I did not know Salman Taseer, at least not personally. But I had often heard my father talk of his father, Din Mohd Tasser (or Dr Taseer), as his dear friend who was with him in Kashmir. I was born in Kashmir where father was the Director of Education. Dr. Taseer was a frequent visitor to our home.
I have two close friends, Salima Faiz and Sheherzade. Both were close to Salman Taseer.
Both women, in their separate spaces, one in Lahore and the other in Canada, are devastated by his assassination. What words of comfort can I offer them? There is a sense of outrage in my heart. Once again Islam has been vandalised and pilloried. Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, has been hailed as a hero and saviour.
Let me recall an incident from the life of the Prophet. The Prophet once visited Taif, a town in Saudi Arabia. There he was reviled and insulted by the people. The angel Gabriel appeared before him and said, “These people of Taif have insulted you. If you order me, I will destroy them in retribution.” The Prophet replied, “No, Jibraed, spare them; let them be. One day they will become good people.” It was as a consequence of the Prophet’s forgiveness, that Taif today is the most beautiful and peace-loving part of Saudi Arabia.
Muslims regard the life of the Prophet, his Sunnah, as the model for their own. At his last Khutba, before his death, the Prophet addressed the Ummah and said, ‘I am leaving you with three things; the Qur’an, my Hadith (sayings) and my Sunnar (life). Hold on to these and you will be safe.’
Another story goes that when the Prophet walked by a certain house on a Mecca street, a basket of trash was thrown at him from the upper storey. He never looked up, just dusted off his cloak and walked on. One day it stopped. He inquired and found that his tormentor was an old woman who lay sick in her house. It is recorded that the Prophet went up to help her as she lay burning with fever. This is the lesson of Islam. And some insane elements have, by perpetrating this dastardly act, made a mockery of it.
Surah Al Baqarah of the Qur’an refers to such people, when it says: “Sumun bukmun umiyun faham la yar ja oon”, which translates as “Deaf, dumb, blind, they will not return to the path.” And what is the path? Surah Al Hamd, the first and quintessential Surah of the Qur’an, describes it as Sirat ul Mustaqeem – the straight path – which is ordained for Muslims because, says the Qur’an: “It is the way of those on whom Thou has bestowed Thy grace; Those whose portion is not wrath and who do not go astray.”
Islam stands for forgiveness, understanding and compassion. I can quote hundreds of verses from the Qur’an enjoining these practices. Above all, the Qur’an instructs Muslims to respect the faith of others and forgive transgressors. There is no place in the Qur’an for draconian laws, such as the blasphemy laws designed to terrorise people. As for the specific case of the Christian woman, Aariya Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet, it negates the very spirit of Islam. None other than the world’s greatest scholar and commentator on the Qur’an, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has in his Tafsir (commentary) on the Qur’an, condemned ‘rivayat’ (heresy) since it is the most unreliable source of evidence.
Salman Taseer received 29 bullets for being outspoken and true to himself. I don’t know how he lived, but he died a hero for all of us in the subcontinent who live by our truths. Although death comes only once, we all live in dread of that day. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that the ‘aam janta’ of Pakistan have not raised a storm at this heinous event. But there is a seething inside and it is bound to erupt one day. We, who are their neighbours and well wishers, can only offer them our solidarity at this darkest moment. As the poet said:
‘Chiragh-e-toor jalao bahaut andhera hai/Sukhan ki shama jalao bahaut andhera hai (Light up the lamp of divine guidance, it is too dark/Light up the candle of poetry, it is too dark).
(The writer is Member, Planning Commission, Government of India.)