A man accused of blasphemy and facing trial for the last two years, was shot dead right in front of the judge inside a court room in Peshawar. Tahir Shamim Ahmad thought that he was a Masih and that God spoke to him in his dreams. He also proclaimed himself to be the Mujaddid who had come to warn people that the end times was near.
Tahir Shamim Ahmad, had claimed he was Islam's prophet
The killer, Khalid, immediately surrendered and declared that had killed the man because he (Naseem) had dishonoured Prophet Muhammad. He added that Islam demanded that such a person should be killed and that he was just following the demands of his religion. Ahmad Naseem was an Ahmadi Muslim, a religious group which has been targeted by Pakistani state and people for many decades now. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are punishable by death but so far, the courts have refrained from sending any of the accused to the gallows. Currently, there are at least 17 people who are convicted of blasphemy who are on death row.
Assailant Khalid Khan
The law is so harsh that anyone accused of the ‘crime’ can ever hope for an impartial trial. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, saw her death sentence overturned only after a prolonged international campaign. Those who spoke in her favour, governor Salman Taseer and minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were accused of being blasphemers themselves and were eventually killed for this reason by the lovers of the prophet. But if the law is adequately harsh, then why the need to kill such ‘blasphemers’ even before a guilty verdict has been pronounced? Videos circulating on the social media suggest that ordinary religious Pakistani Muslims have become wary of the courts. They think that the court takes too much time in delivering any verdict and are suspicious that the many human rights organizations working for the accused may put pressure on the courts.
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman
Governor Salman Taseer
Pakistan Christian Minister Shahbaz Bhatti
Many think that rather than wasting time in courts, it is better that the accused is killed by people instantly. Many Muslims tend to believe that this is enjoined on them by their religion. It is not a surprise therefore that since 1990, as many as 62 people have been killed by religious vigilantes in Pakistan, according to the think tank Centre for Research and Security Studies.
One can certainly accuse the Pakistan state for having such a tough and harsh blasphemy law and demand that the law either be diluted or altogether scrapped. However, the problem is much deeper. The Muslim society in Pakistan has now come to believe that killing an alleged blasphemer is tantamount to an Islamic virtue. An entire social ecosystem has developed within Pakistan where men who kill a ‘blasphemer’ are feted as ghazi. The killer of Salman Taseer today has the status of a Pir, who can give blessings and cure diseases. His grave is venerated by thousands. Such reverence for a murderer is only possible if people genuinely believe in the necessity and truthfulness of killing a blasphemer. In other words, such killings are considered legitimate and even expected of Muslims. It is this social support which emboldens the political class to defend blasphemy laws. Till the time we do not question this sentiment, we are not going to get rid of this problem.
Does the Quran mandate any such punishment for blasphemy? Certainly not. While it does not tolerate criticism of Islam, God or the Prophets, Quran categorically leaves the job of punishing such individuals in the hands of Allah. In other words, this is something between the concerned person and God which will be judged in the hereafter and not in this world. It seems that the mullahs and muftis have arrogated to themselves the power which should rightfully belong to the Almighty. Interestingly, Muslims who argue that their religion should not be criticised often indulge in criticising other religious traditions, completely forgetting that the Quran forbids them to do so. Thus whereas they freely indulge in lampooning other religions, any criticism of Islam becomes an issue of blasphemy for Muslims. Laws which inhibit free expression of thought is therefore not about respecting all belief systems but only a tool to harass and intimidate the minority.
A democratic country should have no blasphemy related laws as it directly impacts on freedom of expression of its citizens. What characterises blasphemy is a slippery domain and therefore those who are in the business of discussing ideas have no other option but to censor themselves. Such a state of affairs is hardly conducive to the intellectual growth of any country. Rather than promoting religious tolerance, such laws in fact weaken reform minded moderate Muslims and silence minorities, encouraging violence against them. It is not surprising that the majority of those who have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are either Shias or Ahmadis, both minorities in their own ways.
Pakistan is trying hard to shed its image as a country which is hostile to its minority population. The renovation and maintenance of Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras are all part of this effort to project a tolerant and multicultural image to the outside world. But till the time it has such obnoxious laws on its statute books, the world at large will not believe that Pakistan is making a sincere effort in that direction.
