Happy new year?
WELL, hopefully, what with the obscurantist forces back on the march in an attempt to bludgeon into submission those who advocate the imperative and immediate need of making the blasphemy laws in this country less draconian, less obnoxious; what with the gas loadshedding that makes even cooking a meal an uphill task, let alone heating the house during this cold snap; and what with the power outages, five every day where we live in the Lahore cantonment.
Coming to the blasphemy law and to what seems to have impelled their holinesses to take up cudgels at this time against this much-misused law which misuse has seen many innocent people killed brutally before any blasphemy could be proved against them. It is curious that Maulana Fazlur Rehman should have been one of the leaders of a conference called to gather other holinesses under the banner of the Tahafuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat and to agitate the matter through protests and public meetings so soon after one of his party's federal ministers was sacked from the cabinet. Nor is this the only matter that points to the maulana's too-clever-by-half position on the blasphemy law. When confronted with the question that the law should be changed because it is often misused, the maulana asked that if a section of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was also misused did it mean that it should be changed. He also said that the law was misused against Muslims mainly, and less against minorities (so there is no need to change it).
For the first, one can immediately say that if certain sections of the PPC were open to misuse and a tweaking of those would make them fairer, they should be tweaked and changed and made fairer. As to the second assertion of the maulana, it is as important that the law be changed to benefit innocent Muslims as it should be changed for benefiting members of the minority communities. Who can forget the horrific murder of a hafiz-i-Quran in Gujranwala in 1994 at the hands of a mob egged on by the imam of a local mosque?
The poor man was beaten mercilessly, tied behind a motorcycle and dragged through the streets, and then set on fire. And all because he and the imam could not see eye to eye on certain matters. Some said at the time that the imam was less literate and less knowledgeable about religious texts than the victim, who was consulted more on matters theological by the locals than the imam. It is frightening, is it not, that the same people who admired him were his murderers too. Such is the power of a misused pulpit in a highly emotive matter such as blasphemy. Who can forget the case of Salamat Masih, a 12-year old, illiterate Christian boy who could neither read nor write, and who was accused, variously, of writing words and sentences blasphemous of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) on the walls of a mosque, and of writing blasphemous things on pieces of paper, wrapping a brickbat in that paper and flinging it into the mosque and on to those at prayer.
In short, every manner of impossible story was spun around poor Salamat Masih and his uncle too. All the evidence at the time pointed to the fact that the whole drama was staged by the local bigwig who asked favours of Salamat Masih's sister, favours that were not granted.
Pray look at the aftermath of this horrendous case: Masih's uncle was gunned down one day as uncle and nephew were waiting for a bus after the hearing of their appeal by the Lahore High Court. And the judge who acquitted Masih was himself shot and killed in his lawyer's chambers when he went back to practising law after leaving the bench.
There are many other heartwrenching stories of murder and mayhem to do with the blasphemy law, one of the most sad the torching of Christian homes in Gojra on the pretext of one of the residents committing blasphemy when the real reason was that some influential people wanted to grab the Christian's land.
So far we have only talked about Christians; that other much-persecuted community made up of our Ahmadi countrymen and women, our sisters and our brothers, has also been made the target of this law, about which I have written reams in the past.
I would call upon all Godfearing Muslims, especially our political leaders, to come together and join the movement to make changes in the blasphemy law which are necessary to ensure that it will never again be used to settle scores. If we are half as civilised as we say we are, we simply must open our hearts to our minorities. We must give them succour, for they too are the Almighty's children. Otherwise His will be a terrible accounting. Happy New Year (hope-fully!).