By: Gulamhusein A. Abba
March 10, 2011
I am a Muslim. I hold Prophet Muhammed in high esteem and have great admiration, respect and regard for him. But that cannot and does not prevent me from condemning in the strictest terms possible the murder on Wednesday, February 2, of the only Christian federal government minister in Pakistan for allegedly blaspheming Islam.
Shahbaz Bhatti was a Minister for Minorities in the Government of Pakistan. He was a prominent opponent of the blasphemy law in Pakistan that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam and or Prophet Muhammed. He is the second senior official this year to be murdered for opposing that law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was also shot dead by his own bodyguard just a month earlier, in January, for the same reason.
Neither Shabaz nor Salman blasphemed. They merely opposed the blasphemy law as it stood and asked for amendments to it. Even if they had blasphemed, that does not allow private individuals to take the law into their own hands and kill them. There is the blasphemy law. They could have been tried under it.
I go further and say that even if they had been found guilty under that law, it would have been disgraceful, to say the least, to put them to death for that..
I understand that religion is a sensitive subject. People who will not ordinarily harm a fly will die, and kill, for religion!
But Islam is not served by putting blasphemers to death. I am certain that were Prophet Muhammed alive today, he too would have opposed the death penalty mandated under this particular law in Pakistan.
The self styled protectors of Islam who put Shabaz and Salman to death bring not glory to Islam but ridicule and contempt.
In this time and age, putting people to death by stoning, or in any other manner, for any crime, is archaic.
What Muslims need to understand is that the way to counter blasphemies is to make greater efforts to spread the truth about Islam and Prophet Muhammed. The weapon against untruth is neither guns nor the guillotine but truth.
When Gandhi started the Quit India movement to rid India of British rule, I supported and participated in the movement. However, I also supported and worked for the creation of Pakistan.
Just as my love and respect for Islam and Prophet Muhammed does not prevent me from condemning the assassins who killed Shabaz and Salman, my having worked for the creation of Pakistan does not prevent me for censuring the Pakistani Government for having a law that mandates death for insulting Islam or speaking ill of Prophet Muhammed, and more particularly, for the way it has handled the cases of Shabaz and Salman.
Shabaz was very aware of the assassination of Salman. He had received death threats. He knew his life was in danger. He even made a video about it. The Government had been informed about the danger to his life. Yet he was shot eight times, in broad daylight, in his car near his home as he was heading to work in Islamabad.
The windshield of Shaqbaz’s car had four or five bullet holes. Blood covered the back seat. According to his driver, Gul Sher, a white car stopped near the car carrying Shabaz near a crossing. One of the four people sitting in the car got out, came in front of the car and opened fire from a Kalashnikov.
Surely it was the responsibility and the duty of the Government to have seen to it that Shabaz had protection as he travelled to work. But there was no security there whatsoever. Just Shabaz and Gul Sher – and the killer in a white car.
Chilling is the fact that Salman’s killer was lionized in Pakistan. Huge processions were taken out in his honor. Shockingly, lawyers, in their black robes, joined in.
True that government officials condemned Mr. Bhatti’s killing Wednesday. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani condemned the killing and ordered the Ministry of Interior to investigate.
But, after the Punjab province governor was killed in January, Gillani and other politicians disowned advocacy of reform of laws that make insulting Islam a capital crime. In fact, Sherry Rehman, a ruling party lawmaker who had proposed legislation to reform the anti-blasphemy laws, withdrew the bill, saying the party did not support it. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly said it would not change the blasphemy law, and officials have distanced themselves from anyone calling for amendments
And, significantly, neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor Prime Minister Gillani attended Salman’s funeral.
These two assassinations represent a severe blow to Pakistani liberals, who are increasingly being silenced by Muslim hard-liners willing to use violence against those who do not share their harsh views.
Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, said in a statement, “The time has come for the federal government and provincial governments to speak out and to take a strong stand against these murderers, to save the very essence of Pakistan.”
If the Government of Pakistan is serious about dealing with the Taliban and violent, extremist and radical Islamists, it must do more than issuing formal condemnations of such killings and ordering investigations.
For starters, the government must systematically arrest those who incite and praise murderers.
For its part, Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has not championed the views of Shabaz or Salman, needs to mobilize its large voting base to take to the streets in support of tolerance.
Leaflets distributed at the scene of the shooting claimed responsibility on behalf of “Al Qaeda and the Taliban of Punjab,” and read: “This is the punishment of this cursed man.”
The note went on to say that “with the blessing of Allah, the majahideen will send each of you [anti-blasphemy law campaigners] to hell,” according to The Guardian.
While who goes to heaven and who to hell can only be determined by God, the Government of Pakistan must do all in its power to arrest and send into jail those who distribute such leaflets.
This does not concern the Government of Pakistan or the Muslims of that country alone. Muslims all over the world must speak out on this issue, and, whatever their views may be on the blasphemy laws in Pakistan and other countries, they need to unequivocally condemn murders by private individuals who style themselves as protectors of Islam and go about committing mayhem in the name of Islam.
To understand what the Pakistan blasphemy laws says, read the snippets on this BBC Report: Pakistan’s Controversial Blasphemy Laws
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