- Beyond the religious zeal
On this Eid Milad un Nabi, Muslims in Pakistan have a unique gift for their beloved Prophet – turmoil following the amendment and subsequent correction in the country’s Electoral law pertaining to Khatm e Nabuwwat (Finality of Prophethood) clause. Had Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) been alive today, he would have attained peace and happiness if the followers of his faith were united and prosperous. What he would have seen, not only in Pakistan but around the world, would have tormented him, to say the least. For the Muslim world today is neither peaceful, nor disciplined, unified nor thriving. Defending yet failing miserably to protect their rights in Palestine, Kashmir and now Myanmar, burdened by poverty and consequent issues on the one hand and hoarding of wealth by some on the other, clashing with brethren within one’s country and outside, self imposing terrorist activities around the world in the name of jihad – Muslims are facing a multitude of problems. This is not the ummah Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had struggled for – illiterate, poor, intolerant, submissive as well as coercive. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the messenger of peace, would be struck with the enormity of violence in the world, both from and against Muslims.
To what extent do we follow his guidelines in our lives is a separate issue, how we claim to defend his name has led to a situation which, if left unchecked and untreated, may in fact, prove defamatory. Although, the Quran admonishes blasphemy — impious utterance or action concerning God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or anything considered sacred and verses from Surah Al-Maidah and Surah Al-Ahzab most commonly used in Islamic history to justify punishment for blasphemy do mention severe punishment, they also promise forgiveness through repentance.
With Pakistan having the strictest anti-blasphemy law among the Muslim nations, dozens of it’s citizens are sitting on death row after being convicted of insulting Islam’s prophet, a specific charge that carries a mandatory death sentence, though no executions have been carried out in recent decades.
While there have been appeals from around the world to repeal the blasphemy law in Pakistan, sadly it has now become a matter of politics in the country. Earlier in October, the ruling party PML-N found itself in the middle of a firestorm when it voted through seemingly small changes to the nation’s electoral law. The amendments in the Elections Act 2017 ended up affecting a Khatm-e-Nabuwwat declaration public office holders are required to make. The alterations prompted accusations of blasphemy and the government quickly retreated, terming the change a ‘clerical’ mistake and apologising in the Parliament, followed by a three-member committee probe. Still, the main opposition leader, Imran Khan, found another reason to start a campaign against arch rival Nawaz Sharif, head of PML–N. Khan says that such a major decision to mess with the electoral law could not have been taken without Sharif’s consent.
The surprise came, however, when a new political party that has made punishing blasphemers its main rallying cry won a surprisingly strong 7.6 per cent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar, not far from where Mashal Khan, a university student, was killed earlier this year on charges of blasphemy. The party, Tehreek e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) emerged out of a protest movement against the state’s execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down the provincial head in 2011 over his call to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy.
It was the TLY which took the changes in the electoral law further steps ahead. Although the error has been amended, the hysterical leader of the party questioned why the act was committed, demanding that those responsible should resign. While protesting, the party heads and its supporters occupied a major interchange of the capital city for nearly a month.
To what extent do we follow his guidelines in our lives is a separate issue, how we claim to defend his name has led to a situation which, if left unchecked and untreated, may in fact, prove defamatory
But the climax to the ‘sitcom’, which forced people in the state’s capital and for few days in provincial capitals of Pakistan to sit in their homes or cars, waiting for traffic to clear, was contrary to the fast and furious developments over time – an anticlimax. Some thousand men held Islamabad and its people hostage, proudly claiming to be the protectors of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) name, his legacy and finality of prophethood, stuck to their demands and forced the government to bend all the way backwards to give in, vowing that theirs is a peaceful protest but turned a deaf ear when some violent incidents were incited by their supporters. They triumphed at their victory when finally an agreement was reached between them and the government, with all their demands being accepted. While how the issue was blown out of proportion, drummed and beaten to death, eventually being at the centre of controversy is deplorable, the protestors’ zeal may have earned some consideration, had two certain acts not been performed. One was the shameful, abusive language used mainly by the leader – and the other was acceptance of payment for ‘transportation’.
It was the latter, which in particular defiled and ridiculed the already questionable movement. It was this very act, which confirmed the sad truth that in Pakistan, votes, support, beliefs, can be bought by cash, cheques, a plate of biryani or merely promises of any of these. It put in spotlight the fact to the extent of alarm, that illiteracy in Pakistan is a plague and education of the mind and the soul a lost cause. Those who accepted the paltry amount, proved that at that moment, material wealth was more important than any promise, any movement, any zeal.
And what zeal are we talking about? Hurling abuses in the name of religion? Imagining and delivering blasphemous anecdotes to justify a cause fighting blasphemy against one’s prophet? Forcing our opinion on others? Destroying others’ property in the name of protecting one’s religion? Islam is the world’s second largest religion, nearly two millennia old. A few malicious acts or ignorant words cannot pose any danger to our faith. When we do get hurt or infuriated by someone’s actions, at best we can admonish that person or keep a distance. Punishing others for our hurt sentiments is not a way to seek justice or worst, revenge. The mistake – clerical error or deliberate move – of removing the finality of prophethood clause from the electoral law has been pointed out and corrected, then why force the nation to suffer!
When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went to Taif to spread the message of Islam, the natives threw rocks and stones on him until his body bled. The angel Gabriel descended from the heavens and asked the Holy Prophet (PBUH) whether he should punish the offenders, but the prophet (PBUH) instead prayed for them and himself. An old lady in Mecca would daily throw garbage on him when he would pass by her house. One day, when she was resting inside, the Prophet (PBUH), instead of breathing a sigh of relief, inquired after her health. When he conquered Mecca, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) forgave the staunchest of his opponents, many of whom embraced Islam. These were the standards set by Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), the last of the messengers, which won the hearts of non believers. Finality in prophethood is an integral part of Muslims’ faith, but so are traits of humility, tolerance and forgiveness, as shown by that very final prophet of Allah, for whom they do not resist from shedding innocent blood. Instead of spreading violence and hatred, by adopting the true spirit of Islam – peace — we can do more service to our faith and justice to the legacy of Muhammad, peace be upon him.