Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dying for the truth

Published in the Daily Times on January 7, 2011

Quietly, in the recesses of your mind ask yourself who really represents Islam.

Is it that intrepid man who paid the ultimate price for “stand out firmly for justice even if it goes against yourselves your parents or your relatives” (Quran 4:135)? Or is it the bearded, turbaned, self-appointed custodians of Islam who celebrate murder and conspire to kill more, and who are thus going against the oft repeated, “If anyone kills one person, it is as though they have killed all of mankind” (Quran 5:32)?

When the Danish cartoons were published, the West was painstakingly made to understand that for Muslims the hierarchy of love, devotion and respect is God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and parents. Whenever a Muslim takes the shahadah (bear witness) in sincerity, a bond is born with God and the Prophet (PBUH), but this is not one for exhibition, examination or critical display. Unless a person actually physically renounces Islam, he is not a blasphemer. And even if he does, on the basis of “there is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256), the punishment is not to kill him. This fanatical face of Islam and the greatest disservice to it has been done by the ayatollahs, imams and sheikhs who need a reason to exist.

One of the great tragedies for current day Muslims is lack of a central religious authority like the Vatican where scholars with defined expertise could render judgment on contemporary issues. Al-Azhar in Egypt that comes somewhat close to that has unequivocally ruled on both murtads (renouncers of Islam) as well as suicide bombers. Death is not prescribed for one who renounces Islam. And suicide bombing is haram (forbidden). Simple.

Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab died in harness, did not at anytime renounce Islam, nor disrespect the Prophet (PBUH). Islam is an evidence-based religion. And it is a benign, kind faith. It inclines toward forgiveness and second chances. It recognises the Satan that anger is and extols calmness: “The righteous are those that control their anger and forgive other people” (Quran 3:134).

We have a dual responsibility: as practitioners of the faith we will be called to account on the Day of Judgment for why we misrepresented it so and made it look so violent, hate-filled, vengeful and dinosaurian; and as Pakistanis we must rapidly rid our society of fanatical thought. For before too long there will be more and more hate-inspired killings and the fear that people have now of going out of their homes will seem minuscule. Anyone that veers from the line decided in some mullah’s mind is wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of murder) and the ease and frequency of such murders make it seem that we are at the verge of hordes of lunatics running rabid throughout the land wiping out anyone that dissents with their point of view.

In their great fervour, the mullahs of Pakistan have perhaps forgotten the concept of individual and collective sin. We will have to account for our sins individually but our religious leaders will have to pay/receive two times. If they inspire their congregations to do good deeds, they get a reward as well, but if they promote murder and mayhem, and especially if they do it in the name of Prophet Muhammad, “the one that was sent as a mercy to all mankind” (Quran 21:07), they might find themselves invoking God’s wrath rather than His grace.

It is a travesty that minorities and now ‘liberals’ receive and suffer death pronouncements in the name of a man (PBUH) who was the epitome of tolerance and manners. Historians (Sahih Bukhari, Tradition Number 1,311) report that as a funeral of a Jew passed before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as a sign of respect he stood up. In doing this, he showed respect and shared in the feeling of sorrow with the Jewish family and community. “Why did you stand up for a Jewish funeral?” he was asked. The Prophet replied: “Is it not a human soul?”

Salmaan Taseer stood beside a helpless Pakistani-Christian woman and appealed for her forgiveness and repeal of Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws that are used for personal and political gain. Salmaan Taseer saw Islam as inclusive and maternal — after all the word rahman comes from the root word rahm, which means womb in Arabic. He wanted the state to be forgiving, nurturing and maternal the way that God is. As an educated and enlightened man, he was able to see things in the larger perspective rather than getting all fired up over a villager’s alleged disrespect.

Islam promotes dialogue and is actually one of the few religions that stand up to harsh inquiry. But mullahs insist on blind faith and no questions. There is no evidence in the Prophet’s (PBUH) life or during the reign of the four caliphs that any action was taken against anyone regarding blasphemy. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was mistreated by a woman that threw garbage at him but he went to visit her when she was sick. Contrast this to the Facebook followers and the lawyers who praised and showered rose-petals on Mumtaz Quadri for murdering Salmaan Taseer.

They pelted stones at Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Taif and Gabriel said that God could wipe them out if Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wanted. But the most magnificent of all men declined. Contrast this to the Jamat-e-Islami’s Asadullah Bhutto who declared that “the one who has killed Taseer is a pious man and will go to the Seventh Heaven”. And here I thought prophethood and revelation had stopped with Muhammad (PBUH).

