The Anger Problem
By Aqsa Mahmud
05 Oct, 2012
Anger is the five-letter word that brews, spills over and cascades into the hearts of both the malicious instigator and the violent reactionary. It is a viral emotion and, once embedded, replicates within the individual, fed by the memories of injustice, persecution, and moral righteousness. Anger is present in much of the news cycle these days, especially when the media turns its eyes to the Muslim world. Repeatedly we see the incendiary reactions, a crowd turned violent, and drunk on its frustration against those who disrespect our faith and Prophet (PBUH). Pakistan has codified this anger into its blasphemy law. To many Pakistanis, this law is a cry: "Oh nonbeliever, think of the anguish we must feel at the desecration you commit!" And yet, I cannot help but ponder: What must they feel as the targets of our anger?
The blasphemy law was formulated not from the Qur'an but from the dictates of the paranoid national leadership of Pakistan
On January 4, 2011, I was shopping in Lahore when the streets quickly emptied and the store lights dimmed. The assassination of Salmaan Taseer spread a blanket of quiet across the city, its inhabitants uneasy about potential unrest. I watched the media recount Mr. Taseer's push to amend the blasphemy law, a woman caught within a haphazard legal regime, and the anger of one bodyguard that culminated in another man's death. As a Pakistani American, I have the advantage of an outsider, remaining emotionally detached yet observant of those around me. In this case, I sat in a living room where no one debated Asia Bibi's culpability, yet all harboured a wound from the possibility of a verbal abuse inflicted on their Holy Prophet (PBUH). I could see this wound fester into frustration which curdled into disgust against the alleged blasphemer. For a few moments, I found myself in an environment simmering with anger. Amidst these emotions, my company and I began a discussion: What would the Prophet (PBUH) have done?
As children, we are raised on the stories of the Prophet (PBUH) and his struggle in a community that initially rejected him. We empathize with the early Muslims who suffered through a campaign of hatred. Abu Jahl and his supporters restricted the trade and sale of food to the Prophet's family. Converts, especially slaves, suffered at the hands of their community. Islam was rejected, the Prophet (PBUH) abhorred, and his followers ill-treated yet, I find no message of mass violence against the actors. Notably, the Prophet (PBUH) was not always a pacifist. History tells of many conflicts, negotiations and wars undertaken by the Muslims and surrounding tribes. Regardless of the situation, whether in peace or conflict, the Prophet (PBUH) abstained from anger and remained committed to his responsibility as a messenger and guide for the ummah. His end goal was for the creation of a socially just and peaceful community. With this in mind, I ask the Muslim world today: Where is the Prophet (PBUH) in your conduct?
No one debated Asia Bibi's culpability, yet all harboured a wound from the possibility of a verbal abuse inflicted on their Holy Prophet (PBUH)
The social injustice suffered by the early ummah relates to the current treatment of non-Muslim minorities in certain parts of the Muslim world. Today's Muslim harbors a well of anger against those who disrespect the faith. At times, this emotion boils to violent extremes and, sadly, perverts the goal of a stable, diverse and supportive community. Before this anger reaches its tipping point, I would ask the Muslim to ponder the Prophet's actions in light of current events. Did he order an edict of violence against all those who blemished his name? Specifically, is Pakistan's blasphemy law in line with the ummah or does it exemplify an act of anger counter to the faith?
I would argue that the blasphemy law, as currently applied, is just one strain of the "anger infection" that runs rampant in Pakistan today. The blasphemy law has become a tool for victimization and, wielded maliciously, is used to terrorize a family for purposes of an unrelated squabble. It has been misapplied and, above all, wrongfully claimed to be "Islamic." The current law was formulated not from the Qur'an but from the dictates of the paranoid national leadership of Pakistan.
Anger is an obstacle to the faith but it can be overcome. Such was the tale of the man from Mecca whose heart, so filled with anger against Islam and its message, sent him out to kill the Prophet (PBUH). This man saw the Prophet (PBUH) as one who promoted a message that ran counter to the Meccan way of life. Before he could accomplish his task, however, the man heard the recitation of the Qur'an and his heart softened. Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, was once an angry man but, emptied of his anger, became one of the most beautiful personalities surrounding the Prophet (PBUH).
Anger is an emotion that must be soothed for it is ill-suited to the purposes of the ummah. If my anger were allowed to speak, it might demand the following: Where is the charge against the imam who falsely planted the evidence on Rimsha Masih? Is he not the true culprit and doer of the deed that, under the law, earns the harshest of penalties? This, however, would be my anger if I gave it the words for speech. Ultimately, I refuse to let this emotion thrive and douse it with compassion, praying for those who have wronged God, themselves and others. Compassion is the true emotion at the heart of the ummah.
Aqsa Mahmud graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and currently practices in Washington, DC