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.