Naseeruddin Shah brilliantly acted in ‘Khuda key liye’ and the line “with haram money in their pockets, they run all over town looking for zabiha [sacrifice] meat” is so pointedly representative of the mullah mindset that has taken over Pakistan, and is bent on razing it to the ground.

A few days before his death when questioned about his security detail and its insufficiency, Salmaan Taseer said: “Aaj bazaar main pa bajolan chalo/Rakhte Dil bandh lo Dil fagaro chalo/Phir hamen qatl ho ayen yaro chalo” (Today, let us walk through bazaar with feet in chains/ Pick up the burden of heart, let us go, heartbroken ones/ Let us offer ourselves, once again, for execution).

Few in Pakistan’s history were as frank and fearless as Salmaan Taseer, ready and willing to die for the truth. If we do not stand up as a nation to the flames of fanaticism, bigotry and hatred, Pakistan will self-destruct. In the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The true blasphemers

One wonders what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would have thought of the clamor in the Muslim world to force respect for him, especially when it involves killing and brazen persecution of minorities. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was sent “as a mercy to all mankind” (Quran 21:07), and we are enjoined to study his life and model our character after him for he is described such: “you O Muhammad are of most sublime and exalted character” (Quran 68:4)

Would Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have looked kindly at the Blasphemy Law enacted during the tenure of Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq? The infamous Blasphemy Law has been used to advance political agendas, continually endanger minorities and even make Muslims more Muslim.

Lower court judges, frequently fearful for their own safety have pronounced death sentences on alleged blasphemers but higher courts have revoked them. Hopefully this will be the case for Aasia Bibi, a 45- year old Christian mother of five, whose situation now represents the madness that has become Pakistan. While working in her village she allegedly offered water to her Muslim co-workers who refused to accept it on the basis of her being “unclean”. Reports vary but the one used to pronounce her death sentence claims sworn statements by the other women that Aasia Bibi was disrespectful to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). She was arrested the next day and is in jail awaiting a decision by the Lahore High Court.

The flames of fanaticism have put out a reward of $5000 for anyone that is able to kill her while she is in jail! A few years ago two Christian men were acquitted by a higher court on blasphemy charges but killed as they left the court. The disconnect between the spirit of Islam and this insanity leaves non-rabid Muslims incredulous and pained. “Let there be no compulsion in religion” says the Quran (2:256). So why do Muslims feel they can force conversion or pressurize the observance of respect when none is felt?

Islam literally means submission to the will of God and the Quran states clearly that He directs those to the Light that He wills (26:35). Not only have Pakistanis become judge and jury, they have taken on the mantle of being God and The Prophet!

Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life was characterized by gentleness and forgiveness. He repeatedly suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of individuals and groups, but his response was not militancy but clemency. Muslims know the Taif incident in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was jeered at and injured with rocks and the angel Gabriel came to him and said that if Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wanted, the people of Taif could be destroyed. But Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prayed for his own relationship with the Almighty rather than death-wishes for the people of Taif.

Another current day ludicrous event is the arrest of Dr. Naushad Valiyani again on charges of blasphemy, this time for throwing the business card of a pharmaceutical representative named Muhammad Faizan in the trash can. Dr. Valiyani is an Ismaili, another minority Shia community in Pakistan. If this perverse logic is to be extrapolated, no one with the name of Muhammad, which happens to be the most common in the world, should be punished, reprimanded or questioned for it would activate the Blasphemy Law again.

During the rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Ahmadis a small community in Pakistan were classified as being non-Muslim, with mention of this status on their passports. As though this travesty were not enough, Ahmadis are killed on a regular basis at the instigation of well-known, so called “scholars” of Islam.

Pakistan is 96% Muslim, unlike secular Turkey which is 99% so. Pakistan’s constitution protects minorities and the white strip at the edge of its flag represents minorities while the larger green area represents Muslims.

In Pakistan’s educational system, the best and the brightest become doctors and lawyers. The orphaned and the disinterested become imams, mullahs and sheikhs. And they get captive audiences during the Friday sermon and prayer. There is a personal, national and international agenda at work with these blinkered mullahs and giving out of context hate-filled sermons is now national fare.

It is not Aasia Bibi that deserves to die or Dr. Valiyani that merits persecution; not only should there be repeal of the Blasphemy Law, Pakistan needs an ultra-rapid detoxification from its rabid mullahs that have hijacked Islam and misrepresented the Prophet. They are the true blasphemers.