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Islamic Society ( 8 Jan 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan and Indonesia Must be Repealed


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

09 January 2017

After pumping bullets into the body of Salman Taseer, his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri willingly gave himself up to the security guards as if announcing to the world at large that he had accomplished his job. This job that he took upon himself after listening to a conservative Mullah was to murder the then Punjab governor because he wanted to repeal the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Someone who wanted such a sacred law was himself deemed as a blasphemer and therefore in the eyes of this pious Muslim, he was liable to be killed. This was not the work of some deranged Muslim. It was an act carried out in full consciousness of doing Allah work and in the firm belief that this is what Islam decreed.

Mumtaz Qadri was given a hero’s welcome when he appeared in the court. And finally after his conviction and execution, he has become a martyr in the cause of Islam. On the fifth death anniversary of the assassination of the Punjab governor yesterday, thousands gathered and marched in support of blasphemy law and mourned the ‘illegal’ killing of Mumtaz Qadri. Clearly then for these Islamists and other pious Muslims, the court verdict has no meaning: Mumtaz Qadri was and will remain a hero for them no matter what the Pakistani courts think about it. This is not a sentiment which should be treated lightly; it is not just a matter of few thousands Muslims believing in an erroneous interpretation of Islam. This is the new common sense in Pakistan and perhaps no one is publically willing to take a position against it.

Analysts say that it is understandable that these things are happening in Pakistan. After all the country was made in the name of Islam; so it is a natural outcome that Islam will pay an important role in the public sphere. But then similar things are happening in Indonesia, a country whose tolerance and democracy was touted as the role model for Muslim countries the world over. The world’s most populous Muslim country with mind boggling diversity in terms of ethnicity, religions and languages is today falling prey to the same rhetoric making Islam the only standard against which all other religious and secular traditions must be judged and evaluated.

The question in Indonesia has to do with the quoting of certain Quranic verses by a Christian governor popularly called Ahok. The problem is not so much that he showed disrespect to these verses, but the sentiment amongst the Muslims is that how can a Christian quote a verse from the Quran. Ahok is currently being tried for blasphemy amidst worldwide media attention. There must be international pressure on the Indonesian government in this case. But then the bigger problem which must make us think is why so many Muslims have rallied behind the call to prosecute Ahok in Indonesia. A country which was known for Islamic tolerance and pluralism and whose earlier president, Abdur Rahman Wahid, saw no contradiction between Islamic piety and reciting the Ramayana today is under tremendous interpretive stress which threatens to tear apart the religious and plural fabric of the country.

What is wrong or should we say what went wrong? The first and foremost reason is the enactment of the law itself. Pakistan, with its chequered legacy of democracy and popular will, enacted this law to make the state more legitimate in the eyes of the people. However, it is true that during the various military rules in Pakistan, although this law existed, it was not used frequently. But with democratic governments of the last decade, this law has been used to target religious minorities, particularly Christians. It is also well documented that it has also been used to settle personal scores. There is an added dimension to the application of this law in Pakistan. Most Christians against whom this law has been applied have been ex untouchables and as such Islam which purportedly does not recognise any caste divisions comes in handy in Pakistan to perpetuate a discriminatory social order. Families have been destroyed because of this law: indeed there is ample evidence to suggest that the law only exists to target minorities and evict them from their properties. But even a hint of suggestion that this law should be repealed makes the Mullahs take the streets and issue threats to the government that grave dangers will be visited upon them if they think of tampering with the law. A state, weak in terms of sovereignty does not have many choices but to bow down before the monster that it helped create.

It is heartening that there are enough people inside Indonesia who want the repeal of this law. But it is also true that there are many militant Islamic groups who would threaten danger if the government even hints at the idea of repealing the law. After all the whole campaign against Ahok was orchestrated by one of these militant Islamic groups called Islamic Defenders Front. The real purpose of these so called defenders of Islam in Pakistan and Indonesia is not to bring out the tolerant and plural ethos of Islam, rather it is make Islam into an insular religion and become its champion bully.


Arshad Alam is a columnist