By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Future historians of Pakistan will mark January 4, 2011 as a significant date in the history of the country. This is the day two ideas of Pakistan finally collided in a parking lot in F-6 Islamabad. What followed was religious, social and legal chaos which continues till date and one fears will not abate unless another like SalmaanTaseer emerges on the scene.
Governor SalmaanTaseer represented the best that Pakistan had to offer. Hailing from Pakistan's intellectual aristocracy, being the son of Dr Muhammad Din Taseer, a significant figure in the intellectual history of this region, SalmaanTaseer was nevertheless a self-made man. His father had died when he was six years old. Brought up by his mother, young Taseer made a mark for himself in business and politics. A career professional, a chartered accountant educated in St Anthony's and England, Taseer rose through the ladders of both the corporate and political worlds through sheer hard work and a bit of luck. By the fateful day of his assassination, Governor Taseer had transcended the worlds of politics and business. He had become a veritable symbol of a progressive and inclusive Pakistan embodying a tolerant view of Islam that held out the hope for peaceful coexistence with Pakistan's increasingly insecure minorities. His assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, represented something quite different though: he was the living embodiment of what happens when the intelligentsia of a Muslim nation state delegate something as important as religion to illiterate Ulema who are completely out of step with the march of humanity that we have witnessed in the last century. 27 Bullets. It was physical butchery of our ideals, of the tolerant traditions of Islam, and of that idea of Pakistan that includes within its concept of citizenship millions of Non-Muslims.
SalmaanTaseer was assassinated because he had dared to question the blasphemy law i.e. Section 295-C of the Pakistan penal Code. Supreme Court of Pakistan has since then ruled that questioning the blasphemy law does not amount to blasphemy. Every citizen has the right to question a law that militates against his or her conscience. But that is not the point I wish to make. We already know that Section 295-C does not sit easily with Pakistan's constitutional and international obligations vis a vis human rights. Was it that easy, however, the said law would have been struck down a long time ago by any court of conscience! The point I wish to make is outside the framework of constitutional rights and international human rights simpliciter. Section 295-C militates against Islamic jurisprudence itself and any student of Islamic jurisprudence who has honestly studied the faith of Islam cannot help but come to the conclusion that by enacting Section 295-C, Pakistan's National Assembly in 1986, elected along non-party lines, did a great disservice to the eternal and immutable legal doctrine of Islam. This is my view as a Muslim and as a lawyer who has studied Islamic jurisprudence in some detail.
Most significantly blasphemy is a tazir offence and not a Hadd offence under Islamic law. No religious scholar of Islam will tell you otherwise. This is because the Holy Quran does not prescribe a punishment for blasphemy. This in itself makes the whole issue of blasphemy law a discretionary measure and not binding for a Muslim state to follow. The majority view in Islam has been for the 1000 years that death for blasphemy, in the rarest and most extreme of cases, can only be awarded to an unrepentant Muslim male unless he repents and there is always room for repentance under Islam. There is no death penalty for women or Non-Muslims for blasphemy under Islamic law. Hanafi jurisprudence on the issue is as clear as it can be on the issue. How then can we claim that Section 295-C of the PPC represent Allah's law when it contravenes the basic principles of Usul-ul-Fiqh?
It was this view that SalmaanTaseer was "guilty" of airing. He did not commit any blasphemy but Mumtaz Qadri, hailed as Ilam Din of our times, gunned him down as a "Gustakh-E-Rasool". This plea (i.e. Taseer committed blasphemy) was summarily rejected both by the High Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled not only that the late Governor had not committed any blasphemy but that even if he had, which he did not, Mumtaz Qadri should have brought a case against him under the relevant provision of law. Therein lies the truth of the matter. The reason why Qadri gunned down the Governor was because he knew that such a charge would not stick under the law- the same law which he apparently thought was God's word. He was driven by his ego and a false sense of religious righteousness. Make no mistake about it: this was not the action of an Ashiq-e-Rasool (PBUH).
They say ideas cannot be killed but the assassination of Taseer certainly put the idea of a tolerant Pakistan in the ICU. Since 2011, every other cleric has been issuing Fatwas of blasphemy against all and sundry. The latest amongst those accused is none other than Mr. Imran Khan of PTI. How he responds would be interesting to watch but sooner or later this fire will engulf us all, unless we are willing to fight back and reclaim Islam from those who have made a mockery of it. This is what Governor Taseer was doing. This is why he died. For Pakistan. For Islam. The Islam of compassion and mercy. Long live Salmaan Taseer.