Amir Izzat, spokesman of Muslim cleric
Sufi Muhammad.

Cleric Threatens New Wave of Protests if Officials Don't Establish Sharia Courts

March 02, 2009 01:29 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Sufi Muhammad, the Muslim cleric who has been working as a peacebroker in Pakistan's embattled Swat region, has warned that new violence may erupt if Islamic courts are not installed in the area within two weeks.

Sufi Muhammad: Pakistani Government Lagging on Sharia Implementation

On Sunday, Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad, the head of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi group, argued that the Pakistan government was "procrastinating" over the installation of sharia courts in the Swat Valley, a chaotic northwestern region of the country.

In mid-February, Pakistan had agreed to halt its military offensives and permit the installation of sharia, or Islamic law, in the area. The agreement was intended to end violence between the government and the Taliban. At the time of the agreement, a U.S. defense official condemned the deal as “a negative development” and a human rights activist called it “a great surrender” to the insurgents, according to the Associated Press. Critics argued that militants might attempt to spread Islamic law to other regions of Pakistan as a result of the deal.

Pakistani officials said that the new system of Islamic rule would be completely different from the laws governing Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 under the control of the Taliban, “during which thieves’ hands were amputated and adulterers were stoned to death,” according to The Washington Post. Instead, the new system in the Malakand district would have an appeals process, unlike the Afghan Taliban form of justice.

However, it appears that little progress has been made to establish the courts in the weeks since the agreement. Al-Jazeera reports that Muhammad said at a Sunday news conference, "We also asked the government to implement [Islamic jurisprudence] by March 15 after which we will launch a protest."

In addition, the cleric set a March 10 deadline for the mutual release of prisoners held by the Islamist militants and the Pakistani government.

Related Topic: Northwest region of Pakistan under threat

The Taliban had been attacking “symbols of authority” in the turbulent northwest region of Pakistan, including girls’ schools and police stations. Threats to schools in Pakistan are somewhat new, and represent “a dark echo of Taliban rule in Afghanistan,” reported the AP in late January. Nearly 170 schools, mostly for girls, have been either bombed or burned over the past year or so, and in December 2008, Islamic militants issued a warning that all girls’ schools would have to be closed by Jan. 15. Ziauddin Yousufzai, who leads an association for private schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, told the AP that school attendance had been halved since the warning.

On Feb. 13, kidnappers claiming to be part of the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) threatened to kill an American UN worker “within 72 hours unless authorities release 141 women allegedly held in Pakistan,” according to AP. The kidnappers revealed their message in a letter and an apparent video of the captured American, John Solecki, who was kidnapped on Feb. 2. But on Feb. 16, a spokesman for the kidnappers said the deadline was extended for a “few days.”

The abduction represents the “most high-profile abduction of a Westerner in several years, and the third attack in five months on Americans working in Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun zone bordering Afghanistan in the country’s west,” Bloomberg reported.

According to the AP, the threat also came “a week after Taliban militants apparently beheaded a Polish geologist abducted in another border area of Pakistan after failing to agree to a prisoner swap."

Members of the Afghan Taliban have sought refuge in northwest Pakistan since 2002, and the United States has attempted to reduce the popularity of Islamic militants in the Pashtun areas by promising $750 million over five years for development of the area.

Reference: What is sharia law?

Sharia, which can be translated as “the way” in Arabic, is the Islamic legal system delineated in the Islamic holy texts, including the Quran and the hadith.

Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God, while the Hadith, the ways of the prophet, provides the finer details of much of Islamic law, and is used by Muslims to interpret the Quran. It consists of thousands of descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s daily life. As is common among religious texts, both texts have been subjected to varying levels of interpretation; this is reflected in how sharia is applied in Muslim countries.

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