The sacrificial festival (Eid ul Adha or Baqar Eid) is observed every year on the tenth of Dhul Hajja, the month of Islamic pilgrimage or Hajj. The festival of sacrifice was ordained to all the Abrahamic religions as has been mentioned in the Quran:
"And for ever religion we have appointed a rite (of sacrifice) that they may mention the name of Allah over what He has provided for them of (sacrificial) animals. (Al Hajj:36)
Muslims offer Eid al-Adha prayers at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi October 16, 2013.
Therefore, Muslims sacrifice a cow, a camel or a goat commemorating Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son Ismail a.s. after being inspired to do so in a dream. God enjoined on the Muslims the ritual of sacrificing an animal to make Prophet Abraham's act a precedence and an example for the believers. God wants Muslims to be ready to sacrifice his most precious possession in the path of God as was done by Prophet Abraham pbuh. This festival reminds Muslims of his purpose of and attitude to life. A true believer follows God's ordainments all through his life. The Quran reiterates the assertion of a true believer:
"Say, surely my prayers, my other acts of worship (including sacrifice), my living and my dying are for Allah alone." (Al An'am:162)
Prophet Abraham's sacrifice demonstrates his sincerity of purpose and his piety. Therefore, in the observance of the sacrifice of animals, God wants Muslims to demonstrate this sincerity of purpose and piety. Show of wealth or sacrificial animal is not the way of a true believer. In fact, a sacrifice which is devoid of piety is not accepted by God. The Quran clearly says to those flaunting their sacrificial animals and wealth:
"Neither their flesh nor their blood reaches Allah but it is their piety that reaches Him."(Al Hajj:37)
Eid being celebrated in Amritsar. Photo: PTI
Piety requires Muslims to show sensitivity not only to the animals being sacrificed but also to the religious sentiments of people of other religions. The sacrificial animals should not be sacrificed before other animals to be sacrificed. The hides and bones of sacrificed cows or other animals should be disposed of with care. The sacrifice should not be done on the streets hindering the passage for general people. Sacrifice of cows should also not be done in open places in localities where non-Muslims live. An act of worship that hurts the sentiments of people or causes inconvenience or trouble to others is no acceptable to God.
Terrorist and militant groups have thrived in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc because in a Muslim majority society, the Islamic governments consider extremism and militantism only another way of Islamic life in which militantism and extremism or intolerance against non-Muslims is interpreted as jihad and a sizeable section of Muslim intelligentsia overtly or covertly supports this interpretation based on the exegeses of some prominent Islamic scholars of the middle ages. Terrorist organisations like Al Qaida, Taliban, Al Shabab, Sipah-e- Sahab, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Hizbul Mujahideen, Al Nusrah and ISIS are the product of this extremist and militant interpretation of the Quran and Hadith. The Islamic governments of these countries hesitate to take action against these outfits due to the support of a section of powerful clerics they enjoy for the fear of being branded anti-Islam.
India is not a Muslim majority country and no extremist or militant Muslim organisation has existed in this country. The Muslim religious organisations or institutions of India have never espoused or preached extremist or militant Islamic ideas even during the phases of worst violence against them. They have always tried to resolve their issues through Quranic principles of peaceful protests and judicial remedies. They have never believed in mindless violence and desperate suicidal ideologies. Secondly, the government in India is not Islamic, so it has no qualms about tackling any extremist or militant uprising in the country and the extremist elements know it very well. Thirdly, India, as an ancient civilisation, has an inherent culture of peaceful co-existence and tolerance. Added to it is the tradition of Sufism and Vedic mysticism that has strengthened this multicultural fabric of the country.
It is, therefore, surprising and at the same time intriguing that a Muslim militant organisation called the ISIS whose members were called liver eaters by the Russian President Vladimir Putin have managed to get an ideological foothold in India. The terrorist outfit has launched its mouthpiece Voice of Hind which is distributed online and targets the Muslim youth of India. During the last six months, it has published two or three issues trying to create an atmosphere of fear, distrust and hate among the Hindus and Muslims of the country. In its latest edition, it has urged the Muslim youth to remain equipped all the time to kill the Hindus.
In the previous issue it had asked the Muslims of India not to listen to the secular leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, Kanhaiya Kumar and Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind leaders Maulana Arshad Madani and Mahmood Madani. This seems to be the beginning.
The ISIS is a terrorist organisation and its ideology and modus operandi is known to the world. It demonstrated the extreme degree of ruthlessness and mercilessness towards its opponents or critics. The outfit is not here only for preaching its ideology through its publication. The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka last year or attacks on a maternity home and funeral procession in Afghanistan two months ago should be sufficient reminders for us to be alert.
