Friday, November 02, 2012

Call for Help! Our own Pakistani astronomer arrested for blasphemy related charges......

by Salman Hameed

[Update: Umair Asim himself is not accused of blasphemy. But he has been arrested as part of the school administration. Please see my follow-up post here].

This is a quick post as I am still trying to get more details. Please if you have more information about this event, please either email me directly or post it here.

I posted a number of times about Umair Asim. I have known him personally for the last 15 years. He is one of the most dedicated amateur astronomers that I know of and owns Pakistan's largest telescope (here is a report on his observatory). He gives regular talks on astronomy to the general public and was instrumental in making the International Year of Astronomy a huge success in Pakistan (see herehere, here, and here). He is also runs Farooqi Girls High School in Lahore, which is considered an outstanding school and students from the school routinely get top scores in Lahore.

But the school was burnt down on Wednesday. There are rumors of blasphemy circulating. And I think Umair's father (who is 77 years old), his mother (67 years old) and Umair have been arrested. It is unclear what exactly happened - but the issue seems to be about some missing page for a test. The mob wants the teacher as well who made the copies of the test. Here is the story from the CS Monitor:

A mob attacked a girls' school in the city of Lahore, Pakistan,  Wednesday, demanding that teachers hand over the principal and a teacher, after rumors emerged that the teacher had insulted the prophet Muhammad. 
Though it is unclear just what the teacher said, more than 200 people ransacked the school, set a nearby car on fire, and graffitied the phrase “school management are blasphemers” on the wall of the Farooqi Girls's High School, which is considered one of the better schools in Lahore.  
The police arrested the principal, Asim Farooqi, on blasphemy charges, which carries the death sentence in Pakistan. The accused teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, has reportedly gone into hiding. 
Analysts say that the fact that that the incident happened in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, raises serious concerns about the lack of control Pakistani authorities have over extremist elements even in progressive parts of the country. 

Here are two picture of the protest and the burnt out school:

And from The News:
LAHORE: Police arrested a headmaster on blasphemy charges on Thursday, officers said, after a mob ransacked his school over allegations a test paper insulted the Prophet Mohammed. 
A 250-strong crowd stormed Farooqi Girls' High School in the eastern city of Lahore late on Wednesday after students told parents about derogatory references to the Muslim prophet in an English test. 
Police officer Azam Manhais told AFP the school principal Asim Farooqi had been arrested under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, which can lead to the death penalty, and a search was under way for the teacher who prepared the question paper.  
Furniture and the principal's car were set ablaze in the attack and the school, which was opened in 1978 and has a good reputation, remained closed on Thursday.
Tahir Ikram, a police official, said 250 people including parents, residents and young boys were involved in the attack and officers have registered a case against this "unknown group of people" for ransacking the school. 
Multan Khan, a senior police official, confirmed the incident and said police had opened a blasphemy case against the teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, and the principal.
More on it as I get more information.

And just for information, Umair is the last person I can imagine who would commit blasphemy. He is a polite, religious guy who loves and absolutely loves astronomy.

This is complete insanity!


Anonymous said...

I hv seen the paragraph on "Holy Quran" which was given to the students for homework.
In first glance it seems 2 b containing blasphemy related material. Paragraph's last lines have no sequence. I think it's serious mistake and the peak of ignorance. Question is, why do the teacher not check whts she is writing and distributing?
Mr.Farooqi was informed timely but he failed to tackle the mater. All situation will b clearify after investigation. Regards

Akbar said...

I am very upset and infuriated with the latest development. I just roamed at your blog and found the disturbing turn of events with our Umair bhai. I am unconditionally apologizing to you for any of my behavior that you may have found annoying in the past. But I think this is the time we must work together to help him and his family through this mess by whatever means possible. I realized how deep rooted is this madness in our country, as arrest and defamation of the most leading astronomer in Pakistan is the last thing I could imagine.
- Akbar

Akbar said...

Please keep us updated.

Salman Hameed said...


Thank you for that information. Can you provide more details about why missing sequence for paragraph's last lines was considered blasphemy?

Sure. Yes, it is tragic that he, his family, and the teacher are going through this. I think we all have to speak up against this level of intolerance.

Akbar said...

I was thinking of writing letters to the editors of leading newspapers of Pakistan, but now I am thinking of avoiding it. The reason is, better keep Umair and his family away from unnecessary spotlight and let them walk through this mess quietly and safely. Our society does not have brains anymore...they are turning into zombies.

Anonymous said...

His school had been receiving threats from taliban inspired individuals in the area for several years. However he and his family stood firm in face of threats. So now these criminals resorted to a plan to abuse general zia created law to force his family to close down a highly successful girl's school in the area. This is where Pakistan is headed.

Salman Hameed said...


Do you know what was the bone of contention? I mean I can guess that on a broader level, it might be the fact that this was a girls' high school. However, usually there are more specific issues that become big. Do you have any idea what was the specific source of tension?


Lahori said...

Akbar is right. Pakistani society is going brain dead. Just see the first post by Anonymous. This law has nothing to do with Islam. Only to do with general zia's distracting of the people away from his misrule. But Pakistan is headed into abyss instead.

Ahsan said...

Shocked to see this news. I have been part of the discussion group he is member of. He is a good person and one of the few individuals in Pakistan doing constructive efforts. We as a nation continue to go backwards when it comes to real progress.

I don't know the complete details but I think what resulted in school was probably a mistake that could have been avoided earlier. I pray for the safety of him and his family. Thanks to the author for the updates.

Anonymous said...

we are not Muslims, just pile of ashes . . . what can i say more :(

but one thing this time we cant blame a specific sect, maslak . . . all are included . .

Zohair said...

If the govt. won't, why can't the media tackle the blasphemy law head-on with a televised debate/munazra? Till this remains a law, why can they not lay down a non-violent procedure for filing an FIR? Why is inciting a crowd to vandalism not punishable?
Also, see below - Why is a film blasphemous but bringing down the Masjid-e-Nabawi dome isn't?

Noman said...

ye to hona hi hai Pakistan mein, khair se saron ki fasal katne ko tyar hai, katai ka aghaz ho chuka hai, lakh shukar hai rab-ul-aalmeen ka k us ne is dar-ul-fasad se waqt rehte nikal jaane ka mouqa diya. Allah dobara long term wahan rehne se bachaye rakhe to behter hai jahan jamat-e-islami jaise taliban rehte hon!

APakistaniMuslim said...

Can anyone provide the scanned copy of the assignment given to students?

If it really happened then the responsible person should be put to death.

As far as the incident is concerned, it has happened because of emotions. Muslims love their prophet (SAW) and religion. It is the same kind of emotion that erupt when somebody abuses our parents.

Anonymous said...

Ziggy Starr:
It is sad but true that we are living in the Muslim Dark Ages...

Abubaker Shekhani said...


When there is no link of Astronomy with this incident, why are you dragging astronomy to this ??? This is just putting a bad image about Astronomy. And you've found a picture of Umair with the telescope...WoW! Introducing Astronomy and giving perception that Astronomy has to do something with it.. I suggest that Astronomy should not be part of this article in any way.. You are just putting a negative impact of Astronomy...

Sorry but this is what was my impression by reading the Title of the Article..Misleading... Sad!

Abubaker Shekhani said...

Apart from that... We all are sad and sorry about the incident.. :(

Salman Hameed said...

Dear Abubakar,

But Umair is an astronomer, and that is the way we know him on this blog (I have mentioned and appreciated his work many times). So it is absolutely appropriate for the readers here to know that it the astronomer they know has been arrested. And I'm assuming that people will bother to actually read the post to know that he was not arrested for astronomy but because of his school.

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