Mumtaz Qadri, a former elite commando and murderer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, was convicted and finally hanged on March 1, 2016 in Pakistan. Qadri killed Governor Taseer on January 4, 2011 over his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Pakistan is among 15 Islamic countries across the globe where blasphemy laws are enforced. In all these Islamic countries, defiling of the holy Quran, desecration of the holy Prophet Mohammed and being an atheist are punishable offenses.
What is the blasphemy law in Pakistan? The blasphemy law is a part of the Pakistan Penal Code that was first introduced in 1860 by the British Government to protect religious feelings of all the people living in religiously diverse British India. Section 295 of this law protects all places of worship in the subcontinent. In Pakistan, the military dictator Zia-Ul-Haq amended this law in 1982 by adding section 295-B. Punishment for defiling the holy Quran was an important feature of this new section. New levels of constitutional extremism and Islamic fundamentalism were introduced in 1986 when the dictator added section 295-C that prescribed punishment for blaspheming the holy Prophet Mohammed. Subsequently, the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan further amended this section that same year and made the death penalty mandatory on conviction for the offence of desecrating the name of the holy Prophet Muhammad. Not only that, but for the first time, religious tests for judicial offices were added to section 295-C so that only a Muslim judge may hear blasphemy cases. Around 1194 people have been charged under this blasphemy law in Pakistan. Adoption of the blasphemy law and all its amendments was more of a bungle than a felix culpa in the constitutional history of Pakistan.
In the presence of such a draconian blasphemy law, most Pakistani Muslims act like de facto judges, going so far as to behead anyone who desecrates holy Prophet Mohammed and the Quran. For example, Punjab governor Taseer neither desecrated the holy Prophet Mohammed nor defiled the Quran; he merely criticized the existing blasphemy law and categorized it as a black law in Pakistan. Indeed, according to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, this act of Taseer was not a crime at all legally and constitutionally. Yet, that did not stop Mumtaz Qadri from committing the extra-judicial murder of the Punjab governor for blasphemy. In this way, Qadri by himself charged, convicted, and executed the murder of Salman Taseer. This frightening situation can very much be characterized as imperium in imperio. Now since this unfortunate incident, Qadri became popular in fundamentalist Muslim circles in Pakistan and his heinous act was highly praised by Muslim intelligentsia and even ordinary Muslims in the country. But Pakistani human rights activists labeled Qadri a fanatic and a criminal.
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Though predominantly Muslim, Pakistan does have a diverse religious minority. According to the 1998 Census, the Pakistani population comprise 96 percent Muslims, 1.69 percent Christians, 1.4 percent Hindus, 0.35 percent Qadianis, 0.33 percent Scheduled castes and 0.06 percent others. Because Islam is the majority religion in Pakistan, non-Muslims are widely disliked. Yet the blasphemy law of Pakistan is meant to apply equally to everyone in Pakistan irrespective of his or her religious beliefs and practices.
Now lets look at another side of the mirror. Muslims in Pakistan demand respect for their religion but they do not consider other religions worthy of respect and recognition. Muslims in Pakistan do not even give respect to the worship places of Christians, Qadianis, Hindus, and Sikhs since they think that only mosques, the Quran, and holy Prophet Muhammed deserve respect and protection. It reveals an extremist religious ethnocentric tendency on the part of Pakistani Muslims and this kind of religious extremism sometimes causes religious clashes and riots.
Blasphemy law in Pakistan is no doubt a niger legis and there is a dire need for its abolition. In my opinion, the Muslims of Pakistan are extremist and rigid in their outlook, laws, and practices. Indeed, the whole world is calling out Muslims for their religious extremism. In Pakistan, institutions of ignorant and illiterate “mullahs” are a great curse and they lead innocent followers to extremism or stupidity. In Pakistan, Islamic religious philosophy is triangular and it revolves around shaheed, heaven and hoors. Here Muslims are always in search of some compendium that can help them reach the eighth floor of heaven. So, judicial and extra-judicial murder of a non-believer or a blasphemous person is regarded as a very sacred and divine act rather than a crime in Pakistan.
Now I want to conclude by making several recommendations that can lead Pakistani Muslims to religious moderation. Firstly, there is an immediate need for a renaissance and religious reformation to bring about a more moderate, enlightened and rational Islam. In Pakistan, reforms of this kind are impeded because any Muslim who talks about renaissance and religious reformation is declared a heretic by his co-religionists. Secondly, the state should strictly regulate mosques, madrissahs, mullahs, and Islamic literature. Books and other types of literature that lead Muslims toward extremism and hate towards other religions should be banned. Traditional and diehard religious intellectuals in positions of influence who incite violence should be replaced with reasonable ones. Thirdly, Pakistan should be declared a secular state and all fanatic and black religious laws should be abolished. In the long run, all these measures can lead Pakistan towards moderation and tolerance, because these are the sine qua non for inter-faith harmony in the country.
Otherwise, incidents of judicial and extra-judicial killings of innocent people on the charges of blasphemy will continue to occur. Religious fanaticism and Islamic fascism in Pakistan are not brutum fulmen but now these are emerging as big barriers rather than bridges down the road toward religious brotherhood and peace. So in brevis, a secular and enlightened Pakistan is the only way to overcome the religious conflicts that plague Pakistan today.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is a candlelight vigil in honor of slain governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. (Photo credit: Reuters)