February Issue 2011

By | Opinion | Viewpoint | Published 13 years ago

The Pakistani nation is sharply divided on the issue of the Blasphemy Law. On the one hand are those who are demanding that the existing Blasphemy Law should remain completely intact, that nobody should be allowed to contest it, and that Mumtaz Qadri should be acclaimed as the unquestionable hero of the nation for murdering the man he was assigned to provide security to, as part of his job. And then there are those who say that the law should be suitably amended, if not completely repealed, and that Mumtaz Qadri should be convicted and sent to the gallows for he is a criminal.

The two groups need to realise that if this serious divide is not amicably bridged, it could have immediate and grave implications for the future of this beleagured country. Further, it is imperative that the ruling party steps forward to play its role by seeking assurances from everyone that parliament, both the existing and future ones, shall have the sole right to legislate whatever it deems appropriate after a proposed law has been properly debated, and that the parliamentarians should never be threatened to support or reject a certain view by outside forces.

The sanctity of the parliament as a legislating body must be respected and maintained by all parties. The suggestion, on the part of some clergymen, that in Islam the parliament can only play a subservient role in legislating, since God is the only sovereign law-giver and only He can legislate, is an important claim that needs to be addressed. Although it is correct that no Muslim can deliberately make a choice against a God-proposed law, he/she can always have an opinion different from others on the interpretation of the law. Debate in parliament has to do with that question. There is no one interpretation of what the Almighty’s expectations from the believers are. For the sake of argument let’s assume that there are some parliamentarians who, despite calling themselves Muslims, are bent upon pushing through a legislation which is blatantly anti-Islamic. Branding them hypocrites is still not sanctioned by Islam because, even though one can criticise others for the incorrectness of their ideas, one has no right to call into question their intentions. God alone knows what is hidden in the hearts. In case some people discover that despite their confidence, a certain point of view is the one sanctioned by the Almighty, and that is being ignored by the majority in parliament, they have only one option: to continue to convince and educate the majority to understand and agree to their point of view. Under no circumstance are they allowed to use force or threat to coerce others to subscribe to their point of view.

It is imperative that a proper, academic debate be held on the issue. In an environment of provocation and threat, no sane exchange of views can take place. An environment of free dialogue should be ensured. It is only through free debate that one can come to the correct or close-to-correct conclusions.

As for Mumtaz Qadri, his case should be handled strictly in accordance with the law of the land. If this case is settled any other way, our country will not be able to ensure supremacy of the law for a long time.

To summarise what I have stated earlier, we must agree on four things. Firstly, the Blasphemy Law should stay the way it is because that is what the majority of the parliamentarians (and not the ulema) have decided. However, it can be altered if the majority of the parliamentarians feel the need for it. A debate on it, as indeed on all existing and new laws, should be allowed to take place without anyone threatening the other party with violent consequences. And lastly, Mumtaz Qadri’s case must be settled according to the law by a panel of senior judges, who are not subjected to any outside influences or pressures.

All the above points need to be agreed to by all the stakeholders — the politicians, the ulema, the lawyers and civil society. Everyone must agree that while expressing one’s views is an individual’s prerogative, taking the law into one’s hands is not. It is unacceptable.

In order to actualise the above agenda, one representative should be picked from all the religious groups of the country and be asked to join a parliamentary committee that comprises representatives from all the leading political parties of the country. This committee should be given the mandate to decide that from now on the points formally agreed to shall not be violated by members of any religious, ethnic or political party. The agreement should be given a title, like the National Reconciliation Agreement, and its contents must be disseminated to the public and made clear to every Pakistani.

If properly handled, the existing volatile situation can be leveraged and turned into a blessing in disguise. Presently, all political, religious, ethnic and assorted groups are tense due the uncertainty of the existing situation. An intelligent and bold initiative is needed from the ruling People’s Party to turn what seems like a hopeless situation into what might be the beginning of a new era of change, reconciliation, dialogue, and enlightenment. Indeed, it is easier said than done. But we are running out of time.