Aly Balagamwala is a businessman and a blogger based in Karachi, Pakistan. He sends us a brief picture of the scenarios that unfolded in his country in the aftermath of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination by a member of his protective guard. Any views expressed in this article are entirely attributed to the author and may or may not reflect the views held by other writers writing for or affiliated with MuslimMatters.org.
Commentary by Shaykh Yasir Qadhi:
The assassination of Salman Taseer brought to the forefront many different issues regarding the political and religious crises in Pakistan. As with any issue, there are many facets and perspectives to consider, and it is simply not possible for an outsider (as we all are here in the West, even if some of us originate from Pakistan) to fully understand the nuances of the situation. Hence, it is wiser to speak in generalities rather than specifics and to allow people who live in the country to express their points of view.
The following represents one viewpoint from someone residing in the country. Personally, I found the views and opinions expressed in it to be very balanced – the author clearly understands that a simplistic response of which side was right and which wrong is not possible. There are clear elements of truth on both sides and clear elements of exaggeration and extremism on both sides as well.
As Muslims, we stand for truth and justice, and not for political parties and groups. Almost always, the truth is higher than any one party or group.
As a person who is of Pakistani origin, and who truly does feel a connection with and a love for the people of that land, all that I can say is that this chaos and confusion and bloodshed makes me extremely sad at what is happening, and very worried for the future of Pakistan. There is little that I can do sitting here, thousands of miles away, other than to pray to Allah to make the situation of the people of Pakistan easy.
And indeed, it is only Allah from whom help is sought, and to Him we turn for peace and security.
As my first-born completed three years of life, the life of another was marked to end. As Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, walked out of a restaurant after lunch, a member of the elite force assigned to protect him, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Quadri, shot him mercilessly. The post-mortem report later reported 40 wounds on his body and 26 bullets were recovered from his body.
Those shots, while pitilessly shredding Taseer’s body, created aftershocks that split Pakistan along severe ideological fault lines. Suddenly, we had two highly polarized positions coming forth: Taseer the Martyr, the champion of the Liberals, the voice of reason and Quadri, the “Ghazi”, the Protector of Islam. Suddenly, people found themselves being asked, “Whose side are you on? Ours or theirs?” Within hours of the murder, Facebook pages sprang up in support of Quadri, praising him for his actions. On a side note, Facebook raced to shut down these pages immediately on the request of the Government of Pakistan, while they had refused to shut down the pages of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” and other such anti-Islamic sites on the basis of freedom of speech. Incidentally, a search on Google pulled up a page that still exists on Facebook for the event. Talk about double standards!
The Blasphemy Law itself is really not just one law, but the main law that is in question here is Section 295-C, which reads as follows:
“Use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH): Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), shall be punished with the death sentence or imprisonment for life and shall be liable to fine.”
Historically, the law has been misused by many in an attempt to settle personal enmities, usurp land, etc. Indeed, the process to accuse one of blasphemy is easy and there are no safeguards to protect from false accusations being made. Neither is there any provision in the law to prosecute those making false accusations, once they are proved false. For, indeed, the one who makes these false accusations should be considered a blasphemer himself.
As Taseer was laid to rest the next day, supporters came out on the streets chanting slogans of martyrdom and the “liberals” came out in full force condemning the death of reason and the moral collapse of a nation.
However, as Taseer’s sons showered their father’s grave with rose petals, his assassin Quadri, too, was being showered with petals as he was led to court and declared an “Ashiq-e-Rasool, Ghazi-e-Mulk” (Lover of the Prophet, Commander of the Country). Several leaders from the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan (JASP), which is the fountainhead for the Barelvi school in Pakistan, issued a statement saying, “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.” The Deoband school, while not so harsh, also criticized Taseer for playing with the emotions and religious sentiments of Muslims by calling the blasphemy law a “black law”. As I write this, the confusion prevails. Us vs. Them. Liberals vs. fundamentalists. Islam vs. the West. The question that arises is what about those of us who think both sides are right and wrong?
On one hand Taseer, was treading a thin line when he declared the blasphemy law a “black law” (unfair, unjust). In his exuberance to oppose the law, he may have made certain statements against the punishment itself, which angered the religious right, and his championing the cry of clemency for Aasia Bibi, a person who was found guilty of blasphemy by a legal court, was implicitly conveying his denial of this punishment. On the other hand, he was correct in that the blasphemy law is being mostly misused and abused and that measures should be made to prevent false accusations and use of this law to persecute minorities should be stopped. But this step could have been taken in a subtle manner, working in tandem with religious scholars to understand what Islam says about false accusations and to put in safeguards to prevent and penalize false cases under this law.
On the other hand, Quadri, and all those who incited him towards the murder of Taseer, clearly violated Islamic principles as Islam does not condone vigilante action. What should have been done is that Quadri and his supporters should have filed a case against Taseer for blasphemy and proven it in court. By this, they would have not only managed to get to their intent (punishment of Taseer for blasphemy) but also managed to highlight the validity and vibrancy of the law they feel is right, and they would not have transgressed against the statement of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala):
“Whosoever kills one man (unjustly), it is as if he has killed all of humanity.” (Qur’an 5:32)
This issue has been politicized and leveraged by both sides, and increasingly the media and public forums are being used to highlight that this is an issue of black and white with no grey area. But where does it leave people like me?
Instead of making it a case of Martyrs and Ghazis, why can’t we just call Quadri the Assassin and Taseer the Assassinated? Instead of polarizing the topic, it is time to sit down and discuss the core issue. It is clear this is a highly emotionally charged subject, and there is great resistance to making any amendments in even the technical aspects of the law, much less questioning its validity. Representation from different schools of Islamic thought should be gathered and, together with legal experts, a solution should be sought whereby, at least, the misuse of this law for personal gain or revenge should be curtailed. A provision should be made whereby false accusers are punished for their false accusations. It is only then that we will be able to make progress on this issue.