The UN has already alerted us through its report which says that hundreds of Al Qaida and ISIS activists are present in Kerala and Karnataka. It can also be assumed that the Voice of Hind is being edited by ideologues present in India as they refer to the political and social happenings in their articles and try to brainwash its readers.
It is also surprising that no religious organisation or leader has come out openly against this group though during the rise of the ISIS a group of religious leaders, columnists and ideologues openly supported it. No one has criticised the people behind the Voice of Hind. A publication like Voice of Hind from India gives a hint of the things to come. It has already made it clear that it wants to spread violence here. It has also made it clear that it sees secular Hindu and Muslim leaders and religious personalities as an obstacle to their goal. The organisation is also known to have their 'kill list' and to have executed persons on this list.
If this publication is not closed down and is allowed to carry on its agenda, it may drive Indian Muslim youth towards extremism and terrorism. Indian Muslim religious leadership should come out strongly against it and the government should act well before time before the group spreads its tentacles further in the Indian Muslim society and spreads the culture of violence, suicide attacks and target killings here. Since they have also named Kanhaiya Kumar as one of the secular leaders they hate, they may cause communal riots by attacking secular Hindu leaders of the country.
Therefore, the publication of a mouth piece of a terrorist organisation like the ISIS being published from a country like India where the Muslims have upheld the traditions of pluralism and Sufism nurtured and promoted by Amir Khusrau, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid, Kabir and Maulana Azad is a blot on the Muslim society.
The government and the Indian Muslim community should wake up to this menace before it is too late.
The destruction, conversion and restoration of places of worship are not something new in history. Religion has been an important part of every civilization. The faith of ruler was supposed to be followed by his subjects too. Any deviation or call for a new religion was opposed vehemently if it was antagonistic to official religion.
Saint Sophia museum in Istanbul
Religious books document the struggles that prophets had to go through for opposing the official religion and many were put to death for their beliefs. The story of Islam is not different either. Caliphs under the divine mandate carried out conquests and the people of these lands were supposed to pay Jiziya, be rendered as second-class citizens, convert to Islam or fight with the Muslims to either turn up as conquered or triumphant. According to Dr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, this was based on a divine mandate following Itmaam e Hujjat (conclusive communication of truth) and making the truth manifest on humans. This principle of Itmaam e Hujjat ended with the first generation of Muslims as most lands were conquered (Dr Shahzad Saleem: Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice).
Later on, the caliphate got degraded to monarchy but the title Caliph was appropriated by monarchs. They carried the conquest spree, exploiting the religious jargon that granted purpose and unity to the Muslim army. The jurists also divided the world into realms coining terms like Darul Islam and Darul Harb. These both were supposed to be in constant tussle with each other, despite the fact that Darul Islam was ruled by multiple Caliphs (read monarchs) who mostly had different goals, ambitions and taste often contradictory and opposite to each other. So, this construction of Darul Islam as a monolith was quite a contrast to the lived reality of Muslims.
yusuf.yilmaz / Shutterstock.com
Constantinople was the seat of Roman empire and orthodox Christianity. Muslims conquered it in 1453 and converted the famous church Hagia Sophia into a mosque. In case of conquered territories, we find two types of views among Ulama and jurists. One school of thought upholds the fact that people, lands and every institution of the conquered territory belongs to the Muslims and they have every right to just occupy, utilize, repair, leave or destroy the religious places as they desire. But this view is forcefully contradicted by Quran in the verse, “And had there not been Allah’s repelling some people by others, certainly there would have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered.” (Surah Hajj:40)
So, churches and synagogues are described as places of worship as equal in reverence and respect as mosques are. So, occupying them forcefully or converting them is out of question. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not destroy, occupy or convert places of worship, when he conquered Jewish territory in Khyber. Another school of thought believes that if there is a covenant signed with the rulers and religious heads of conquered territory that guarantee the protection of religious institutions then they are not supposed to be annexed or converted. They refer to the conquest of Jerusalem under second Caliph Umar and the covenant. Caliph Umar himself declined to pray inside a church when requested as he was apprehensive that after him Muslims may annex and convert the church into a mosque on the excuse of his having prayed there. So, even though there were no covenants the religious places still had amnesty from being occupied. This is proved by the fact that first Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr, ordered his army not to destroy or annex, or attack places of worship or hurt anyone who has taken sanctuary in their premises. Clearly Islam upholds the sanctity of places of worship of each religion.
