The murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and the more recent murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, are establishing an ugly precedent of vigilantism which like all actions devoid of process are unjust. To murder one man for supporting a non-Muslim woman accused of blasphemy; and then another whose duty it was to represent religious minorities, the ‘wards’ of a Muslim country, illustrates a troubling apathy and precedent which underlines the continued interaction of Muslim non-Muslim environment.
Over the generations societies have created barriers, us vs them. Countries defined themselves on the premise of faith, creating an aura of mystery, often suspicion, about ‘the other’. A constant dislike and fear became instilled in our minds such that whenever anything anywhere would go wrong, instead of addressing the root causes, anger would be projected onto ‘the other’ by way of assigning blame. So it flows that the poorly-intended wisdom behind a ‘law on blasphemy’ was not to protect the subject being criticised, rather to project onto those making the criticism.
The night before my return to England I was shopping in downtown Lahore when, while in a store, we saw a newsflash on the tv – an American had just shot two Pakistani men. Literally, a few hundred yards away from us my cousin knew what was coming next. We gathered our things and made haste to the car where we instructed the driver to get us out of there as quickly as possible, but it was too late. Already crowds had formed. On one side I could see camera crews, on the other side, men carrying tyres to burn. Other men were blocking the junction with some laying on the road, a full blown riot had just begun. Most had little idea of what had happened however found pleasure in jumping on the anti-American bandwagon all the while, had any of them been offered a green card with a job, they would have jumped at the opportunity…
Rightly or wrongly, the crowd reflected a passion, an anger, a desire to voice their opinion. What troubled me however was why, after the murder of Salman Taseer, a crowd did form, but instead of protesting his murder, it formed to support his murderer! And where was the crowd protesting the murder of Shahbhaz Bhatti? What has happened to our understanding of accountability, justice, process, and the rule of law?
We see throughout the life of Prophet Muhammad, a wonderful example of manners. Despite the oppression and abuse he was constantly subjected to, his approach was never to stigmatise a person or community on account of their faith. Whether it was the people of Taif who stoned him till he bled, or the Jewish neighbour who threw rubbish into his home for years, or the death of a non-Muslim where he instructed people to stand by way of respect. And when Christians visited from afar where, not only did he make space for them in his mosque to pray, but it was during this hospitality that God Almighty made the food of people of the book lawful as they reciprocated good manners, inviting the Prophet to a feast. – It was almost as if, by this verse of the Qur’an alone, God Almighty knew that Muslims and Christians would be living side by side for generations to come.
Thus the irony of a blasphemy law is that Prophet Muhammad himself didn’t have one. When Hind bint Utbah was dancing and singing at the death of Muslims at the battle of Uhud, and when she cut out and chewed the liver of the Prophet’s uncle, Hamza, did the Prophet attack her? No. Instead she was addressed with patience such that towards the end of her life not only did she herself choose Islam as her way of life but one of the classical scholars recorded her as an advisor being ‘gifted in judgement’.
These and many other examples show not only the diversity of a multi-faith environment but how within that space we as people have been instructed to be tolerant of one another; moreover how we as Muslims are told to have the best manners, to set the best example. Freedom of expression should never be excused for freedom of abuse. God Almighty expands on this in the Qur’an, forbidding us from insulting other people’s faith, in the event that they by way of retribution insult God [6:108]. Yet in much of the world intolerance is becoming the norm, more so in a land which by definition is “the land of the pure” – Pakistan.
Despite years of abuse, Prophet Muhammad once asked his companions whether any of them could be like Abu Dhamdam. When they asked who he was, he replied, “When he gets up in the morning he says, ‘O Allah, I offer my honour and life to You’ such that he would not abuse those who abused him, nor would he wrong those who wronged him, or hit those who hit him.”
The Quranic verses, the Prophetic example and the Prophetic advice all point towards patience, restraint and forgiveness when someone insults you – this was ‘his blasphemy law’; not a ruling designed to kill people for foolish verbal pronouncements, or worse, as in the case Salman Taseer was investigating, a claim made against a Christian by a Muslim which upon further analysis looks less like a religious insult and more like a disagreement based on a property transaction. Where does the Quran or Sunnah teach us that inciting murder is the way we are told to resolve our disputes?
Further the Prophet said, ‘He who harms a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with Muslims, he has harmed me, and he who has harmed me, has harmed Allah’. These and similar narrations are not secret, nor are they the preserve of the scholars. They form a general understanding which the vast majority of the world’s Muslim community know of. But between knowledge and understanding exists a divide.
There is a show broadcast on an Asian/Muslim channel where the ‘imam’ plays a game with the children: he mentions the number of a chapter and verse randomly and a child has to recite it. To me, the show reflects the condition of the Muslim world today; whether it is those who form crowds quickly by way of protest or those of us who display a general apathy towards faith, we have knowledge, there is no shortage of that knowledge, but we do not have the understanding with which to benefit from that knowledge.
Generations of interpretation have exasperated the us vs them condition where lines of division are drawn on the grounds of faith; all the while we are instructed in the Qur’an to come together with people on mutual agreeable terms. The modern era and the free flow of information is enabling people cultures and communities to find these common bonds, not to replace the cultural diversity which defines us but to compliment them. The sooner we learn to forgive another’s transgression, engaging with them instead of stigmatizing them, the sooner we as a society will progress towards understanding that like Prophet Muhammad, we neither need a blasphemy law, nor vigilantism to ‘enforce’ one. Instead, as well as education, dialogue and tolerance we need due process and justice. Perhaps it is time we paid more attention to the Prophet and Abu Dhamdam.
Guest blog written by Farrukh I. Younus
Farrukh I. Younus has studied international business management and works in the emerging mobile, social and UGC environments. With a love for technology, Farrukh has spoken on the subject of innovation at the European Parliament and regularly attends industry-leading conferences. His cross-cultural knowledge-base is strengthened with extensive travel where he has for example visited China on more than 25 occasions. His interests include travel, nouvelle cuisine, museums and chocolate; many of which feature in his video blog, The Implausible Blog.