The Problem With Heroes
The Problem With Heroes
by: Waqas A. Khan
Our great nation can proudly celebrate heroes from all walks of life.
As we gaze upon the map of our beautiful country, many probably are unaware of the contributions of S.P. Singha, the first and only non-Muslim speaker of the Punjab Assembly. Singha, a Christian, was elected Speaker and offered unconditional support to Pakistan during the 3 Davis Road meeting in Lahore. Undaunted by death threats, he voted in favor of Pakistan when the vote was tied.
Despite his service and allegiance, Singha was informed that only Muslims could serve as Speaker. A no-confidence vote was taken and it ousted him from the lofty position. Despite years of devoted service to his nation, he was punished – and left shaken – because of his faith.
Wing Commander Mervy n Middlecoat, a Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot took part in several aerial battles during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani wars. Born in India, he married the daughter of a Christian family from Karachi, and gave his life for Pakistan during the latter conflict. After his F-104 Star fighter was struck by a missile fired from an Indian fighter jet, he was seen ejecting into shark-infested waters of the Arabian Sea.
Janitor Pervez Masih lost his life in 2009 when a veiled suicide bomber tried to enter the girls’cafeteria of International Islamic University in the capital. He rushed the attacker, held him and perished in the ensuing blast.
Last March, Akash Bashir, a 20-year-old security volunteer at the St.John Church in Youhanabad anticipated that it was a suicide bomber who was running toward his church. He intercepted the man outside, held him as tightly as he could, until the bomb exploded. His actions are credited with saving hundreds of souls inside.
Like Singha, Masih and Bashir were Christians but were caught by the problem with heroes.
And in May 2015, young Christian solider Haroon Javaid Maseeh, sacrificed his life fighting for Pakistan Army against Taliban in Tirah Valley of North Waziristan.
In January,Anwar Ali, 15, performed an act of self-amputation with a scythe after attending a melad in a mosque of Hujra Shah Muqeem. He permanently disabled himself because “Maulana” Shabbir Ahmad challenged anyone who did not love Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to raise his hand. Apparently not grasping the cleric’s words, the boy raised his hand; an act deemed blasphemous by Shabbir. He reportedly denounced the boy as a “blasphemer who was liable to be killed.”
Ali was taunted by those in attendance. So distraught, he sawed off his hand and presented it on a plate to the cleric as he sought forgiveness for his “sin.”
According to 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, blasphemy is”use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by importation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
It is worth pondering that the concept of blasphemy and the prescribed punishment are contradictory to the Qur’an and the Prophet’s conduct. Instead, restraint and distance from blasphemous persons and situations are the Qur’an’s prescription.
“And it has already been revealed to you in the Book (this Qur’an) that when you hear the Verses of Allah being denied and mocked at, then sit not with them, until they engage in a talk other than that.” [Qur’an 4:140]
“And when they hear any vain talk, they turn away from it, saying: “We have our deeds and you have your deeds. Peace be to you. We do not desire to act like the ignorant.” [Qur’an 28: 55]
“Take what is given freely, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” [Qur’an 7:199]
“And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance.” [Qur’an 73:10]
“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” [Qur’an 25:63]
“Allah is with those who restrain themselves.” [Qur’an 16: 128]
Other verses emphasize forgiveness and restraint in such a situation. Still in any case, if punishment is to be given, the Quran explains thusly:
“And if you punish [an enemy, O believers], punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed. But if you are patient – it is better for those who are patient.” [Qur’an 16:126]
Does Pakistan’s blasphemy law even touch the outer fringes of the letter and the spirit of the Quranic position on the subject?
No, it does not.
If Islam is meant to be extreme toward blasphemy, why does the word “blasphemy” never appear in the Quran?
To understand, let’s think of the Moulanas, who used to strictly forbid others from taking photos and appearing on television? I recall, during my matriculation when I visited “Ijtama-e-aam” of “Dawat-e-Islami” in Multan, I tried to take a photo of the head of the organization. I was not only “huntered,” but my camera was broken and thrown away.
Now the Moulanas have launched their own TV channels. In Pakistan “Madni Channel” and “Pegham TV” are examples.
Have you ever thought about the Quranic verses and hadiths quoted by these Moulanas then to forbid filming and photography in Islam?
Where have they gone?
The Quran, nor the hadiths, which are the authentic narrations of the Prophet, have not changed one bit. Only the Moulanas have changed. There are more than 200 verses in the Quran that reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now called ‘blasphemy or abuse of the Prophet,’ but nowhere does the Quran prescribe physical punishment or death.
Now I hear the chants from the mobs in support of Mumtaz Qadri, convicted killer of Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab province. Taseer had spoken out in favor of Asia Bibi who was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Bibi, for more than five years steadfastly denied she had insulted the Prophet Mohammed. She maintained that her Muslim accusers were waging a very personal vendetta. The Supreme Court in Pakistan eventually suspended the Christian woman’s execution.
Taseer had seemed to strongly advocate the need for change in current law when he said,“The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenseless are targeted? How come over 50 percent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 percent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities. What I find particularly distasteful is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder.”
While hearing an appeal by Qadri, who was seeking to be set free on the basis of Sharia Law, the bench in the Supreme Court observed that the entire argument of Qadri’s counsel would be rendered irrelevant if it could not establish that Taseer had committed blasphemy.
Instead, Qadri, a former Elite Force commando and bodyguard of Taseer, betrayed his oath, duty, responsibility and violated the constitution of Pakistan. He killed a man who was not proven guilty by any competent authority just for raising his voice against the discrimination found in the 295-C section of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The stance that ‘blasphemers who ask for a pardon would be spared the death penalty’ has already been established by Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi school of thought. The letter of the law 295-C makes no mention of the permissibility of pardoning a blasphemer. In fact, it is a Federal Sharia Court interpretation of the law that serves as the operational blueprint of the application of the law, which rules out pardon.
Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said criticizing a law does not amount to blasphemy and that the press clippings presented in court did not provide sufficient evidence to maintain Taseer had committed blasphemy.
Once Taliban brethren are now labeled terrorists in our dictionary. So has the time come to solve the problem with heroes?
When will we be able to speak or write the names Aitzaz Ahsan of FATA and Akash Bashir of Lahore in the same sentence without vitriol or rancor?
Dr. Abdus Salam, the Nobel Prize winner who left Pakistan for London in protest of a 1974 constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadias non-Muslims, at long last has been rightfully restored to our physics textbooks.
Can Pervez Masih be viewed as a hero of valor and courage equal to Tahira Qazi in our national discourse?
Recall the Florida pastor, Terry Jones, who burnt Quran and committed blasphemy. Ideally if he would be a Muslim doing this to some other sect or religion, our fellows would have made him a hero. But the act of blasphemy has made him the most unwanted person in the American society and hence after rejection from the church and society was seen filling hungry bellies with fresh French fries at “Fry Guys Gourmet Fries” in DeSoto Mall in Bradenton, Florida when I visited it.
Our problems will remain until we unite to lift and celebrate the voices of reason and mildness as our heroes – no matter their religion — as we faithfully respect and follow the teaching of the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet.
Are we strong enough to stop the discrimination?
This article was published in Pakistan Today.