The mullah’s utility

Junaid Jamshed can redeem himself by becoming the face of a potential revamp of the blasphemy law, writes Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The mullah’s utility
Junaid Jamshed has been accused of blasphemy for imitating an anecdote that emanates from a religious scripture that Muslims hold in the highest esteem. Furthermore, Jamshed isn’t the sole man ‘guilty’ of recreating similar – or the same – anecdotes from Islamic history; the mullahs have been recreating ahadith in mosques and majalis for centuries. And with today being Friday there’s a fair chance that another mullah, somewhere in Pakistan, oblivious of the social media backlash that has led to JJ absconding to safety in Darul Harb, would be replicating JJ’s blasphemous performance to overwhelming approbation at this very moment.

‘Scholars’ who had dubbed blasphemy an unpardonable sin are seeking pardon, when Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih, Shama and Shahzad Masih and countless others weren’t even given the chance to apologise. The same individuals who eulogise Shariah law and scorn secularism are taking refuge in secular realms, vying to dodge the ramifications of the same jurisprudence they tout as the foundation of the Islamic Utopia. Not to mention the fact that it was the narration of a religious scripture that summoned the blasphemy accusation in the first place.

The paradox, hypocrisy and irony in this entire episode are self-evident and have been thoroughly highlighted.

Those rightly infuriated by the fate of religious minorities in the country, for whom the blasphemy law is a death certificate scribed in the Pakistan Penal Code, want mullah JJ to fall in the same quagmire that he has endorsed for years. They want the mullah to have the taste of his own proverbial medicine that he’s been hoarding and selling at extortionist prices.

Notwithstanding the allure of watching a despicable man fall in a trap that he’s set for others, many of us do not perceive the bigger picture here. We don’t realise the utility of the mullah in what is a rare opportunity to revamp the ugliest side of Pakistan.

After the virulence that JJ has been propagating in the garb of religion, it’s difficult to have any compassion for him; definitely not after watching the loathsome apology that he has recorded.  But we need to recognise the fact that it’s not just about one single detestable nut-head, and his brazen duplicity. It’s about the fate of those that have already suffered cataclysmic repercussions amidst the frequent Islamic spasms.

Should the blasphemy law gulp one of its most prominent salesmen, its demand – and hence supply – would multiply by manifold. The sole criticism against the blasphemy law – courtesy those ‘daredevils’ who are brave enough to state the obvious in this country – is that it is used to settle personal scores against the minorities. With the blasphemy allegation taking down a mullah, the barely audible whispers against the law would drown into oblivion.

Not that there are people queuing up to take on religious fanaticism, or challenge the mullah’s hegemony, but once the mullahs sacrifice one of their own on the altar of religious extremism, they wouldn’t blink twice spilling even more minority blood or decapitating rational heads. How would you argue in favour of reform, when a ‘good Muslim’ like Junaid Jamshed isn’t spared the menace of blasphemy’s double-edged sword?

This is precisely where the mullah’s utility could come in handy.

As discussed in this space before, countering religious fanaticism and expounding moderation in Pakistan is not just a matter of sectarian harmony or maintaining law and order anymore. Islamism, and the ensuring Islamist – and sectarian – terrorism, has slashed question marks over Pakistan’s role as a regional and global player.

Islamism has summoned an existential crisis for the country, and Pakistan would have to counter it one way or the other, lest it want to self-implode into obscurity. Manufacturing the solution to the unyielding peril of the blasphemy law would provide the key to a moderate Pakistan – the only kind of state that can exist in the modern world.

As ironic as it is, the clergy – the self-appointed custodians of religion – has always been crucial in opening pathways to moderation, throughout history. Whether it’s state-sanctioned clout that forces it into immediate acquiescing, or a gradual reformation that takes time and intellectual investment, the clergy’s stance has always been pivotal in shaping the religion’s societal role. Pope Francis’ promises of an inclusive Catholic church, and even audaciously hinting at allowing same-sex marriages, epitomises 21st century Christianity.

If the Pakistani establishment is as keen on curbing religious fanaticism as it has been peddling via the ISPR, and the touted casualty count of Islamist terrorists, it possesses the necessary muscle to use mullahs like Junaid Jamshed – and by correlation Tariq Jameel – into showcasing alleged blasphemy as a ‘pardonable sin.’ Once that happens, countless Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and even the Shia, would be spared the wrath of the mullah and his personal toy that the blasphemy law has become.
No one should be forced to apologise - let alone be massacred - for holding any religious beliefs - or none whatsoever

In the ideal world no one should be forced to apologise – let alone be massacred – for holding any religious beliefs – or none whatsoever – but in Pakistan, one of the farthermost domains from the ideal world, giving blasphemy-accused the opportunity to apologise for a non-existent crime – one they never committed – would be a massive step towards eventually making said apology superfluous.

If an ‘Islamic scholar’ like Junaid Jamshed, with decades worth of indoctrination under his increasingly protracted belt, can ‘err’ into ‘unintentional blasphemy’, surely a non-Muslim, can make a similar mistake. This should be the official tagline for the reformist movement designed to save innocent lives from the murderous allegation of blasphemy.

Junaid Jamshed, the poster boy of religious fundamentalism whose quest for women’s enchainment took him into the unchartered territory of being at the wrong end of blasphemy accusations, can redeem himself by becoming the face of a potential revamp of the blasphemy law.

JJ has been selling religion in a fundamentalist package for a decade and a half. The establishment just needs to hand him, and his brethren, a new wrapping paper.