Pakistan News Service

Monday Mar 4, 2024, Shaban 23, 1445 Hijri

Sharpening secular-Islamic divide in Pakistan

14 January, 2011

By Asif Haroon Raja

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Out of six billion and 90 crore world population, one billion and 57 crore are Muslims. Every sixth person in the world is Muslim. There are 57 Muslim countries on world map and Muslim population is one billion fifty seven crores. 52 Muslim countries are secular while Sharia is practiced in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Nigeria and Afghanistan (at least till October 2001 under Taliban). Iraq also had Sharia under Saddam. Sudan has recently been divided into two at the behest of USA and western powers to make southern Sudan a Christian state. Such efforts will continue to make left over Islamic states secular. 

Most Muslim countries carved out of fragmented Ottoman Empire in 1924 were set up on the basis of nationalism. Pakistan was made on ideological grounds and its constitution clearly lay down that state affairs will be run on principles enshrined in Quran and Sunnah. In practice Islamic principles are not practiced in real sense since except for Zia rule (July 1977-August 1988), Islamic Republic of Pakistan has always been ruled by secular leaders. In a survey carried out by British survey team in 2000 it was established that 98% in Pakistan wanted Sharia laws. Seculars claim that if Pakistan is made secular, all problems will melt away. They want to impose their will on 98% of people desiring Islamic system.

Pakistan’s population is 170 million and 97% are Muslims. Large majority is Islamists while a prosperous minority mostly based in urban centres is secular. Within Islamists, majority is moderate and about 15% are extremists. Same ratio is seen within seculars where ultra liberal fascists are small in number but are affluent and assert significant influence over power centres because of their closeness with the west. Both Islamists and seculars hold each other responsible for the malaise in the society. Extremists on either side of the divide are equally intolerant and fascist in nature. Therefore to single out Islamists as bigoted and extremists will be unfair. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been described by the west as discriminatory and leading to grotesque discrimination against non-Muslims. The European Parliament recorded its observation officially and sought its elimination. UN Secretary General passed blasphemous remarks. Pope Benedict called for Pakistan to repeal anti-blasphemy law and demanded security for Christians in Pakistan. Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria were also asked to provide security to Christians. Strangely, the fault finders see no law of non-Muslims against Muslims as biased and unjust. The seculars in Pakistan who provide strength to the critics in western world want all laws framed in the light of Quran and Sunnah to be scrapped and the country made secular. They condemn those who espouse Islam, Islamic ideology and two-nation theory. They have managed to do away with Hadood laws, which have removed all checks on promiscuity and sex with consent. They are now hell-bent to annul blasphemy law.

The pope has ignored prolonged caricature campaign in some western countries injuring the sentiments of 1.6 billion Muslims. Insulting the revered Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been overlooked by him and the west on the pretext of freedom of speech and liberal values. The Pope is also maintaining a stony silence over persecution, humiliation and torture of Muslims residing in USA and Europe since 9/11. He is the one who had forbidden entry of Turkey in European Union. He and others in the west are perturbed over blasphemy law in Pakistan and want it repealed since they feel the law doesn’t allow non-Muslims residing in Pakistan to express their hatred against Prophet Muhammad freely. The pope doesn’t know that Muslims charged with blasphemy in Pakistan are far more in number than Christians and Hindus. In Pakistan, no blasphemer has so far been hanged to death.

The Jews and orthodox Christians are desperate to defame Islam by undermining its institutions like Prophet of Islam, mullah, mosque, madrassah and Islamic laws resting on Quran and Sunnah. Satanic verses written by infidel Rushdie was promoted by the Jews. After 9/11, several attempts have been made by European countries to malign the image of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Latest attempt was made in last December when a competition of drawing cartoons of the Holy Prophet was organised on Face book. For centuries the Jews and Christian zealots have been trying to prove that Quran is not a divine book but is man-made. 

Kamila Hayat and several other writers are among the liberal brigade in Pakistan advocating annulment of blasphemy law. None talk of the narrow mindedness and intolerance of the neo-cons, or humiliating laws levied against Muslims residing in western countries, how the ones sporting beard or those with religious bent of mind are discriminated against. They criticise Mullahs for being obscurantist and intolerant but do not comment upon the immoral and licentious activities of the archbishops and popes in churches. Our seculars do not pickup courage to denounce intolerance of western countries banning headscarves, facial veils and minarets, obstructing construction of mosque at zero point in New York and a US priest threatening to burn Quran. Repeated publication of caricatures of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by western countries does not bother them. They viewed the competition of cartoons on Face book as a non-event and ban imposed on Face book a wrongful act.

