Islamic Perspectives

Blasphemy law – How much religion? How much politics?

AAssassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, Pakistan, has sparked a debate both among the 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 the assassination can also be assassinated.

These conservatives should know that even if the 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 the 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 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 shocking that 500 supposedly moderate clerics publicly threatened those who mourn Salman Taseer’s assassination that they would also meet the same fate and it is equally shocking that when the alleged assassin was being taken to the court many lawyers showered flower petals on him. neither this threat by clerics nor the celebration of assassination by, of all the people, a section of legal community, attracted any action from the state. Also, many Islamic scholars were appearing on TV and endorsing the action of the assassin and warning opponents not to condemn the assassination. This clearly shows that the state has completely withdrawn and has allowed the fanatics to take over.

Law of Blasphemy – how much religious

There is no mention whatsoever of such a law in the Qur’an which is the most fundamental source of Islamic jurisprudence. The 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 Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in Arabic. 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 a lower court for allegedly insulting the Prophet and someone felt that justice was not done in awarding her death sentence – does he too 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. The Qur’an, as pointed out above, does not prescribe any such punishment for insulting the Prophet, let alone death punishment and here one was assassinated just because he thought the death punishment was 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 him rid of that woman and one of the colleagues killed that woman and reported to the Prophet and the Prophet praised him.

First, the question arises as to how authentic is this story. 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 would be guaranteed and their properties and lives would be secure and in turn the Jews would participate in the defence of Madina, if attacked by outsiders. This Jewish woman by writing provocative poetry, which enemies of Islam were spreading throughout Arabia, had committed sedition for which everywhere in the world, even in the western world today is death as the only penalty.

But when another Jewish woman insulted the Prophet by throwing garbage on him whenever he passed from below her house, the Prophet (pbuh) never punished her. Not only that but on one day when she did not throw garbage, he inquired why had she not thrown garbage that day and when informed that she was sick he immediately went to see her and inquired about her health. She felt ashamed of herself for throwing garbage at such a person and immediately embraced Islam. Thus for personal insult, the Prophet really showed that he was 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 a sign of religiosity but betrays worst human instincts. 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 how 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.

whatever his role in creation of Pakistan, no one will accuse M.A. Jinnah of religious orthodoxy or using Islam for post-Partition politics in Pakistan. He wanted a modern, liberal and secular Pakistan. However, real democracy, for various reasons, not to be discussed here, never had a 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, hardly bothered about anything serious including governance carried on until Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over in early seventies. Bhutto was modernist who played politics in the name of Islamic socialism but resorted to the worst kind of religious opportunism.

Though Liaqat Ali Khan had declared Islam as the state religion after the 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 because of 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 a security guard as the assassin claims, it is certainly result of intolerance of others’ views.

Also, like in India, Pakistani textbooks taught in schools are a part of problem. It is these textbooks which inculcate attitude of intolerance and illiberalism right from very 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) in the way of Allah but fasad (depravation, destruction) 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, humane and modern society based on the fundamental values of Islam which are truth, justice, compassion and wisdom. Killing people in the name of religion is the worst kind of irreligiousness.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2011 on page no. 28

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