ON a freezing afternoon on January 4, 2011, in the subdued hum of post-lunch traffic in a quiet Islamabad neighbourhood, 27 bullets rang - loud, clear, chilling. The 66-year-old then Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer’s smile froze on his face as his 26-year-old Elite Police guard Mumtaz Qadri emptied his gun on him. At point blank. With calmness on his face. Cold. Methodical. The killer stood smiling as the governor of the biggest province in Pakistan died in the capital of Pakistan, where his party, the PPP, held the reins of power of an inherently weak system. Salmaan Taseer’s death marked the emergence of the fanatical, radicalised, intolerant youth of Pakistan, which was created in the name of religion, and where religion has been used for anything but the creation of harmony between its different communities.
In a predominantly Muslim country what is the paranoia that the majority has when it comes to the people of other faiths? The word ‘minority’, the anathema to the unity of a nation, has been twisted in so many forms that it has surfaced as the connotation of an entity that by its very name is set to be isolated, and treated like an undesirable recovering TB patient in a room full of healthy children. Pakistan ka matlib kya…la ilaha ila Allah. The clergy that was vociferous and ruthless in its opposition to the creation of Muslim-majority Pakistan — which was to be carved out of a Hindu-dominated India — must have come up with this chant after they were done labelling the creator of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah ‘Kafir-e-Azam’.
All of us practising Muslims revere the first Kalima as one of the fundamentals of our faith, but when did that tenet become a weapon to divide? The name of Allah, Who holds haqooq-ul-ibad as one of the biggest services of His creations – the earthly human beings – to pay homage to Him, was used to ensure that all those who prayed to him with a different name would be held at a bayonet’s distance, if the arms even pretended to touch. The flag was colour-divided, the promises of equality by Jinnah were filed into dark chambers of some very important men in khaki hats and green turbans, and the Pakistan that had been created to protect the rights of India’s minority Muslims got all set to usurp the rights of those not like them. And the rest, as the chroniclers of history, shaking their heads, will decipher from the warped history of Pakistan is the methodical cleansing of all Pakistan didn’t approve of. One undesirable at a time. Or many.
The British, the masters of Divide-and-Rule, when unable to control the mischievous natives of the land they East India Company-ed, sort of, effortlessly, decided to whip them into more divisions. Do, speak or hear no evil against the other faiths, or thus you shall be punished. The ingenuity to control the fighting hordes, captioned as the Article 295, the ‘blasphemy law’, paved the stone-strewn path that allowed small slights to turn into full-fledged battles. My God is more sacred than your God, and to prove that, I will conjure up issues you will wish you had thought of. The laws twisted and contorted into the oft-amended Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which misused the all-encompassing religion to anoint one injustice and the other. Lo and behold, many Sections came into being. And thus began the religiously-legitimised persecution of those who chose to live in a Muslim-majority (96% Muslim as per the 2008 data) Pakistan, whose creator, and whose religion’s Creator both gave guidelines to protect all those living amongst Muslims.
No, I don’t think any Muslim or non-Muslim living in Pakistan needs laws to respect one another’s holy personalities, holy places, holy books, and holy icons. That is something most of us do as a matter of routine, indoctrinated at a young age, as saying our prayers, going to the Sunday mass, or chanting the Gayatari Mantar. Respecting the others’ faith is a prominent teaching of Allah, and through His Messenger Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Muslims have clear instructions to respect faith, and religious practices of all living amongst them. How do you force people to respect someone’s religious sensibilities if it is not to be done as a fundamental human right given to all? How do you impose laws threatening earthly tortures to compel people of other faiths to treat yours with the respect they give their own? When I took my shoes off to enter the Golden Temple in Amritsar on a hot April afternoon, or covered my head to go inside the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, or buttoned up fully to enter the Vatican in Rome, I did it instinctively. This is what I do when I enter a Muslim holy place; how else was I to act when it was someone else’s holy place?
