Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law: a Sign of bliss or catastrophe? Abdullah al-Ahsan
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law: a Sign of bliss or catastrophe?
Reports about Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law have become a focal point in the international press. It is natural for the international press to undertake this issue so seriously mainly because of the way Pakistani leadership, both the government and the opposition, has been viewing it with such an importance. It is as if this law constitutes the complete teachings of Islam and without this law there is no scope for Islam to survive in the world today. The prime minister has claimed that, “a Muslim cannot have two opinions on the blasphemy law and being descendant of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), he cannot even think of amending it.” The opposition, including a number of religious oriented political parties, also has adopted a similar position on the law. Although Pakistani politicians and religious leaders seem to achieve bliss through this law, this is bound to create a catastrophe. In our opinion, this constitutes sheer exploitation in the name of Islam and its prophet.
Circumstances in Pakistan clearly suggest that it is not the law, but execution of the law which has created a volatile situation in the country. Our knowledge of history tells us that letters are not always capable to ensure the purpose of the law. That is why history has coined the phrase “letter and spirit.” This is most relevant in the application of law, and especially in Pakistan where, according to reports, many people belonging to minority communities have been harassed under the guise of this law.
Mistreatment of the poor and weak has been common is found in every society throughout history, but when it is done in the guise of religion, it naturally causes horror. Followers of religion, however, view any criticism or description of this horror as religion-phobia. In the case of Pakistan it would be called Islamophobia which, of course, is in abundance around us today. But shouldn’t one raise the question whether the way this law is being manipulated would have the genuine potential to create fear within the minority communities? What would be the rationale to support a murderer? Love for the Prophet? A Prophet who was known for his love and kindness for weak and destitute? A Prophet who went to visit an adversary when he came to know that the woman (a non-Muslim) who used to put trash on his pathway was not well and counseled her? The woman was so moved by the behavior of the Prophet that she immediately accepted Islam. Does the blasphemy law in any way reflect teachings of the Prophet? In our opinion, if the upholders of the blasphemy law believe that they hold the truth, let them have the truth manifest itself through their behavior.
It is shocking to see people demonstrating in favor of a murderer who committed the crime in the guise of protecting the Prophet’s honor. Politicians, both from the government and the opposition, seem to have been persuaded by political expediency. Even lawyers are reported to have offered free counseling to the murderer, and now, according to newspaper reports, the law enforcing agencies don’t find a prosecutor for the case. This should be completely unacceptable by any standard of Islamic behavior. Are there no rooms for balanced view of Islam in contemporary Pakistan? According to the British newspaper Guardian Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, an independent scholar from Lahore who held the view that there is no scope for blasphemy law in the light of the Qur’an and Prophet’s teachings, is said to have fled from Pakistan because of his views on blasphemy law and other similar issues related to Islamic teachings. One of his followers, Dr. Farooq Ahmad, was gunned down by extremists a few months ago. What is happening in Pakistan? A nation achieved more than half a century ago with a dream that Muslims would regain their past civilization in the modern world by reviving Islamic teachings. Is the current state of affairs in Pakistan manifest any sign of that noble dream?
This question is related to the issue of patience, pluralism, freedom of speech and respect for human dignity. This issue also raises the question of the fundamental purpose of religion. In history religions have been backbone of all civilizations no civilization would have been possible without peace. Islam in particular, which literally means peace, not only established peace under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (sm); it also laid down the foundation of a glorious civilization. Is the situation in Pakistan contributing to establishment of peace? How could one expect to establish peace if the minorities do not feel secure? How could a nation contribute to peace if majority of the population go for wild emotionalism in the face of minor provocation?
It is high time particularly for the so-called Islamists in Pakistan to look at the situation in Egypt where their enemies are trying to create panic among most observers by suggesting that if the current people’s revolution in Egypt succeeds their counterpart will take over and impose their version of Islam on the people. The Islamists in Pakistan should very well know that Islam is confined to the boundaries of Pakistan and so is not Islamophobia. Therefore, the picture of Islam they depict in Pakistan will have an impact on the rest of the world.
Professor of History
International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC)
International Islamic University Malaysia
24 Persiaran Duta. Taman Duta.
50480 Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia.
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 The Prime Minister claims to be a descendent of the Prophet.