law in their hands. And in both the cases extremism, particularly ignorance, ruled the roost. In both the cases, when they were being tortured to death, some onlookers were filming the horrific episodes. In both the cases religious sentiments were involved. Yet despite the commonalities, there are some differences too.

Farkhunda’s lynching caused a furious outrage. The government machinery came into movement. The international community also joined the outcry.  Human rights organization mounted pressure on the government. And eventually there were some arrests and court proceedings. Even, there were some dismissals of the government officials and deputy ministers. But in the case of poor Rukhsana there is no public outrage. No outcry from the international community. The government looks unconcerned. No dismissals. No arrests and no court proceedings. The way the two horrendous incidents took place and the way they were handled showed the intellectual and moral decay of Afghan society. As a society and a nation, the people of Afghanistan neither followed Islam, nor democracy. Farkhunda neither had committed blasphemy nor apostasy.

But suppose she had committed the act of burning a copy of Qura’n, what might have been the punishment, under Islam or the Constitution of Afghanistan? Who is the authoritative body to award the punishment, an intolerant, ignorant, and angry mob or the government and its supreme court? What does Qura’n say regarding blasphemy or apostasy? And when it comes to “zina”, who is the authoritative body to award punishment? A few ignorant, intolerant, and extremist militants and some individuals full of venom of revenge or the government and its supreme court? And what does the Qura’n and hadiths say? To answer these questions one must keep two things in mind. One is Sharia-based governance. And one is democracy. In Sharia-based governance and an Islamic State (not the one like ISIL in Syria and Iraq), the will of God is the ultimate authority. While in democracy people have the authority to devise laws on their own while taking public’s interests into account. Since, the Constitution of Afghanistan is a blend of democracy and Sharia, which is why there is enough room for reforms.

Now that both Rokhsana and Farkhunda, were killed with a religious tag on their cases, therefore it is necessary to explain it under religious teachings.

As for as the blasphemy and apostasy (ridda in Arabic) are concerned, ridda is condemned by the Qura’n in the strongest term, but it doesn’t prescribe any punishment for apostasy in this life. There are certain schools of thoughts and jurists who consider apostasy an offense punishable by death as prescribed in Sunna. And when it comes to zinna, the Qura’n specified one hundred lashes sans reference to the marital status of the offender, whereas, the Sunna (acts and words of the prophet of Islam), makes the punishment stoning to death if the offender is a married person. Whenever, there is an act of apostasy, blasphemy, or zinna, the extremist elements become made all of sudden, and they kill those accused of adultery, apostasy or blasphemy. They bypass the procedural and evidentiary conditions.

The punishment requires four eye witnesses, who can verify that the act of adultery has taken place. In order to accept their accounts (Shahadah), all four eyewitnesses must be of sound mind, be an adult, of good character, be at the same place, at the same time, and must have witnessed the same act directly. If the account of any of the four is different from the rest ones, hadd—an Arabic word for punishment, cannot be awarded. In case of no eyewitnesses, confession must be there. Confession cannot be forced. It must be made by the person who had committed the adultery out of free will. And that too at four different times. In case someone retracts his/her confession, their retraction must be credited, and s /he must be released immediately. The capital punishment is for married persons. If unmarried persons commit zinna, they will get 100 stripes in punishment. By going through the toughest evidentiary standards, this is quite easy to conclude that this is nearly impossible to punish someone. Now this is also essential to talk on punishment for apostasy. If someone is found of committing apostasy, under Islamic jurisprudence, they cannot be punished right away. If a Muslim man commits apostasy, he should be kept in a solitary confinement for three days to give him enough time to rethink, and recant. Even if on the third day he doesn’t recant, he is to be beheaded. If a Muslim woman commits apostasy, the procedure is the same except she gets exile not corporal punishment. These punishments are supposed to be awarded by an Islamic State where the supreme law of the land is Sharia.

Ideally around the Muslim world there is hardly a country where the supreme law of the land is Sharia, in such a case, the punishments are considered to be null and void. The emergence of Islamic Republics has given birth to the blend of God’s will and people’s will. It has also given birth to the emergence of non-Sharia courts. These alternative courts allow the ruler to administer law in the public interest. However, in the case of Farkhunda and Rokhsana, the ruler have abysmally failed to administer law in the public interest, whereas the civilians have challenged the writ of the government, their ignorance have become the judge and authority. Resultantly, humanity bleeds and is crying for help an end to sectarian and jihadi literature. There is ever-felt need to subdue the diehard mindset, intolerance, and sexism. There is also need to overcome the implications caused by the uneasy marriage of theory and practice of the Sharia law and democracy.