Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Two excellent articles on Farooqi Girls High School blasphemy mess

by Salman Hameed

[This is related to the blasphemy mess of Farooqi Girls High School. Please see these earlier posts hereherehereherehere, and here. You can also sign the petition here]. 

There are two excellent articles that I want to highlight. The first is by Samira Shackle, A bad few weeks for girls' schools in Pakistan. She does an excellent analysis of girls education, blasphemy law, and the various trends in Pakistani society right now:

The latest incident was the burning down of the Farooqi Girls’ High School in Lahore on Thursday. This was not the doing of the Taliban, but an angry mob. Why? Because a teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, had allegedly set a piece of homework that contained derogatory references to the Prophet Muhammad. Iftikhar has been forced into hiding, while the 77 year old principal of the school, Asim Farooqi, has been detained for 14 days on blasphemy charges. At the protests on Thursday, the mob distributed photocopies of the offending homework, and broke and burnt everything they could lay their hands upon.
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First of all, women and girls are ready to defend their right to be educated. Following the violence of the mob reaction, around 2,000 students, parents and teachers took to the streets on Saturday to demand that the school reopen. The crowd, predominantly made up of teenage girls, carried placards and chanted slogans including “release our principal”. Just like the reaction to the Malala shooting, this demonstrates that society is not willing to compromise on its right to educate its daughters, whether the threat is coming from armed militants or from an angry mob.
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More than anything else, this incident demonstrates that Pakistani citizens have to contend not only with militants and their acts of terrorism, but with the regressive streak of thought that runs through society, and the rumbling discontent which means that violence can break out at any moment. For the girls in Lahore who will not be going to school tomorrow morning, it makes little difference that their school was destroyed not by the Taliban, but by citizens supposedly supporting a piece of state legislation.

And here is an article by Sadia Saleem Butt, My Principal Asim Farooqi is not a blasphemer. She is a former student of the Farooqi Girls High School. Here is the full article: 
I still remember those early school days when our principal made an announcement; it was now a compulsion for us to maintain a Namaz Diary. Students were supposed to put a tick mark against those salah which they had offered; this was meant to be a part of our homework. 
I also remember that for six years of my educational life, I was given only one topic to debate on and this was Serat-ul-Nabi (The life of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)). I haven’t forgotten that when we requested our principal for a change of topic, because there was nothing new to speak of, we got the following silencing reply:
    “One who can write and speak praise the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) can write and speak of anything.” 
I still remember that the only extended break that my teachers ever tolerated was for Namaz. I also remember that as a senior, we were made to recite Surah Yaseen – a compulsion – to beseech Allah’s (SWT) mercy for our final examination. We even had a Mehfil-e-Milaad right before the 10th grade final examination, with the concluding prayers for success of all the students. 
This was my school – the alleged blasphemous school – Farooqi Girls High School.
Why were we so religiously inclined as a school? 
Because my principal – the person alleged to be involved in blasphemy – believed that no matter how hard we work, as long as Allah (SWT) is not with us, we cannot get anywhere. 
I spent 11 years in Farooqi Girls High School and I can safely say that I know what kind of person Asim Farooqi is. I know that he has a very deep attachment with Allah (SWT). In my 11 years at the school, I never once saw him degrade any teacher in front of students or parents. Through him, we learned to respect our teachers, parents and everyone else too. How then could such a man even dream of degrading our beloved Prophet (pbuh)?
He was definitely not a blasphemer; not Sir Asim Farooqi. 
Asim Farooqi, owner and principal of Farooqi Girls High School, who is 77-year-old, devoted 35 years of his life to educate the children of this nation. He was a poor man. He started with a three-room school, but provided quality education with affordability which a common man can only dream for in this part of the world. 
I had never known of any student being expelled from my school because of the non-payment of fees; it was so nominal, everyone could afford it. In this age, when quality education is worth thousands, Asim Farooqi used to charge Rs700. In today’s time, when money symbolises standards, no one could even imagine the standards he was providing. His students are doctors, teachers, engineers, lecturers, post–doctoral researchers, businessmen, and so on! In fact, I can’t remember a year in which Farooqi Girls High School didn’t secure positions in BISE, Lahore. 
On October 31, 2012 his school, his life’s worth, was burnt to ashes. It was a shock for me when I came to know why this had been done. As I had been with those people for 11 years, my mind wasn’t ready to accept that Asim Farooqi could ever commit an act of blasphemy. I tried to contact his son – the vice principal of the school – but couldn’t get through to anyone. Luckily, after two days of undying effort, I was successful in talking to Umair Asim on the phone. He told me the whole story and I quote the same here: 
    “In an unfortunate happening, a day before Eid Holidays, a teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, wrote an essay for Grade 6 students. She used the book “Pak United Grammar”. Arfa was writing the essay on the blackboard from the book. School had ended and there were four holidays to come. It was important for Arfa to get the essay completed and in this haste, she, somehow, absent-mindedly skipped the page after page 360 in her book. Statements starting from the next page were the last lines of another essay, “The Beggars”. This mixture prepared an essay which took the form of some blasphemous text. 
    When it came to the notice of parents, the principal was approached. On October 30, however, the principal in writing, informed the local mosque Muftis about the facts and confirmed that he had dismissed the teacher even though she said she had made a mistake. It is quite surprising that still on October 31, a mob, alleged to be led by a religious group, attacked, burnt, and looted the school, thus depriving thousands of students from quality education at an affordable price. None of the parents of the students were involved in any of this violence. Local MNAs and influential people tried to explain things to the leader of that mob, however, they simply refused all explanations.” 
To this account, I asked how Arfa could not see what she was writing, to which Umair responded: 
    “I understand this mistake is senseless, but as she is not here to explain, I can’t blame her. Maybe she was upset and actually could not see what she was writing.” 
Umair Asim went on to explain that the offending paper wasn’t distributed by the school or the teacher; it was distributed by the protesters to gain ‘rewards’. 
He told me that his father is in jail, and he along, with his mother, are in protective custody.
While I am not here to debate the contents of blasphemy law, I can say with certainty that the students, teachers and, most of all, the principal at Farooqi Girls High School know that blasphemy is a sin. 
Asim Farooqi is an innocent man; I pledge the authorities to release him, for he is not only innocent, he is a good man with a kind heart who would never dream of insulting our beautiful religion or the Holy Prophet (pbuh). 
Maybe this case is not sensational enough for the media to pick up on because Asim Farooqi is a poor man, with very little power, but I beg our government to conduct a proper investigation and serve justice. 
Here is the original link.

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