In Pakistan, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, the country's largest province, was shot and killed at close range in the capital city of Islamabad with bullets right through the heart by one of his armed guards, a member of the provincial police's elite force.
The perpetrator, Malik Qadri, managed to discharge 26 rounds into the governor before he was finally apprehended.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced three days of mourning for Taseer and the Punjab provincial government ordered all institutions and schools shut down on Wednesday, Jan. 5. It appeared that many Pakistanis were not saddened by his violent death.
His end came about at the hands of his bodyguard, allegedly enraged by Taseer's vocal opposition to a blasphemy law that was used to punish those who defiled the Holy Book or made insulting remarks about the Prophet (peace be upon him). On a TV show, a caller went as far as to state, "It was a glorious act that Qadri did for Islam."
It was during Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul Haq's military dictatorship in the 80s the blasphemy laws were introduced into the legislature, including punishment by death for those charged with defiling the sacred name of the Prophet.
Zia-ul Haq, as president, added new laws to the penal code, including 295-B in 1982, which made desecrating the Qur'an or making a derogatory remark about it punishable by life imprisonment, although in practice such sentences are sometimes not applied, thus adding to the confused state of affairs behind these laws. Sometime back, two Pakistanis were sentenced to seven years in jail for allegedly burning a Qur'an.
In 1984, clause 295-C of the blasphemy laws came into effect. It sweepingly stipulated that "derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet . . . either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly . . . shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."
A few years later, the Federal Shariah Court, the guardian of all cases relating to Islamic affairs issued a flat decree, "The penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet . . . is death and nothing else."
Over the years it became evident that the blasphemy law was used more and more for political vendetta, land disputes or political rivalry than an actual event. The law became a way to challenge someone's status and a powerful tool to intimidate anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim.
Since the death sentence was enacted in 1986, the number of those charged under these laws has soared to 962, but most of these cases under close examination reveal personal vendettas behind the moves or are often used by Islamic extremists as a cover to persecute religious minorities.
Taseer, a liberal politician was the first to speak out against the treatment of Asia Noreen, a Christian farmhand who had been sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws. It all started over 18 months ago in a small village in Punjab province. Over a hot summer day, a group of female farm workers were suffering in the heat. Asia Noreen, an illiterate 45-year-old mother of five, offered them water, but her offer of kindness was rejected.
Their reason? Noreen was a Christian, and therefore her water was unclean, not an uncommon insult hurled at Pakistan's beleaguered Christians. But rather than accepting the insult, she mounted a stout defense of her faith. Her outburst quickly filtered through the village and the resident mullah took to his mosque's loudspeakers, beseeching his followers to take action against Noreen. Quickly, her defense of her faith was twisted into an accusation of blasphemy against Islam and the Prophet.
"These laws are used to victimize Christians and other groups," Taseer told reporters back in November. "They are a foul leftover from the military regime of General Zia-ul Haq which lasted from 1977 till his death in a plane crash in 1988."
Others have called the blasphemy law "wide open to abuse, through and by the miscreant mullahs for political, repressive and vindictive purposes...It is part of a rising wave of aggressive ignorance, incivility and intolerance as well as the medieval theocratic darkness."
In a statement, the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan said, "No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident." The group also added that anyone who expressed sympathy for the death of the Punjab governor was also committing blasphemy.
What right does this Jamaat have to demand that Muslims not pray for the souls of the dead? Who allowed these bands of misfits to hijack Islam, a religion of peace, to spread their brand of terror on people of other faiths or beliefs? And what gives them the right to encourage further violence against those minorities of differing faiths. Muslims must wrest their religion back from these wretched terrorists.
Enough is enough, I say! Quit promoting your distorted interpretations of Islam to justify the murder of the innocent. Murder of those standing in defense of minorities when no case of blasphemy had been proven is not an Islamic agenda.
*Published in the Saudi-based ARAB NEWS on Jan. 14, 2011