After getting discharged from the hospital, Ahsan Iqbal went straight to his mother’s grave. Though it is a normal practice in our culture to visit graveyards and especially to offer prayers on one’s parents’ graves, what makes Iqbal’s visit to his mother’s grave special was her ideology that became the very reason for the murder attempt on her son. Not that Iqbal or the PML-N differed on that ideology, they had only changed the angle of looking at things because of the context which had since transformed when his mother objected to the punishment meted out for committing blasphemy 31 years back.
Ideologies are interpreted in context. An interpretation, which is relevant today, may become irrelevant tomorrow. A rigid stance sought over an issue today, could not be conferred the same treatment tomorrow. Context and timings make all the difference. When nations or people take this differential lying down, they either stop growing or allow the ‘value vacuum’ to consume them. It is in this vacuum that Ahsan Iqbal was shot by a radical who was fed on a wrong notion that the interior minister was blasphemous, because his party had signed the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri, tried to spin the laws regarding Ahmadis and he as the interior minister had ordered police operation against the Labaik YA Rasool Allah sit-in that had made Rawalpindi hostage for over a month on the issue of blasphemy law.
Mumtaz Qadri and the legislation concerning Ahmadis are about minorities in Pakistan. Agreed that nothing should come in the way of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the respect Allah has conferred upon him in Quran. However, being a proletarian religion, Islam does not allow its people to stab anyone found hostile to its teaching. There would always be fanatics in every religion. In the present atmosphere when Islam has become a misnomer, and the mere name of it conjures up an image of killing, suicide attacks, and destruction showing patience, restraint and wisdom becomes all the more critical. This is what is called behaving according to the context. These are unusual times. Muslims are in a paradox. They are powerful and also vulnerable. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest buyers of US military industrial complex, while at the same time most of the Middle East has been reduced to ashes and for Iran annihilation is under contemplation. Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been in cohort when Syrian civil war that otherwise would have ended in a few months was stoked and bought to a pass where it has consumed thousands of lives and destroyed Syria’s Islamic heritage.
In 1986 Nisar Fatima, a member of National Assembly from Jamaat-e-Islami, and mother of Ahsan Iqbal proposed to change the punishment of committing blasphemy, in Section-259 of the Pakistan Penal Code, from life imprisonment to death penalty. Thirty-one years down the road, the PML-N government— Ahsan Iqbal’s party— in the Election Reform Bill 2017, altered the oath that Ahmadis undertake when filing the nomination papers for election. The word solemn was replaced with declaration. It brewed storm. The clerics declared the PML-N legislators as Kafir (apostate). It was in this melee that Ahsan Iqbal stopped people from declaring anyone apostate and appealed to show restraint. Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Zafarullah Jamali hurled a curse at the parliament for undertaking such amendment. Way back in 1986 when Nisar Fatima proposed the death penalty for blasphemy and faced resistance she had cursed the parliament in the same way.
There is no doubt that section 295-C for all its good intention has failed. It is not the law per se that has issues. It is the implementation mechanism that refuses the right to a fair trial to the accused. The unhindered practice of vigilante justice allowed to the religious organizations by the successive governments for political expediency made courts, justice, and laws irrelevant. It was in this context of lawlessness gathered around the implantation of Section-259, that Mumtaz Qadri was hanged. Because the time had arrived to shed ambiguities and make people understand that it was the prerogative of the state to establish whether Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab had committed blasphemy or not.
In 31 years, the context has changed a lot. It was in this context that the PML-N wanted the ideologies concerning the Islamic laws in the Constitution of Pakistan reinterpreted. In 1986 the Muslim world was not polarized, and neither was the Pakistani nation as disoriented as it is today. The hate-mongering witnessed today did not exist then. This combination of polarization, disorientation, and hate-mongering is lethal and need replacement. The first step to a better Islam would be to restore its image through reasoning. Thinking, rethinking and reinterpreting the words of God, unless the right answer matches the context. It is not about who is right; it is about when what is right.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.