Friday, January 7, 2011

Salman Taseer's Death and the Blasphemy Law


So much has happened in the past few days (politically speaking, of course) that its hard to keep track of things now. It started with the murder of Governor (Punjab) Salman Taseer of course. What a huge shock it was - I still (although coming to accept it now) can't believe that the vibrant, totally active chalta phirta aadmi was gunned down when he was probably expecting it least, and from whom he would probably be expecting least. Although I'm not sure he had time to find out who shot him ...

*shudder*. What a horrible absolutely terrible way to die.

The gunman said that he did it because of Salman Taseer's stance on the blashphemy law. How in the world do we believe :

1. He (the gunman) is telling the absolute truth?
2. He (the gunman) was alone in this - didn't have any backing behind him
3. That this was no deep-rooted conspiracy to de-stablize the political structure of the province ??

Suppose we do believe that gunman. Even then, there are some glaring omissions in the whole story. Some people say that Mr. Taseer was not against the law, he was only against its misuse. Check this out:

Lemme quote a little: It's taken from Newsline:

Q: Do you advocate repeal of those provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code better known as the Blasphemy Law?

A: If you want my personal opinion, I don’t like this law at all. I understand we are working in a coalition government and that being the case what we can do is to amend the law in such a way that the maker of a false accusation is tried under the same law.

Q: What kind of perverse pleasure is there in oppressing the weak and vulnerable?
A: Unfortunately and sadly there are people who feel bigger when they pick on someone who cannot fight back. It’s called bullying. I went to Sheikhupura jail to stand up against a bully and it has encouraged others to do so as well. That’s what taking a moral stance is. I am honestly happy to say that I am heartened by the huge response from ordinary folk. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. Ghamdi, for example, has stated clearly that this has nothing to do with Islam – Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.
Check the italicized bit again. Whatever I have read online and listened to news anchors/interviewers (and interviewees) say on TV, they have made out as if he wasn't against the blasphemy law at all - only against its misuse. If that is true, why is his above comment making the conclusion that he is only agreeing to amend the law, because they're working in a coalition government, and if he ever had his way, he would do away with the law.

So what is the blasphemy law anyway. Deciding to bypass interpretations of the law, I read the law in Pakistan's Penal Code - under section on Religious Offences - and I am pasting the relevant Article here:

295-C.Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet:
Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

As soon as I read this law, being a Muslim, what should immediately spring to my mind? Indeed, what would automatically spring to any Muslim's brain after reading this?

That I don't LIKE this law??????????????????

Or, that it adequately covers any scenario in which Hazrat Muhammad (peace be upon him) can be abused by anybody, Muslim or non Muslim... Here, it never specifies that the perpetrator has to belong to a particular religion. It only specifies the act itself. And if the law is misused... (er, they say its misused but I have yet to se any grotesque sentencing being carried out against anybody who is alleged to blaspheme in this country).....then the law itself is not to be blamed, only the implementors. Despite the strict tareen law, the alleged perpetrators are never given capital punishment - and they say the law is being misused and targetting minorities?

I will never say that the case of Aasia bibi and others in her position, should be concluded by doing away with them all - no way. I'd rather want to see the trials being carried out publically, witnesses brought in, and then the decisions given as to whether these people really deserve punishment or have been detained on minor charges.

Check out these Articles:
295-A.Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs:
Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.

298.Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings:
Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.

Weird no? I don't see arrests taking place on this one. I mean, this is the most effective means of appearing cool in the 'intellectual masses' of this country now. Not to mention, the fastest way to get popular in the elite... and a totally workable way to get your articles published in places like the Express Tribune, and Guardian (or even Dawn Blog). 

So rounding up this post, I'd definitely want more investigation to take place where that gunman of Dawat-e-Islami is concerned. We don't know who instigated him, who motivated him and who got him in for guard duty anyway.

It would also be cool if we refrain from making sweeping statements regarding Salman Taseer's entry into heaven or hell too.


majworld said...

i think its a case of killing an innocent soul who was a kalma saying muslim..and can't be muslim says the punishment of death should be finished on blasphemy..its only that the case should have evidence too or may be documented (like in the case of ghazi ilm din shaheed, the hindu wrote the book)so that it can't be used against innocent people as revenge and hence committ blasphemy in itself...nd that was the thing salman taseer supported..and as some columnist said today that we are only ashiq e rasool (S.A.A.W) and not his ummati..
we lack tolerance and education in our society and big part of this responsibilty is on such govt officials too who have not let poor people of this country get education and hence someone had to pay in the end..
Rest allah knows better..

Uni said...

I am not condoning the murder - I'm merely talking about the analysis that is given after the murder. What the analysts say is that the governor was not against the law - and evidence is contrary.

Even then, it is not upto an individual to take the law in his own hands, definitely.