Turkey's ancient Hagia Sophia, which has been a museum for decades, is now being turned back into a mosque, causing religious and political divisions. #
The spirit of Islam was often contradicted or not implemented by Muslim rulers. For instance, Hagia Sophia was a church that was converted into a mosque. Islamic prayers were held there from 1453 to1932. It is not essential whether Muslim ruler Sultan Muhammad Fatih purchased it or annexed it. But in spirit its conversion was wrong. But in 1935 Kamal Ataturk in his attempt to secularize Turkey, converted it into a museum. This move was opposed by a German Erkhard Ungar, who was member of the commission chaired by Aziz Ogan, that exerted great effort in making Hagia Sophia into a museum. Ungar insisted that the place of worship should remain open as it was and put a note of opposition into the report. Despite his opposition, the majority muslim commission went ahead and converted it.
Now in 2020, the judiciary in Turkey has restored the previous status that now reconverts it into a mosque. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been cashing on the sentiments of Muslims and promoting Turkish history as collective global muslim history. This conversion has drawn a lot of appreciation as well as condemnation. The historical wrongs cannot be rectified, otherwise Kaaba too was full of idols, and many Hindu temples are built on the destruction of Buddhist monasteries.
A process of rectifying history will have no end. We have versions on history and its narratives, not absolute truths and facts. Turkey is sovereign to take decisions like these, similar to Indian judiciary that passed a verdict using the demolition of 500-year old Babri mosque in Ayodhya as an opportunity to allowing the building of a temple there.
If Turkey is a sovereign nation then why this hue and cry all over the world?
Why some Muslims in different countries seem to be jubilant at this decision?
Are transnational Muslim solidarity and sentiments alive in an era of nation states?
Has globalization led to the transnational citizenship and blurred the boundaries of nation states?
Why liberals are aghast at this decision?
The world has attained the status of a global village. Modern means of communication have rendered it possible for news to be relayed across the borders. Media shapes opinions and Muslims have bigger share of negative news. So, every news regarding Muslims in any part of the world is going to help reinforce the stereotypical image of Muslims as well as Islamophobia. Despite separate sovereignty of different Muslim states, the image of Muslims has been constructed as that of a monolith. It has been reinforced by the fact that many Muslims who have never even visited Turkey, are celebrating the judicial decision. They are mentally still living in the era of Darul Islam whereas nation states became an objective reality long back. Turkey will not allow any Muslim to visit it without holding a valid visa. Even for performing Hajj one needs a Saudi visa. Muslim Ulama, jurists and theologians still have not upgraded themselves or Muslim masses to the era of nation states where terms like Darul Islam and Kufr have been rendered redundant.
Muslims world over are dejected, suffering from variegated crisis and possess a very low self-esteem and confidence. Hence decisions like these certainly offer a respite, hope and a taste of success in an era mired with pessimism and failure. So they try to own, appropriate and exaggerate the Turkish judicial decision and romanticize it as a victory of Muslims. Nation states are a reality but modern means of communication certainly have led to the erosion of sovereignty particularly by the transnational corporations, giving rise to a popular culture particularly through media as tools of soft power. Although the states remain sovereign, they cannot escape from the opinions and influence of citizens and leaders of other countries. Also United Nations is a world body, whose signatories are supposed to uphold various universal norms, values, principles and fundamentals of its characters. Further it has led to another form of limited governing body, compliance of whose orders is essentials in various respects.
A few groups give the justification that Christians burnt down mosques or turned them into churches once they conquered Muslim lands particularly in Andalusia, so Turkey did nothing wrong. They forget this fact that two wrongs do not make a right and in that era it was something normal, but now times have changed. The religion of a ruler or leader is not official, as most countries uphold that states have no religion. So, this judicial step does not go well either with the muslim minorities in different parts of the world or with the spirit of Islam. Turkish Judiciary could have restored the church and masjid could have operated equally in the same arena. This would have ushered a new era in interfaith harmony. Instead this step reinforced the Islamophobic image of Islam being intolerant and supremacist, thus opportunities of Dawah (inviting to Islam) have diminished.
