By Brig Shaukat Qadir
For evil to prosper, it is enough that good men sit back, doing nothing. What is blasphemy? Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘the act of insulting or showing contempt or irreverence to God’ and ‘the act of claiming attributes of a deity’. The Greek word was first coined in the thirteenth century, probably in the context of ‘witch hunting’ in Christianity.
Until the seventeenth century, it was used exclusively as defined above. There onwards, its usage steadily became wider. A dictionary example of its widened usage is ‘blasphemy to friendship’. I wonder if anyone in the world has ever considered punitive measures against blasphemers in its wider usage; consider the example cited above.
If the above history is correct, the English language did not contain the word blasphemy when Islam was born. However, Islam had its parallel to the word ‘blasphemy’ in Arabic ‘Shirq’.
I must admit freely that I am not a religious scholar and my knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence is, indeed, very rudimentary. But I still am a student with a curious mind and have read some Islamic history.
If I have my historical facts correct, the Holy Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was called by all kinds of foul words. His path was often strewn with thorns and garbage. He was even frequently showered with human excrement. To the best of my knowledge, however, the Prophet (PBUH) never ordered any punitive retaliation against anybody who had plagued him thus.
In fact, an oft-narrated incident says that there once lived a particularly vindictive lady who tormented him daily but he still persisted in taking the same route. One day when she did not torment him, the Prophet (PBUH) stopped to inquire why. On learning that the lady was unwell, he visited to wish her well. The amazed lady converted.
Similarly, the religion itself was abused every day in that era and, to my knowledge, no perpetrator was ever punished.
Historically, the only actions taken against Shirk were those against false prophets during the times of Khulafa-e-Rashideen. Even during these attacks, Muslim commanders were ordered not to punish those who returned to Islam.
So where have we, the Muslims of Pakistan, found the concept of blasphemy? A concept that impassions us so much so that we kill those accused, even before charges are proven against them?
Again, if I remember our religious history, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had fallen to the wrath of God, but not by human hands.
It is Allah, the all-knowing, all-powerful, who protects his people; not the people who protect Allah. When he chooses to, he commands as little as an army of birds to destroy a group to save others.
I hope you recall the second part of the definition of blasphemy, ‘an act of claiming attributes of a deity’. This is, in fact, the very interpretation that Islamic jurists gave to Shirq. Thus, while Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) refused to punish anyone for acts against his person, the Caliph ordered violence to any person(s) claiming attributes of a deity; the false prophets.
By the foregoing, it is my view not of a layman but a curious student of many subjects, including Islam, that blasphemy or, to be more exact, Shirk, is committed only when a human takes upon himself the attributes of a deity.
Repeatedly, the Holy Quran tells us not to judge our fellow man (on religious matters) and that it is not for a human to know the intent, Niyat, of any other human, and that his/her Niyat alone decides his fate in the eyes of his Allah.
Thus, when a self-styled Maulana—whose self-styled title of Maulana I refuse to accept—-tells us that “a Pakistani soldier killed in action is not Shaheed” or another who says that if “an American kills even a dog, it is Shaheed”, or another who tells us who will go to Heaven, are guilty of Shirk in my view.
Instead of taking such presumptuous fools to court, we allow them to inflame us and kill innocent people; only to discover that the one who inflamed had a personal interest e.g. misappropriating the innocent accused’s property or ruining his business. Tragically, more often than not, by the time that realisation dawns, the innocent is already dead, lost, or destined for years in court cases.
Islam is not a cruel religion. It is not pacifist like Christianity, but nor is it vengeful as the western Muslim-haters would like to depict it to be. But, this is not all that blasphemy could do for you.
If you were a judge and complaints against you were about to be heard by the Supreme Judicial Council, and you found yourself a case against mysterious blasphemers, you could be saved.
Now, when you go to court next day, let the fear of Hellfire and Brimstone loose from your tongue. Harangue the LEA, threaten court officials, threaten to bring all government ministers, the army chief, the DG ISI to court. Just let all and sundry know how devout a Muslim and anti-blasphemer you are and how far you are determined to pursue this blasphemer of blasphemers.
The media will provide you more than ample coverage, even as you protest against it and claim righteousness is its own reward.
For fear of your new-found stature, like that of the killer of blasphemers, Mumtaz Qadri, no one will dare try you. And if tried and convicted, your judge will have to flee the country for fear of reprisal. Shame on us, the educated citizens of this benighted country, for falling so low.
Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired soldier with pretensions of being able to think