Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective January 16-31, 2011)

Assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Pakistan, has unleashed debate both among conservatives and liberals about justification or otherwise of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. It is totally surprising that the conservatives in Pakistan are demonstrating in favour of the assassin and not only that they are openly saying that those who condemn assassination can also be assassinated.

These conservatives should know that even if law is justified, it is not for any one to assassinate the breaker of the law. Law ceases to be a law if it is administered by any individual at his/her sweet will without following due process of law or proper legal trial. It clearly shows that law and order situation in Pakistan has almost collapsed and detailing of Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri, the alleged assassin of Salman Taseer for security of a liberal governor also raises question. Why such a man of conservative views was detailed for his personal security.

It is equally shocking that 500 supposedly moderate clerics publicly threatened those who mourn Salman Taseer’s assassination will also meet the same fate and less shocking that when the alleged assassin was taken to the court many lawyers showered flower petals on him. And neither this threat by clerics nor celebration of assassination by, of all the people, a section of legal community, attracts any action from the state. Also, many Islamic scholars were appearing on T.V. and endorsing the action of the assassin and warning opponents not to condemn assassination. This clearly shows state is completely withdrawn and allowed fanatics to take over.

Law of Blasphemy – How Much Religious

There is no mention whatsoever of such a law in Qur’an which is most fundamental source of Islamic laws. Qur’an only says to believers to invoke Allah’s Mercy and Grace for the Prophet and that is why Muslims always write Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) in English and Sallal lahu alayhi wa sallam (i.e. May Allah’’s Mercy and Grace be on him). Also, the Qur’an describes the Prophet as rahmah lil ‘alamin i.e. mercy of all the worlds. If the Prophet is mercy for all the worlds how can one kill in his name? Is Qur’an more fundamental or weak human sentiments?

Also, just because one thinks that someone has insulted the Prophet (PBUH) how can one straight away kill him without any due process of law, without establishing his/her guilt? If the Christian woman Asia Bibi who was given death sentence by the lower court for allegedly insulting the Prophet and some one felt that justice was not done in awarding death sentence, does he also become guilty of insulting the Prophet (PBUH)?

Any such inference would be totally against the law. Only fanatics can so conclude without any legal justification. No civilized society can tolerate this. Qur’an, as pointed out above, does not prescribe any such punishment for insulting the Prophet, let alone death punishment and here one is assassinated just because he thought the death punishment is not justified. Where was insult to the Prophet in holding such an opinion?

Those who support such a law argue that it is based on the sunnah of the Prophet and cite the story of a Jewish woman who used to write provocative poetry against the Prophet and Islam and according to this story Prophet (PBUH) asked his colleagues as to who will get grid of this woman and one of the colleague killed this woman and reported to the Prophet and the Prophet praised him.

First the question arises about how authentic this story is. Secondly, even if it is authentic this relates more to sedition than insult to the Prophet. All Jews in Madina had signed a covenant with the Prophet that their rights to follow their religion will be guaranteed and their properties and lives will be secure and in turn the Jews will defend Madina, if attacked by outsiders. This Jewish woman by writing such provocative poetry which enemies of Islam were spreading throughout the Arab world, had committed sedition and everywhere in the world, even in civilized world today is death.

But when another Jewish woman insulted the Prophet by throwing garbage on him whenever he passed from below her house, Prophet (PBUH) never punished her. Not only that one day when she did not throw garbage he inquired why has she not thrown garbage today and when informed that she is sick he immediately went to inquire about her health. She felt ashamed for throwing garbage at such a person and immediately embraced Islam. Thus for personal insult Prophet really showed that he is mercy of the worlds and not only pardoned her but went to inquire after her health.

This is what is needed for a truly religious person. To avenge an insult is not sign of religiosity but of worst human instinct. The Prophet was so spiritual that he would never indulge in seeking revenge for personal insult. He was sent by Allah as a model human being to be followed by others. And he really behaved as a model for others. Qur’an repeatedly advises Muslims to suppress sentiments of revenge and anger and in view of this Qur’anic teaching how the Prophet through whom Qur’an was revealed could himself indulge in avenging personal insult?

In fact Zia-ul-Haq brought this law to serve a political purpose. Moreover he was a military man who hardly knew teachings of Islam and a military man knows only to humiliate the enemy and seek revenge and this is precisely what he did, and very unfortunately in the name of Islam, by enacting this law. He wanted to please orthodox Ulama in Pakistan to win their support for his dictatorship. He also declared Pakistan an ‘Islamic state’ and married worst kind of orthodoxy to politics.

M.A.Jinnah, whatever his role in creation of Pakistan, no one will accuse him of religious orthodoxy or using Islam for post-Partition politics in Pakistan. He wanted modern, liberal and secular Pakistan. However, real democracy, for various reasons, not to be discussed here, have had no real chance in Pakistan and lesser politicians grossly misused Islam for their political benefits. The first military dictator, Ayub Khan, was fortunately a liberal and secular individual and hence whatever his other sins he did not misuse Islam for political purposes. On the other hand he brought about some reforms like Family Ordinance of 1961 to give relief to women.

Yahya Khan who took over from Ayub Khan through a military coup was hardly bothered about anything serious including governance carried on until Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over in early seventies. A modernist and played politics in the name of Islamic socialism but resorted to worst kind of religious opportunism. To please Mullahs and buy peace with him he declared Ahmadiyas as non-Muslim minority and thus buying peace with mullahs cost very dearly to Pakistan.

Though Liyaqat Ali Khan had declared Islam as state religion after death of Jinnah, it was during Bhutto’s regime that Islam came to be seriously exploited for political power in Pakistan and Zia who captured power overthrowing Bhutto really declared Pakistan as an ‘Islamic State’ and it is Zia who introduced blasphemy law which is now grossly misused for even petty personal revenge. Muslims are as much its victims as non-Muslims, particularly Christians. Fifty percent of those accused under this law are Muslims.

Now Pakistan is suffering in various ways due to fundamentalists and mullahs who cannot get elected and form government are seeking their pie in power by provoking religious sentiments and bargaining with those in power. A general atmosphere of intolerance prevails in the Pakistani society. It is difficult to say whether there was any wider political conspiracy behind killing of Salman Taseer or an individual act of the security guard as the alleged assassin claims, it is certainly result of intolerance of other’s views.

Also, like in India Pakistani text books taught in schools are part of problem. It is these text books which inculcate attitude of intolerance and illiberalism right from young age in the minds of children. Future citizens are converted into bigots. It will take years, perhaps decades, even if the task is begun in all seriousness, to make Pakistani society a liberal and modern one, once again. As Jinnah wanted it to be. Though its founder is Jinnah but Pakistan’s architects are all narrow-minded mullahs.

Iqbal had rightly said that the task of mullah is not ‘jihad’ (struggle efforts) in the way of Allah but ‘fasad’ (depravation, destruction and immorality) in His way. This depravation and corruption in the name of religion has gone very deep and would require a person of great vision and courage to correct its course and to build a liberal, moderate and modern society building on fundamental values of Islam which are truth, justice, compassion and wisdom.

Killing people in the name of religion is worst kind of irreligiousness.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Mumbai: – 400 055

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