Tolerance is definitely needed, especially in the rural areas (where this kind of thing happens a lot). But I wouldn't conclude that that was what Taseer was doing - he wasn't taking the path of educating the people or imparting tolerance. He was talking (from the interview) about abrogating the law (preferred), and if not, then amending it. SO that it is not abused.

He was tackling the problem from the blasphemy law end , whereas the problem lay in the implementation (education etc all falls in this category).

Yet, I reiterate, it isn't in anybody's hands to get up one morning and kill the other person.

Thanks for your take on the issue :)

majworld said...

ya, problem lies in the implementation end...nd he should have been more careful in his use of words and dealt such sensitive issue with more care...may be we shouldn't make any strong opinion based on self analysis due to lack of knowledge.
anyways, may allah lead us to right path..ameen

Uni said...

Totally true. We don't know the whole story. That's why sweeping statements (like he was guilty/innocent, and the murderer is great etc) should be avoided at all cost.

Ameen to your dua.

iRant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Salman Javaid said...

Oye you have certainly got more religious in all these days. :P

But you should be a little less self righteous. I am a Muslim too. And most certainly, you can't define what to me Islam is, the same way I can't define what is it to you. Khair, point being, article 295 should remain there, so as if someone gets smart, he gets the smartness back at him.

Uni said...

Er, when was I not religious?

The point wasn't to appear self-righteous... the point was not issue individual fatwas about the killer or the governor, without adequate knowledge of what really happened. Also, that there are some questions about the analysis that came out (and is still coming out) in the aftermath of the shooting. That's all.

Sure, we cannot define what Islam is to other Muslims - but I hope you know that this does not include basic beliefs (for e.g Tauheed for you cannot be different from Tauheed for me)

Thanks for dropping by!

Salman Javaid said...

Leh, even the word Tauheed can have a thousand meanings, you know. There is a reason why Ibn e Arabi is considered a kafir by so many of the literalist-s. The whole concept of God is in everything and is everything. And why I still revere him as one of the most important influences upon Islam in its history, a humane influence.

Point -> There are no fundamental denominators to Islam. To be frank, that's what has led me to be a better and more understanding Muslim. We are a product of our society, our histories. We can't exist beyond them. Now may be some of us get through it, but in general it isn't the case. Intellectual enlightenment isn't for everyone, sadly.

Uni said...

Er, Tauheed wouldn't have a thousand meanings, because the scenario I'm referring to is that of Muslims (singularity of God - I'm not talking about definition of God) ...

Ibn-e-Arabi? (er, I haven't read him). Why is he considered a kafir?

Salman Javaid said...

There, Uni, there. There have been so many movements within Islam that to restrict any word, any thought to a single common denominator serves no purpose. In the end we end up dividing each other even more. You know when you say God is in everything, well, that does mean something. I won't say what. See, there are tons of narratives there.

Google Arabi! He was by far one of the most significant thinkers of Islam. You know what? Here, lemme quote you a book. I know, I know, you will argue, hey you, you quote me bad bad books. But even then. :P

A History of Muslim Philosophy by M.M. Sharif. Its in two volumes. Big heavy books. But I think you have the passion to doubt. Hopefully you will fall in love with them. :)

Uni said...

Lol. It was a simple thing really, and currently even with all the sects around us, this one definition of SINGLE/ONE Allah SWT has remained intact.
I'm weirded out by the fact that you don't think so.

Er, no thanks. I'm not venturing on your suggested-books path again. Learned my lesson with Tariq Ali.

Passion to doubt? You do realize that doubt can only be restricted to some areas - and not others. Cuz then it would infringe heavily on faith.

Thanks for the comment.

MAK said...

How can calling a law black law (kala kanoon) show a person in the favor of that law?

As for evidence, never seen it only heard it, in a trial that lasted for 1.5 years she had confessed it on several occasions. So if there is a confession then i think there is nothing left to argue.

I think it was an individual act of person who shot salman taseer, if there was some foreign force acting with him then he would had killed himself rather than surrendering.

As for the law such as these, they can never be wrong.

Uni said...

True. If I call a law (itself) black/unlikeable, then obviously that means I'm not in favor of it.

Confessions are rather falling on deaf ears :). Pope has asked for mercy and what not.

Your logic about individual person shooting makes sense, but the way all religious laws can come under attack/condemnation by this, shows a higher purpose than mere individual indignation.

Thanks for the comment!

kino said...

My previous submission attempt seems to have failed for some reason. Here it is again. If I mistaken, please feel free to delete it:

My apologies for flogging a dead thread. Regarding the convo on Tauheed and various meanings, I think the argument went without the two of your realizing that both of you have elements of truth in your respective positions. But you can never go anywhere without taking conscious stock of the disparity of your approach to the issue and its logical consequences.

There are two ways to understand a subject. One is to learn it out from its sources and then try to see through the lens of your understanding how people have been dealing with that idea. A person with this approach is bound to be opinionated as to who got it right and who wrong.

