As an illiterate and impoverished Christian woman faced death-sentence for blasphemy, Salman Taseer, the secular-leaning Governor of Punjab, tried to intervene to get her freed, describing the blasphemy law as a ‘black law’. And he was killed by his own guard Qadri after clerics declared Taseer as ‘wajib ul qatl’, or necessary to be slaughtered.
The history of the law mandating death-penalty for blasphemy can be traced back to an earlier chapter in the history of Pakistan. During the British times, a law was enacted in the then undivided Indian penal code, article 295A, which makes it a criminal offence to “insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any citizen with deliberate and malicious intention to outrage their religious feelings.” This law, still current in India, has been further modified in Pakistan to include article 295B, which mandates “life imprisonment” for defilement of the Quran, and article 295C, which prescribes “death penalty” for the "use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet."
The reason the British found it necessary to bring this law into effect was the Ilm-ud-din episode, which has striking parallels to today’s events.
A book had been written, called Rangeela Rasool (‘colourful prophet’), in Hindi. It quoted embarrassing stories from hadith to paint an unflattering picture of Islam’s founder and was published by a Raj Pal in Lahore. Imams in Lahore incited their congregations to kill the blasphemous publisher; and hearing this, a carpenter called Il-mud-din bought a dagger and stabbed Raj Pal to death.
He was arrested and eventually executed by the British Raj, who seeing how incensed the Muslims had become over the issue introduced the law in 1927 to deal with blasphemy (the above 295).
Ilm-ud-din was deemed a great hero by the Muslim masses. He was represented by up and coming lawyer Jinnah (later to be founder of Pakistan) and his funeral rites were organised by Allama Muhammad Iqbal (later to be Pakistan’s national poet). He was given the honorific title of Ghazi Ilm-ud-din Shaheed. “Ghazi” is a title of honour for a Muslim, who slaughters non-Muslims for the cause of Islam and “Shaheed” means “martyr”. Until now, he remains a great hero in Pakistan and where he was once jailed there now stands a mosque, named in his honour as the Ghazi Ilmuddin Shaheed Mosque.
So, the law that accounted for the death sentence on Asia Bibi, directly evolved from a similar event of Muslims' seeking to murder a blasphemous non-Muslim.
In the way Ilm-ud-din has been revered by Pakistani Muslims, Salman Taseer’s murderer Qadr is receiving similar treatment and reverence. Both are lauded as heroes by many Pakistanis and given the same honorific titles of Ghazi and Shaheed. The Judge, who has sentenced Qadri to death, is in fear for his life and lawyers have trashed his courtroom to protest the death-sentence for Qadri. Huge rallies are being held by Pakistan’s religious parties in support of Qadri, whom they laud as a true lover of Islam’s prophet or "Ashiq-e-Rasool". Not content at just murdering Taseer, his son too has been kidnapped, and is apparently being used as a bargaining chip for the release of Qadri.
It is indeed a bind for the Pakistani Government, caught between honouring its National ideology of Islam and all that entails and being a responsible member of the community of nations. Pakistan is haunted by what it seeded in the past in that both its founding father and national poet had stood on the side of a killer of blasphemers.
Not content at the difficulty faced with its blasphemy law at home, the Pakistani Government, along with other Islamic countries (OIC), has been a leading proponent of trying to export a watered-down version of its blasphemy laws to the United Nations for its application globally. Much of the hullabaloo about Islamophobia you hear of from Islamic organizations in the West is also a similar attempt at trying to criminalize blasphemy or criticism of Islam.
There is an interesting article I read online translated from Urdu in which the author Maulana Nademul Wajidi says:
Does he not know that in undivided India, a Lahore resident had dared to challenge Muslim’s self-respect having written a book called Rangeela Rasool (The colourful Prophet). An illiterate young Muslim Ghazi Ilmuddin had answered him with his sword. Having killed him, he had proven that no one can insult our prophet. Muslims will never tolerate that. Recently Pakistani Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer was killed for showing sympathy for the accursed blasphemer Aaasia Bibi. His own bodyguard Mumtaz Hussain Qadri killed him.
