One of the most pressing questions on the world stage today is: Who represents true Islam — the moderates or the radicals? American Muslims are overwhelmingly moderate, but they represent just a fraction of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. One can also point to other countries where Muslims are in the minority and see those populations as relatively peaceful. But given the fact that since 9/11 Muslims have perpetrated almost 28,000 terrorist attacks across the globe and that the Islamic world as a whole has not made any concerted efforts to root out the causes of these attacks within their own teachings, it’s hard to believe that the moderates wield much influence within their religion. Sadly, the masses of Muslims around the world often seem to cheer on the radicals rather than deplore them
Just over five years ago I wrote a post on the arrest of Asia (pronounced Aasiya) Bibi, a native Christian woman arrested by the Pakistani government under the charge of blasphemy, punishable by death if convicted. In that post, I detailed the elements of this blasphemy law, all geared to defending Islam and its prophet from anything smacking of defilement, so I won’t repeat that here. In the midst of the pro-Islamic fervor sweeping that country, one influential Muslim politician stood up to challenge that law, arguing that it was being used unjustly to punish non-Muslims, and especially Christians. The man, Salman Taseer, was a senior member of the ruling party of Pakistan, and governor of Punjab province. He spoke out concerning the legal abuse being done to Asia Bibi under the blasphemy statute, and even went to visit her in prison upon her conviction of blasphemy in November 2010.
Mr. Taseer was not lauded by many for his courageous efforts to amend the blasphemy statutes so as to prevent their usage unjustly to persecute non-Muslims. In fact, he raised the ire of most Muslim religious authorities by his stance, and less than two month after visiting Asia Bibi, he was gunned down by one of his own security guards, who shot him 27 times in the back as the governor was walking back to his car after a lunch meeting. No attempt was made to stop the murderer by the other equally armed guards present. Mr. Taseer’s funeral was held the next day, as is consistent with Islamic law, but even though he had been a prominent politician and wealthy businessman, his services were attended by only a few thousand people. Perhaps part of the reason for this was that over 500 Muslim “scholars” issued a declaration praising the killer as a religious hero and warning, “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.”
The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, who gave himself up to police with a smile two days after the shooting,was subsequently convicted of murder, and has been held quietly in prison until all appeals were denied and the death sentence carried out. Last week, on Feb 29th, he was hanged at 4:30 local time behind the walls of Adialia prison in Rawalpindi, and his body turned over to family members. His status as a martyr and hero among the people is confirmed by the fact that estimated crowds of 100,000 turned out for his funeral on March 1st.
Even before his execution, back in 2012 a mosque in suburban Islamabad was built and named after him. The leader of that mosque, Ashfaq Sabri, reveres Qadri, saying in an interview, “My faith is not that strong. Otherwise I and every other Muslim would also do what Mumtaz Qadri did.” Since the execution, protests and riots have broken out across Pakistan against the government’s action, and the Muslim fraternity of lawyers declared a one day strike to underline their belief that Qadri was unjustly executed. Earlier today, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up in a courtroom in NW Pakistan, killing 17 and injuring at least 30 others. The Taliban announced this was to avenge the death of a Muslim hero at the hands of a renegade government. There will be more violence to come, no doubt.
So back to our original question: Who represents true Islam — the moderates or the radicals? If Taseer and Qadri can be taken to represent the two groups, then what we see in Pakistan is frightening. Taseer, who had given his life’s energies to the people of Pakistan and argued for moderation in the application of blasphemy laws, is honored by a few thousand at his funeral but pilloried by thousands more. Qadri, who gunned down Taseer in an act of cowardice to “restore the honor of the Prophet,” is lauded by hundreds of thousands of Muslims, not only in Pakistan but around the world.
I keep wishing that the moderate Muslims were right — that they represent true Islam. I have many relatives in this camp. But the actions of the radicals, and the surging masses that vocalize their support of them, shows that the moderates have failed to win the hearts of the large majority of their fellow Muslims. Indeed, it is not a healthy option to be a vocal moderate in a place like Pakistan today. Or Afghanistan. Or Iran. Or Iraq. Or Libya. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Qatar. Or Yemen. Or….
By the way, it’s not safe to be a Christian in any of these places either. Asia Bibi remains on death row to this day (over 5 years), waiting for her final appeal for clemency to be adjudicated. That hearing is scheduled for March 26th. If you find compassion in your heart, please pray for her release, and for safe passage for her and her family out of Pakistan, for there has been a litany of death threats lodged against them by Muslim vigilantes prepared to carry our “justice” if the courts dismiss the charges.