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VIEW: Shame on us — Yasser Latif Hamdani
On the Blasphemy Law, the mullah knows he is on a weak footing both constitutionally and with reference to Islam. He knows that there is no moral sanction in Islam to deprive people of their freedom of thought and expression. He knows that, historically, Islamic civilisation has not only tolerated but protected dissent
After my article ‘Aasia Bibi and due process’ (Daily Times, December 6, 2010) last week, Muhammad Zubair of Business Plus invited me to speak on his show along with Dr Meraj-ul-Huda of the Jamaat-e-Islami on the issue of the Blasphemy Law.
The good doctor waxed eloquent about how those opposing the Blasphemy Law had no faith in the constitution and the courts. However, when I pointed out some of the grounds on which the law, in its current form, was entirely unconstitutional, he dropped nothing less than a bombshell as someone who claims to defend the constitution. The senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader claimed that parliament had no right anymore to amend the Blasphemy Law. This blatant denial of the rights of the elected representatives of Pakistan, rights that according to Jamaat-e-Islami vested in General Ziaul Haq, rubbishes all claims of Jamaat-e-Islami to be a party committed to a democratic polity.
As if that were not enough, Dr Huda proceeded to show me just how far people like him would go in lying through their teeth to prove their point. When I quoted Jinnah’s warning about the misuse of Article 295-A and how it might be used to silence academic freedom and bona fide criticism of religion, he claimed that Jinnah had only said that because there was mention of “Her Majesty” in that clause. Perhaps Dr Huda did not bother to research the issue before proving himself to be the poster boy for foot-in-the-mouth disease. Article 295-A deals strictly with scurrilous remarks about founders of various faiths and not Her Majesty. Article 295-A came out in response to the events in Lahore surrounding the Raj Pal controversy.
That Jamaat-e-Islami has a history of shamelessly distorting history is well known. Its sinister role against Pakistan and the people of Pakistan is also well documented in history. What I cannot believe is that, even after being exposed over and over again, the Meraj-ul-Hudas, the Professor Ghafoors, the Munawar Hasans and the Qazi Hussains still shamelessly appear on television to lie over and over again and that too in the name of Islam. Is there no shame at long last?
The truth is that our mullah — the true enemy of Islam — is now stubbornly standing in the way of the progress of this country towards a civilised and democratic state based on the rule of law. On the Blasphemy Law, the mullah knows he is on a weak footing both constitutionally and with reference to Islam. He knows that there is no moral sanction in Islam to deprive people of their freedom of thought and expression. He knows that, historically, Islamic civilisation has not only tolerated but protected dissent. The greatest Muslim scientists, celebrated far and wide, were committed atheists, many of whom would have also fallen foul of Pakistan’s draconian laws. In Islamic history, no caliphate or Muslim empire has ever instituted legally the death penalty for blasphemy, not even the heartless Aurangzeb. There was no such law under the much mourned Ottoman Empire either. Historically, there are some incidents, few and far between, where people were put to death for claiming to be divine. The chivalrous Salauddin was misled by sectarian fanatics into killing El-Suhrawardy. Before that, Nooruddin Zangi had arrived in Medina and killed two men after accusing them of being Jews and trying to defile, God forbid, the holy mosque.
A state does not legislate, however, on the basis of exception. If Islam is the higher law by which we are to conduct ourselves, we must investigate as to what the general rule in Islam is. One is reminded of an incident soon after the conquest of Egypt by Muslims. Amr bin Aas (RA) was appointed governor of the new province. In a city square where the governor resided was a statue of Jesus Christ held sacred by the Coptic Christians. One night, some Muslim soldier allegedly broke the nose off of the statue and then disappeared. The Copt leaders protested and lodged a complaint with the governor. They demanded, as restitution, the right to build and similarly defile a statue of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Amr bin Aas (RA) politely told them their request was not possible as the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the most sacred personage to him but he offered to have his own nose cut off instead as punishment. These were those fine traditions of tolerance and religious harmony, too fine for the philistines as it were, that made Islamic lands centres of excellence, learning and enlightenment while the entire world was in darkness. Today, what we have instead is the picture that our mullah is hell-bent on painting of Islam and of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The mullah is the worst blasphemer and the biggest enemy of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) today.
Finally, above all else, Islam abhors hypocrisy. What else do you call it then when our clerical class shamelessly applies different standards to different situations? A non-Muslim cannot become the president of Pakistan because he is a non-Muslim but the Blasphemy Law applies to him or her equally. Shame on us.
The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at http://pakteahouse.net and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org