The punishment for blasphemy can be nothing less than death. Muslims have always punished blasphemers with death. But we live here in India. We are merely demanding punishment in accordance with laws of this land. Why should the government have any problems then?
The learned Mullah is indeed correct. Muslims have indeed punished blasphemers with death throughout history, and will use any means at their disposal to shut up the critics of Islam.
For those, unaware of some of these historical killings of blasphemers, can go right back to the time of the holy prophet of Islam and see that he instigated his followers to kill many of his critics (blasphemers). On the orders of Muhammad, a follower went and killed Asma Bint Marwan, a woman suckling her infant child:
Umayr Ibn Adi came to her in the night and entered her house. Her children were sleeping around her. There was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because he was blind, and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword in her chest till it pierced up to her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the prophet at al-Medina. The apostle of Allah said to him: "Have you slain the daughter of Marwan?" He said: "Yes. Is there something more for me to do?" He [Muhammad] said: "No. Two goats will butt together about her. This was the word that was first heard from the apostle of Allah. The apostle of Allah called him `Umayr, "basir" (the seeing).
Another critic of Muhammad, Abu Afak, an old man and poet, had composed poetry that doubted Muhammad’s claims to be a prophet. Muhammad said: "Who will deal with this rascal for me?" One of his followers then went and killed Abu Afak.
There are numerous other examples of killing of blasphemers in the time of the prophet such as
Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, Number 4349:
Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib:
A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.
Throughout the period of Islamic domination in the subcontinent, blasphemers were killed again and again in keeping with the Islamic tradition that Maulana Wajidi writes about above. There is this example I read of about a man, who was murdered for apparently making an incredibly blasphemous claim that both Islam and Hinduism were true:
It is related in the Akbar Sháhí, that there came a Bráhman,* by name Laudhan, who dwelt in the village of Kaner, who had one day asserted in the presence of Musulmáns that Islám was true, as was also his own religion. This speech of his was noised abroad, and came to the ears of the 'Ulamá. Kází Píyára and Shaikh Badr, who resided at Lakhnautí, gave fatwas which did not coincide respecting the merits of the case. Consequently 'Azam Humáyún, the governor of that district, sent the Bráhman, the Kází, and Shaikh Badr, all three into the King's presence at Sambhal. Sultán Sikandar took great pleasure in disputations on religious questions, and on this occasion summoned all the wise men of note from every quarter. Mullá 'Abdu-lla, the son of Mullá Ilahdád, Saiyid Muhammad, and Míán Kádan, from Dehlí, all the Mullás in short of his empire, were summoned to Sambhal, and the assembly of the also present on this occasion. After investigating the matter, the 'Ulamá determined that he should be imprisoned and converted to Muhammadanism, or suffer death, and, since the Bráhman refused to apostatize, he was accordingly put to death by the decree of the 'Ulamá. The Sultán, after rewarding the learned casuists, gave them permission to depart.
The incitement of Muslims to kill blasphemers is a recurring theme throughout history. The basis of it lies within the teachings of Islam. Islam believes it has the right and mandate to murder those, who oppose it in word or deed. This is because the very founder of the religion used such means, and those means, in fact, assisted the rapid expansion of Islam.
The world needs to be aware of methodology in play to shut down debates on Islam by devout Muslims. Devout Muslims will, when in power or in a strong position, seek to kill blasphemers or critics of Islam. When in a weaker position vis-à-vis critics, they seek to use other laws and means to silence critics. The current push for international blasphemy laws and talk of Islamophobia represent that path of action.
Instead of laws to criminalize the criticism of Islam, strict laws that severely punish those, who incite murder in the name of Islam, need enacting and enforcing. This would work towards eliminating this unacceptable menace to societies around the world.