Harking back into the history of Indian subcontinent one finds that when the British made India its colony, the rulers annulled blasphemy laws practiced during Mughal era so as to allow Christian missionaries to proselytise. During Lord Macaulay’s viceroyalty, protection to worship places and religious beliefs was given by inserting Section 295 in Indian Penal Code (IPC). Issue of blasphemy came into prominence in the wake of an incident in 1929 in Lahore. In 1920, one Prashad Pratab, a Hindu had written an objectionable book titled ‘Rangeela Rasool’. His book was published by a Hindu publisher Rajpal residing in Lahore in 1923. The book deeply hurt the sentiments of Muslims in India suffering under the yoke of British-Hindu combine. On 6 September 1929, Ilam Din, a 19 year old illiterate boy hailing from Lahore heard a religious priest addressing a gathering saying that Rajpal had committed blasphemy and he deserved to be killed. He got so moved that he instantly made up his mind to kill the blasphemer.

After stabbing Rajpal to death he made no attempt to escape. Allama Iqbal convinced Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah to fight Ilam’s case. Jinnah tried hard to convince Ilam to plead not guilty on the grounds that he had committed the act under extreme provocation but Ilam refused saying he was proud of his act. Quaid lost his case which was the only one he lost. Ilam was executed on 31 October 1929 and his death was mourned by millions. 200,000 people attended his funeral and Allama Iqbal carried the funeral bier. When his body was being lowered in the grave, Allama remarked, ‘This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones’. The great Quaid and visionary Allama had defended the killer of blasphemer. It is ironic that today the minion leaders of Islamic Republic of Pakistan are supporting the blasphemers. In the wake of charged emotions among the Muslims, a provision was added to IPC making insult of religious beliefs of any class an offence.

Jinnah had envisioned turning Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state in line with Madina state under Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 1400 years ago. Jinnah was no learned Maulana but he knew that Pakistan’s progress and prosperity could not be de-linked from glorious chapters of Islamic history. While his hundreds of speeches and statements elaborating his vision to convert Pakistan into a truly Islamic welfare state are ignored, his speech of 11 August 1947 is quoted repeatedly and that too out of context. Nowhere in his hyped speech had he ever uttered the word secularism. What he correctly emphasised upon was that people from all minorities residing in Pakistan are Pakistanis and will be given their basic rights and their religious rights will be protected and respected. .   

After his untimely death in 1948, Objectives Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 under Liaquat Ali Khan laid down categorically that affairs of the state will be run in accordance with Quran and Sunnah. Secularists cried out and are still lamenting that this resolution amounted to distorting Quaid’s vision. This clause was added in 1956 constitution, in 1962 constitution and in consensus 1973 constitution. To appease religious right, ZA Bhutto prohibited liquor and declared Friday as weekly holiday in 1977. It was during his regime that Qadianis were declared as non-Muslims.

When President Gen Ziaul Haq captured power in July 1977 following prolonged Nizam-e-Mustafa movement led by religious parties, in his bid to curb secularist trends promoted by ZA Bhutto and to Islamise the society he took several steps like establishment of Majlis-e-Shura, Islamic banking system and Shariat courts. In 1982, he introduced Section 295B to Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) punishing ‘defiling the Holy Quran’ with life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295C was inserted in PPC by the parliament under Junejo mandating death penalty for use of derogatory remarks in respect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

In 1991, Federal Shariat Court ruled that Section 295C would apply to all Prophets of Islam and the punishment was death by hanging. The decision was given finality and made into law after the government of Nawaz Sharif which had filed an appeal against the decision had withdrawn its appeal from Supreme Court. Benazir during her second stint in 1994 made an effort to make slight amendments in 295C but had to hastily step back because of the backlash of Islamic extremists. Gen Musharraf also failed to amend the law.   

Secularism was given a shot in the arm during Gen Musharraf’s nine year dictatorial rule. Under the garb of presenting soft face of Pakistan to the west, he espoused enlightened moderation which was meant to promote liberalism and to gradually turn the country secular. Education was systematically secularised and substantial progress was made in higher education. Catwalks, modelling, fashion shows, wet dance and music parties and clubbing were encouraged and media played its role to liberalise social values. Western and Indian culture seeped into every house which had a devastating effect on ethics, morals and Islamic values. Growing liberalism became one of the causes of heightened Islamic extremism. PPP under Zardari together with secular ANP and MQM continued with liberalization of the society.

The cavalcade of secular Pakistani writers, intellectuals and office holders at the beck and call of USA and western powers, work overtime to promote western interests and to demean Islamists in Pakistan. The liberal brigade is against Islamic laws including blasphemy law and terms them as inhuman and black. Those espousing Pakistani culture based on Islamic ideology are projected as people of medieval age, uncouth and misfits. Encouraged by the success achieved in getting Hadood laws amended during Gen Musharraf’s tenure, ultra liberal legislator Sherry Rehman belonging to PPP tabled a bill as a private member before the national assembly in last December to modify the law by annulling death penalty. Her move was hailed by secular brigade.