The many persecuted in Pakistan since its inception have been those who fold their hands differently to God. The indoctrination of intolerance and suspicion in certain segments of society against all who are not Muslims acts as the subliminal dissemination of prejudice, sometimes blatant, or barely beneath the surface, or even unconscious. There are Sections against the defilement of the Holy Quran (295-B), the usage of derogatory words about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) (295-C), the former punished with life imprisonment and the latter with a death penalty. There has not been a single execution carried out in a blasphemy case in Pakistan, but the number of lives that have been taken (20 murders of the accused), and ruined inside and outside jails, opens a Pandora’s box of the misuse of the law to exact revenge, settle scores, or simply out of outright hatred for a person of another faith.
As some await death, or lose count of their ‘worthless’ lives, who asks the question on their behalf: what happened to the Islamic principle of forgiveness? Even if some words were uttered in ignorance, what happened to the compassionate followers of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) who forgave everyone on the conquest of Makkah? How many more Aasia Bibis will remain jailed waiting for a Salmaan Taseer to notice they even exist, leave alone expect a review of a case they insist was trumped up? How many more Rimsha Masihs will lose their innocence when they are imprisoned for playing with the discarded pages of an Arabic language quaida? How many more 13-year-olds will be expelled from school for missing the nuqta (dot) on the word naat, later forced to leave their hometown hounded by the so-called vigilantes of Islam? How many more judges will face death threats when they refuse to punish the so-called blasphemers where the cases have no ground to stand on? How many more Shahbaz Bhattis will be silenced with bullets when they ask for revision of laws that persecute many from their faith? How many more Mumtaz Qadris will be lauded as heroes by those whose only validation of being true Muslims is to applaud violent acts done in the name of religion when most of their personal codes of ethic are in contradiction to the true teachings of Islam?
The noted religious scholar, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi – whose open and solitary denouncement of the blasphemy laws post the killing of Taseer earned him the further wrath of the orthodox clergy (Dr Ghamidi lives in Malaysia in a self-imposed exile after constant threats against him and his family for his enlightened religious beliefs) said: “The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema are just telling lies to the people.” The fanatic voices go silent (albeit briefly) when Dr Ghamidi substantiates his argument on facts based on the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, proving blasphemy laws to have manmade history, unsanctioned by the Divine. “Nothing in Islam supports this law,” Dr Ghamidi states.
In 1986, under the umbrella of the biggest defender of Islam this side of the world, General Ziaul Haq, life imprisonment and capital punishment were added as the severest punishments for blasphemers. Before 1986, the reported cases were 14. After 1986, the reported case rose to 1,274. More than 50% of the accused are from the miniscule 3-4 percent who comprise the non-Muslims in Pakistan. The white on the flag is stained with so much bigotry that it has lost its colour, and no amount of fake solidarity with the non-Muslims will bleach it to justice ever again.
I ask today. How do those who chant the Kalima and lie blatantly not commit blasphemy? Why those who attack a mosque saying they are doing it for Allah not considered blasphemers? What is the name for those who shout Allah O Akbar and behead soldiers? Why is no Section 295 applicable to those Muslims who bomb churches? Why is no Section 295 applicable to Muslims who raze Hindu temples? What about imposing Section 295-A against all those Muslims who incite hatred not just against Hindus, Christians and Jews, but also those they consider the ‘wrong’ Muslims? When will Section 296 be the penalty for those Muslims who disrupt religious gatherings of peaceful practitioners of faiths they don’t approve of? When will the Muslim desecrators of Ahmedi graveyards be penalised under Section 297? When will Section 298-B be the yardstick to arrest all those Muslims who insult the holy figures of other faiths, different sects of Islam, included? Who will use Section 298-B for those Muslims who take holy titles and use them in ways so as to offend or hurt religious sensibilities of others?
Ask for reviewing of the case of a poor Christian woman locked up for life, waiting to die; to review the laws, which instead of instilling the respect of religion are being misused as a tool to persecute the unwanted... the outcome: 27 bullets. You don’t want to revise. You will never have the courage to revoke. We can live with that. But then man up. Penalise all those who are bringing dishonour to the great, peace-promoting religion of Islam. Penalise all those who misuse the teachings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). And penalise all those who kill in the name of... Allah.
The writer is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @MehrTarar
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