The other is to familiarize yourself by carrying out a historical survey of how different communities or schools of thoughts have been understanding a particular idea. This will probably broaden your horizon as to the breadth underlying the meaning of a particular idea but you would never be able to be in a decisive position, even for your own self, to say who is right or wrong. The most you would be able to do is to introduce an external principle to the debate and try to sort out one of the many interpretations on the basis of it. In Salman's case, that external principle appears to be tolerance, but I might be wrong.

If that was all too abstract, let me give you a simple example. Consider how many perspectives people have on the views of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He has been called secular, religious, opportunist, etc. If you read a survey of opinions held about the views of Jinnah, you probably say, in honesty actually, that he was a fluid person who didn't have any specific and consistent line of thinking. And if you must choose one over others, you might prefer secular perspective, for example, if you already hold it dear whilst asking people not to be firm about anything.

But if you read up his biography, go through his speeches, read the letters he sent to various people on different occasions, you might eventually end up taking sides as to what he actually was and what has been the correct understanding of his acts and motives. I can perhaps cite numerous examples but that might become redundant I am afraid.

Tawheed is no different. I don't know why we need to go so back to the times of Ibn Arabi when we can just have a look around to our own surroundings for vivid examples. People believing in Tauheed are found to be and not praying at graves, calling and not calling upon the dead for help, etc etc. Some otherwise perfectly secular people in media are advocating Sufism these days, or at least lamenting our move away from it you know why? Because they think it is the more tolerant of all interpretations of Islam. Apparently, in their view, intellectual rigor in establishing the precincts of Sufism from Quran and Sunnah is not important. Times are violent so anything which can apparently pacify things down is the way to go. This by the way is not to bias you towards or against Sufism. That is not the issue at hand.

I can go on and on but the length of this write-up has already made it into an oxymoron of a comment. Apologies yet again for that!

Uni said...

Sorry for the mishap. The comments went to spam (don't know why). And I got them in email, and was wondering where in heavens are they on blogger! Just found out about spam comments today!

Anyway, thanks so very much for your valuable input.

If that was all too abstract, let me give you a simple example.

Thank the Lord :D

I understand the Jinnah example you gave. And I think the approach of studying his life, his speeches etc to form an opinion about his thinking is most logical.

Tawheed is no different?????

Listen. The question that Jinnah was secular or not, is an OPEN question... Tawheed (a/c to what I was saying earlier) is not an OPEN question... :S It's a matter of belief in the ONE God.

I wasn't talking about the extra things people do, while believing in the One Allah (SWT). I was merely talking about Tawheed having one definition - and thats oneness of God.

Yes, people do exist who do stuff that contradicts that belief, but then, that doesn't change the essential definition of Tawheed, does it. Hope you get what I'm (very simplistically) trying to say.

The fact that there are no common denominators in Islam doesn't ring true for this very reason - Oneness of Allah, Quran (and there may be several more examples) can never have meanings other than what they are.. :S

No problem about length of comment. It was very insightful. JizakAllah!

kino said...

Just to add something which I omitted while in my rush to leave for work. By saying that Tawheed has had different 'sense of meaning' (to avoid contradicting you :) for different groups of people does not mean that now I am implying that there is no common denominator in Islam. Because I consider it to be a non-sequitur and have no idea why it manages to work people up. Whether it is true or false cannot prevent a person with his own understanding of Islam, which is not based upon surveys, from informing others as to what is and what is not from Islam/Quran/Tawheed/etc. And that is basically it.

Uni said...

of people does not mean that now I am implying that there is no common denominator in Islam.

Because I consider it to be a non-sequitur and have no idea why it manages to work people up. Whether it is true or false cannot prevent a person with his own understanding of Islam, which is not based upon surveys, from informing others as to what is and what is not from Islam/Quran/Tawheed/etc. And that is basically it.

Er, I am completely lost in the 'its' (in bold) - could you um, use the word instead of the pronoun??

Sorry for being dumb.

kino said...

Sometimes I know I get obscure. By 'it', I was referring to common denominator(s), its presence or a lack thereof.

And isn't there some more junk in your spam folder?

Uni said...

Oh, I see. Got it. I think..


And um, there is the first comment you wrote - that's there. Bus. Why?

kino said...

I actually wrote quite a few notes yesterday which didn't appear. But never mind, I will think it was meaningless blabber.

Uni said...


I (or the inbox, or even the spam comments page on blogger) haven't received any other comment.

And hey, no comment here is meaningless blabber.

I am usually very humbled people take the time out. So JizakAllah for the comments, and it wouldn't be half bad if you take the trouble to re-post them.

kino said...

Well, it was written with spur-of-the-moment thoughts and I really don't feel it right now. Wish I had saved it like before. But thanks for appreciation.

Uni said...

Oh no problem indeed.