The bill was promptly admitted and a committee headed by minister of minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was formed to review blasphemy laws. No PPP leader objected to the review bill. This move was made in the wake of a case of a Christian Asyia Bibi who had allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and was arrested in June 2009 on charges of blasphemy. She had confessed her crime in front of the village committee and the judge of lower court and was accordingly sentenced to death.  After the decision she went into appeal in Lahore High Court (LHC).

Governor Punjab Salman Taseer stood up in support of anti-blasphemy law movers. Disregarding public sentiments he started condemning blasphemy law, terming it as man made and black and vowed to change it. Emboldened by the applause he received from the secular camp, he along with his wife and daughter met the convicted woman Asyia in prison in Shiekhupura last November and held a press conference in her presence assuring her that he will take her application for mercy to the president by hand and get the decision reversed. He continued his tirade against blasphemy laws as well as clerics despite being warned not to do so.

Western paid NGOs, human rights activists, TV anchors and journalists sprung into action and sought reversal of decision and amendment of blasphemy law to please USA and western countries. Seculars argue that blasphemy laws are not God’s law but an interpretation made by human beings of what God has commanded; and as such are susceptible to human error. Apparently how simple and convincing. What they imply is that Quran which descended upon Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in bits and pieces, verbally and not in written form, may not have been properly interpreted because of factor of human error. This is exactly what the Jews espouse. As against all other heavenly books, Quran is the only Holy Scripture in which not a word or even comma has been modified, added or subtracted and remains unchanged because God had promised to protect it. 

A religious scholar Javed Ghamdi supporting secular views went at length explaining that Quran has no injunctions on the issue of Tauheen-e-Risalat. By so doing he put his head in hornet’s nests and was ferociously stung by leading ulemas. They hold a unanimous view that in accordance with Quran and Sunnah, anyone who commits blasphemy is liable to death punishment and it was the sole prerogative of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and none else to forgive the blasphemer. In the last 1400 years, only 100 persons had been awarded capital punishment for committing blasphemy which is a proof that this law has been discreetly and justly applied.

Having sensed the intentions of the ruling regime the entire lot of religious right led by religious political leaders and ulemas put aside their differences and from a single platform gave a call to their followers to launch protest marches. So strong is the influence of the clerics on the downtrodden that complete shutter down and wheel jam was observed throughout the country on 31 December. Threats were hurled on Sherry and Salman favouring amendment of the law.  One of the ex Nazims Sardar Ibad Dogar had announced head money award of Rs two crores to his killer. A mosque in Karachi issued a fatwa against Sherry declaring her a non-Muslim and seeking her death. The liberals and secular political parties buckled under Islamists pressure and started to distance away from lending support to anti-blasphemy law. They are partly responsible for making Salman go gung-ho and then leaving him in a lurch when he needed their support.  

By the time the religious forces started flexing muscle to exert pressure on the government not to amend the blasphemy law; the PPP regime had become fragile. Its flank guards JUI-F and MQM had pulled out of federal cabinet and PML-N was exerting pressure while PML-Q was not agreeing to lend support. Despite the fragility of the ruling PPP and PPP leading lights taking a U turn saying that blasphemy law will never be amended and rising tempers of the Islamists, Governor Salman remained in a truculent and upbeat mood and maintained his anti-blasphemy law stance. He became so reckless and overbearing that he even violated Lahore High Court order which prohibited statements on this issue till the matter was decided by the court.

Seeing the rings of security cordon around him formed by members of elite force and agencies, and fleet of cars accompanying his bullet proof car wherever he travelled, he became over confident and pooh-poohed multiple death threats publicly hurled by extremist groups. Another reason of his overconfidence was complete patronage of the president. Salman had been purposely appointed to keep Sharif brothers in Punjab under pressure. Salman remained at war with PML-N and accused its leadership of being soft towards extremist groups. His sword fencing with Sharif brothers became a source of merriment for PPP Jayalas and Zardari. He had emerged as one of the strongest and most strident voices in Pakistan representing seculars and had become a bulwark of PPP. In reality, he had weakened PPP’s position in Punjab because of his abrasiveness and making Punjab politics tense ridden. Not only had he earned enmity of PML-N but also of religious right. 

Instead of becoming discreet, Salman became more virulent against clerics and vowed to change the laws. It was like showing red rag to the fuming bull. He became so complacent that on 4 January while in Islamabad he went to have lunch with a friend at a coffee house in Kohisar Market in private non-bullet proof car. After having his lunch, while he was walking towards his car, one of his security guards belonging to elite Punjab police Mumtaz Qadri riddled his body with 27 bullets from a close range. May God bless his soul!

