by Omair Anas
Before Mumtaz Qadri’s execution, more than three hundred Pakistanis had been executed by the Pakistani establishment, many of them unfairly convicted. Not much anger came from Pakistan’s Islamists until the most controversial execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the body guard turned assassin of the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer. A huge mobilisation was managed by Islamists of all colours and hues, which culminated in thousands of agitating Pakistanis attending the last rites of Mumtaz Qadri.
Social media and public sentiments declared him an Ashiq-e-Rasool, a true lover of Prophet Mohammad, who had sacrificed his life to protect the dignity and sanctity of the Prophet.
Mumtaz Qadri was convicted of assassinating Punjab governor Salman Taseer for whom he was appointed as a security guard. Salman Taseer was being accused of intervening in a case of a Christian woman who had allegedly insulted Prophet Mohammad and was booked under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. Mumtaz was convicted of the murder and he had also confessed the crime, whatsoever the reason was. He was executed on 2 March 2016 after his death penalty was upheld by the top court and the mercy plea was also rejected by the President of Pakistan. Much to the anger of Islamists, death sentence of the woman accused of blasphemy is put on hold by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Two facts are admitted by all sides of the problem. Asia Bibi has been denying every charge of blasphemy and has blamed locals for using the charge for their personal grudges. Contrary to her case, Mumtaz Qadri is a self confessed assassin of a person who held the constitutional post of the state of Punjab. Mumtaz too was on government duty as a member of Pakistan’s Elite Police, trained and appointed only to protect the life of Salman Taseer at the time of his murder. By his act, Mumtaz violated a code of conduct he signed with the state of Pakistan; he took a life without giving him an opportunity to know what his crime was and whether his alleged crime was proven by the judiciary.
By making Mumtaz Qadri a hero, the Islamists in Pakistan have not just fulfilled their Islamic obligation of performing the last rites, which is a right of every Muslim regardless of his crimes, but they have gone too far by justifying his crime and justifying an extra judicial killing. Just because Salman Taseer had an opinion different from the Islamists’, he should not have lost his fundamental rights, most importantly, his life. Islamists have made fiery emotional speeches and banners and posters covered Pakistani streets depicting Mumtaz Qadri as a ‘martyr’ and lover of the Prophet.
Surprisingly, their position is not driven by Islam and many of them still do not openly support his act, rather they question the delay in other cases of blasphemy. Their position is driven by a competition to score high on public sentiments for the Prophet. By doing so, they have made Islam and Prophet a political commodity of high demand at the cost of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.
Muslim clerics and historians are well aware that blasphemy has been used as a political tool against political opponents. Because of the fact that Islamic laws on blasphemy were codified only after Prophet Muhammad expired and Quran has no direct reference to the crime and its penalty, the entire discourse of blasphemy is still in the course of evolution. A sudden emotional outburst on this particular execution shows that it has immense political value where the Nawaz Sharif government will look like defenceless.
The problem with this reaction is that this is not only questioning the rule of law of a country where there is a contract between the state and its citizens, but it is also damaging the cause of Islam intellectually, politically and culturally. This is more dangerous than the blasphemy law itself as it empowers the masses and individuals to charge, try and punish without due process. Islamists’ purposeful silence over past incidents of persecution of Christians in Pakistan, torching their homes and killing them, legitimises this unregulated violence.
Any Islamic politics that does not have the courage to speak the truth when it is required is neither Islamic nor politics. Truth is that no citizen of a state, particularly of a so called Islamic Republic, should be forced to face hostile masses because of his or her different religious, sexual, political or ethnic identity. By organising such extravagant funeral of a murderer, a clear message has been sent to the communities of different religions and those who champion their rights that “you are responsible for your death,” as was told by the President of Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan in 2011 when Mumtaz assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer.
This was a time when they had an opportunity to showcase a politics which has respect for the rule of law in a state; respect for fundamental rights, especially for their political and ideological opponents; independence of judiciary from political or popular pressure tactics, especially when the verdict comes against their wishes. An Islamic politics, which has no clear position on such fundamentals of modern nation state, makes Islam and Islamic symbols the most dangerous weapons to be used by the emotionally charged masses. Behind these masses are vested interests of groups and individuals using religion to enhance their political mileage, not necessarily to enhance the repute and respect of religion per se.
As far as blasphemy is concerned, there is a lot to be done – from defining blasphemy to the amount of penalty. From Rashid Ghannouchi to Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholars have been debating to redefine blasphemy, its political use and create a mechanism to take the final call on such offences. Muslim groups in Pakistan are so deeply obsessed with their community politics that they do not have the courage to at least tell their supporters that mobs and individuals have no legal and Islamic rights to punish anyone for any crime whatsoever.
Omair Anas is PhD in International Studies and a research fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.