In the current times converting, annexing or occupying churches and synagogues is counterproductive. It may win Erdogan an election but it has turned away the hearts of millions of non-Muslims from pristine teachings of Islam. Leaders should not try to act like Prophets as if they are mandated by God himself. In case of Masjid e Zaraar in Medina, Prophet (pbuh) was mandated by Allah to destroy it as hypocrites used its space to hatch conspiracies. Now in the changed current scenario religion is an individual choice and nation states are a reality that have composite societies where both Muslims and non-Muslims are equal citizens. So any decision in any part of the world will have ramifications for others particularly Muslim minorities. Classical jurists could never conceive Muslims as minorities but the reality is that Muslim minorities do exist and rightly or wrongly, they are punished for the action of Muslim majorities existing elsewhere. Hope Muslim rulers and nation states consider this fact before constructing and executing their next adventure.
M.H.A.Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the beginning of civilisation, Man has been compelled to leave his place of birth or ancestors to look for better living conditions or for livelihood. Sometimes man had to leave his Homeland due to war, calamities or oppression. Sometimes an entire community had to migrate. Individuals have had to migrate for various reasons. In modern times too, communities and individuals migrate for the reasons mentioned above.
Uyghurs in Australia protesting against Cultural genocide of Chinese Uyghurs by Chinese government
Photo courtesy theconversation.com
In modern times, however, there is a section of people who do not migrate due to disasters or oppression. They migrate to a place or country for better scope of progress and better living conditions.
The Quran speaks of migration for two causes: One, due to oppression and another, for the sake of propagation of the Deen.
Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh/Photo courtesy Vox.cim/AFP/Getty images
The holy Prophet pbuh migrated from his homeland Makkah to Madina after preaching and propagating his Deen (Islam) for more than ten years. During these years, he was subjected to every kind of torture, humiliation and hardship but he persevered on his mission for the reformation of his people. Only it became almost impossible to carry on with his mission as threats to his life became imminent, he migrated to Madina. Therefore, the Holy Prophet pbuh migrated due to the two causes mentioned in the Quran. Due to oppression and for the cause of Allah.
In Madina, the holy Prophet pbuh got conducive environment for carrying on with his task and Islam got a foothold here. After ten years, when Islam became victorious and Muslims entered Makkah victorious, the holy Prophet pbuh did not return to Makkah. He made Madina his second home.
Today, the Muslims of the Islamic world face the problem of migration due to various causes. Collectively, they have to migrate due to internal strife or civil war, as is the case with the Muslims of Iraq and Syria or with the Muslims of Myanmar who are oppressed by the non-Muslim rulers. Another section of Muslims are those who are stuck in a country where their religious identity is at stake like the Muslims in China and Palestine.
About the people stuck in non-Muslim majority countries, the Quran asks those who can leave the country should leave it if they are not able to fulfill their basic religious duties there. Quran holds those who can leave their homeland but do not due to mere love of their homeland guilty: The Quran says:
"Indeed, those whom the angels take (in death) while wronging themselves (the angels) will say, in what (condition) were you," they will say, "We were oppressed in the land". The angels will say, Was not the Earth of Allah spacious (enough) to emigrate there in. For those, their refuge is hell."(Al Nisa:97)
However, the people or group of Muslims who do not have a way out despite their will to migrate, they are forgiven because God is aware of their dilemma. Muslims of Palestine and China are in a situation that they have been reduced to prisoners by the oppressive rulers or political powers. For these Muslim communities, the Quran asks free Muslim groups and communities to come to their help and rescue them. The Quran says:
"And what has happened to you that you do not fight in the way of Allah and for those who are oppressed, the men, women and children who say O our God retrieve us from this place as people here are tyrants and raise for us supporters and those who can help us."(Al Nisa:75)
Thus the Muslim countries have a duty towards these oppressed and trapped Muslim communities to use their military and diplomatic powers to rescue them.
From this point of view, the prominent Islamic scholar Albani had advised the Muslims of Palestine to migrate from Palestine to some other country where they could live with dignity and with their religious identity.
The so-called Muslim countries that claim and boast of being Islamic countries do not have any will and plan for either the diplomatic solution of the problems of these trapped Muslim communities or rescuing and deporting them to a safe territory as the western countries had deported the Jews of the world to Palestine to give them a safe homeland.
As for individual Muslims, most of them migrate for better living conditions and livelihood. They do not face oppression or hindrance in the fulfilment of their religious duties in their homeland. They migrate from their Muslim homelands because of violence, sectarian hatred and extremism in Muslim societies without shunning their own sectarian and extremist beliefs. Millions of Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other so-called Islamic countries migrate to European countries in order to live in peace instead of trying to reform their own society. Interestingly, since they do not shun their own sectarian and extremist beliefs, they spread hatred, sectarian violence and anarchy in their adopted land. This migration is not according to the true spirit of Islam.