Qadri’s face didn’t show any signs of nervousness, fright or remorse. He was composed and had a wry smile on his face. He seemed so pleased with his accomplishment that he didn’t try to run away or kill himself. After emptying his magazine he quietly laid down his weapon and surrendered. Later on he disclosed that he had made up his mind three days before the incident after he heard a religious cleric exhorting his audience in Rawalpindi that Governor Salman had termed blasphemy law as black and as such his murder was permissible. He may have read Ilam Din story.

The startling news of broad daylight murder of the governor spread like jungle fire but the situation became complex when activists of Tehrik-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme-Nabuwat took out a rally in Mansehra immediately after the occurrence to celebrate the assassination. They condemned Salman for making sacrilegious remarks and lionised Qadri for killing the agent of Zionists. Leading ulemas of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat in a joint statement asked Muslims not to express regrets or sympathise over his murder and asked all Imam Masjids not to offer Namaz Janaza or to lead funeral prayers.

On 5 January no Imam including Imam of Governor House mosque was available to perform the religious rituals and perforce a maulvi belonging to PPP led the prayers. The murderer Qadri was garlanded and kissed by lawyers when he was brought to Rawalpindi district Court. 40,000 activists of Tehrik-e-Khatme-Nabuwat rallied in Karachi on 11 January in support of the killer and raised slogans that Qadri had performed the act to save the sanctity of Holy Prophet. Thousands of messages cluttered up the Face book hailing Qadri as a ‘hero’.  

PPP workers indulged in violent acts and shouted slogans against Punjab government in all major cities. PPP leaders like Babar Awan instead of blaming extremists accused Shahbaz Sharif government for failing to provide adequate security and described it as a political murder. They forgot that the governor was killed within boundaries of Islamabad and not Punjab where Federal Police was also responsible to provide additional security cover to the dignitary. No amount of security would have prevented the in-house assassin from murdering unsuspecting Taseer. PPP leaders forgot that they had abandoned him and for political point scoring were glorifying the dead man. 

Salman was one of the most influential and vocal spokesman of Zardari in Punjab where the political position of PPP is weaker than PML-N and PML-Q. His departure has caused a huge loss to Zardari, for PPP, for secular forces and human rights activists. But the hard fact is that Salman had been abandoned by opportunist liberals in the face of mounting rage of Mullahs.                         

Secular writers are now writing series of articles in leading English newspapers trying to portray Islamists in poor light and describing them as a great danger to Pakistan. They are vainly trying to glorify Salman and demonizing Islamists. Foreign patrons of seculars in Pakistan are trying to rejuvenate their sagging morale. British Home Secretary Theresa is among the lobbyists wanting to amend blasphemy laws which she says are controversial.

It has become fashionable to dump all fault lines related to Islamic extremism and militarization of the society in the plate of late Gen Zia. It will be unfair on part of secularists to term blasphemy law as a relic of Zia era. Militarization of Pakistani society has its roots in Pakistan movement waged against British-Hindi nexus, Hindu-Muslim antagonism because of vindictive and hegemonic attitude of Hindu leaders, bloody partition, unresolved Kashmir dispute, India’s continued machinations and bellicosity.

Factors which further fuelled militarization were Afghan Jihad in 1980s, Islamic revolution in Iran, sectarian war in Pakistan in 1990s, Deobandi-Barelvi tensions, and ethnicity. Forces of extremism remained unbridled because of weak leadership and lack of direction. Secular-Islamic divide was another factor which kept stoking fires of hatred against each other. Feudalism came in the way of literacy since feudal lords wanted to keep the work force on their lands uneducated and in their grip. Growing poverty together with high rate of unemployment and callous and insensitive attitude of rulers towards the plight of the poor were other reasons to disillusion the deprived segments and impelling them to veer towards extremism.

After the sad murder of Salman Taseer, Secular-Islamic divide has sharpened and the society has become more polarized. While secularists have suffered a huge setback and are on the back foot, Islamists who had suffered a massive blow after the rupture of fort of MMA and also because of war on terror seem to have bounced back. Most significant development is the coming together of Deobandis and Barelvis who till recent were spitting fire against each other. Barelvis and Sunni Tehriq viewed as moderates were being cultivated by the ruling regime but now both seem to be coming close to Deobandis. Issue of blasphemy has helped Islamic forces in getting united. Adoption of a unanimous resolution by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly against changes in blasphemy law has further weakened the position of federal government and any scope of discussion on this subject has been dashed.

It will be in fitness of things to avoid any sort of discussion on blasphemy law and to let the passions subside. Widening divide between seculars and Islamists must be bridged and serious efforts made to tone down extremist tendencies in both camps.       


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