I am a Muslim. I hold Prophet Muhammed in high esteem and have great admiration, respect and regard for him. But that cannot and does not prevent me from condemning in the strictest terms possible the murder on Wednesday, February 2, of the only Christian federal government minister in Pakistan for allegedly blaspheming Islam.
Shahbaz Bhatti was a Minister for Minorities in the Government of Pakistan. He was a prominent opponent of the blasphemy law in Pakistan that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam and or Prophet Muhammed. He is the second senior official this year to be murdered for opposing that law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard just a month earlier, in January.
Neither Shabaz nor Salman blasphemed. They merely opposed the blasphemy law as it stood and asked for amendments to it. Even if they had blasphemed, that does not allow private individuals to take the law into their own hands and kill them. There is the blasphemy law. They could have been tried under it.I go further and say that even if they had been found guilty under that law, it would have been disgraceful, to say the least, to put them to death for that..
I understand that religion is a sensitive subject. People who will not ordinarily harm a fly will die, and kill, for religion!
But Islam is not served by putting blasphemers to death. I am certain that were Prophet Muhammed alive today, he too would have opposed the death penalty mandated under this particular law in Pakistan.
The self styled protectors of Islam who put Shabaz and Salman to death bring not glory to Islam but ridicule and contempt.
In this time and age, putting people to death by stoning, or in any other manner, for any crime, is archaic.
What Muslims need to understand is that the way to counter blasphemies is to make greater efforts to spread the truth about Islam and Prophet Muhammed. The weapon against untruth is neither guns nor the guillotine but truth.
When Gandhi started the Quit India movement to rid India of British rule, I supported and participated in the movement. However, I also supported and worked for the creation of Pakistan.
Just as my love and respect for Islam and Prophet Muhammed does not prevent me from condemning the assassins who killed Shabaz and Salman, my having worked for the creation of Pakistan does not prevent me for censuring the Pakistani Government for having a law that mandates death for insulting Islam or speaking ill of Prophet Muhammed, and more particularly for the way it has handled the cases of Shabaz and Salman.
Shabaz was very aware of the assassination of Salman. He had received death threats. He knew his life was in danger. He even made a video about it. The Government had been informed about the danger to his life. Yet he was shot eight times, in broad daylight, in his car near his home as he was heading to work in Islamabad.
The windshield of Shaqbaz's car had four or five bullet holes. Blood covered the back seat. According to his driver, Gul Sher, a white car stopped near the car carrying Shabaz near a crossing. One of the four people sitting in the car got out, came in front of the car and opened fire from a Kalashnikov.
Surely it was the responsibility and the duty of the Government to have seen to it that Shabaz had protection as he travelled to work. But there was no security there whatsoever. Just Shabaz and Gul Sher -- and the killer in a white car.
Chilling is the fact that Salman's killer was lionized in Pakistan. Huge processions were taken out in his honor. Shockingly, lawyers, in their black robes, joined in.
True that government officials condemned Mr. Bhatti's killing Wednesday. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani condemned the killing and ordered the Ministry of Interior to investigate.But, after the Punjab province governor was killed in January, Gillani and other politicians disowned advocacy of reform of laws that make insulting Islam a capital crime. In fact, Sherry Rehman, a ruling party lawmaker who had proposed legislation to reform the anti-blasphemy laws, withdrew the bill, saying the party did not support it. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly said it would not change the blasphemy law, and officials have distanced themselves from anyone calling for amendments
And, significantly, neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor Prime Minister Gillani attended Salman's funeral.