LONDON — Somewhere in the world there is a Muslim-majority country in which a 15-year-old boy accidentally raised his hand to answer the wrong question at a religious sermon. The boy said yes, when he meant to say no.
His religious instructor, his mullah, had been asking, “Who among you loves their prophet?” All present raised their hands. The mullah then followed with another question: “Who among you doesn’t believe in the teachings of the Holy Prophet? Raise your hands!”
The boy thought he was answering the first question again. He stuck his right hand up in pride. Yes. Yes, I love my prophet, he thought. But to the poor boy’s horror, the mullah had asked the question in the negative. Upon realizing his mistake, which I remind you was raising his hand too quickly, the boy was told before 100 worshippers that he had committed blasphemy. He was mortified.
The boy promptly departed that day and walked home. All along the way he must have been thinking about his mistake. Had his hand exposed him as an apostate by bearing false witness against his soul? How could he ever regain his lost status as a believer?
In his utter depression, perhaps the boy recalled the passage of the Quran that describes the Day of Reckoning in which believers’ own limbs will testify against them, betraying their misdeeds.
He may even have recalled a traditional saying ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad, “Even if my own daughter Fatima stole, by God I would cut off her hand.”
In this spirit, hadn’t a member of ISIS just executed his own mother for apostasy? Whatever was on his mind, this boy, who wanted so much to be considered a true, fearful believer, decided that he must take action to fix his terrible mistake. What happened next has alternately shocked, embarrassed, infuriated, and depressed me. It has come to symbolize the collective suicide—let’s call it Islamicide—of this boy’s country.
The boy went into his father’s workshop, placed his right hand inside the grass-cutting machine, and chopped it clean off.
That’s right. He cut off is own hand in the name of the prophet. “When I raised my right hand unwittingly, I realized I had committed blasphemy and needed to atone for this,” he told the BBC. “I came back home… but found the place dark, so I took my uncle’s phone to point some light at my hand. I placed it under the machine and chopped it off in a single swirl.”
Bleeding profusely, the boy then walked all the way back to the mosque, and found his mullah. As atonement for heresy, he then presented his severed hand to the mullah. “The hand that commits blasphemy should be chopped off,” the boy later said.
The boy was promptly hailed by his mullah as an ‘aashiq—a true lover of the prophet—and his extreme act of expiation was celebrated throughout his village and surrounding villages. Neighbors are appearing at his home, kissing his left hand, and placing some cash in his pocket.
“I heard that a boy sacrificed his own hand for the love of our prophet. I came here to meet him,” one said.
All he wanted to do was please his mullah.
Meanwhile, across this boy’s fervent and restive country, in his capital city, a bill had been proposed that would outlaw pedophilia, euphemistically called “child marriage.” But there’s an entire mullah mafia in the big city with attitudes much like that of the small-minded village cleric who celebrated his student’s self-mutilation. And that mullah mafia thanks heaven for little girls.
Marvi Memon of the ruling Muslim League party was attempting to introduce harsher punishment for those who “marry” minors, while also raising the legal age of marriage to 18.
Relatively uncontroversial in 2016, you would think. But such is the fear of being accused of committing blasphemy in this country, such is the power of the accuser, that all one has to do is threaten. And that is exactly what happened.
The country’s Council of Islamic Ideology declared that to outlaw pedophilia would be an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, for hadn’t he married a 9-year-old girl called Aisha?
Unanimously rejecting the proposed Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014 on “purely religious grounds,” the mullahs pronounced any representatives who supported this reform to be blasphemers.
Chairman of the Council Mohammad Khan Sheerani said, “Parliament cannot create legislation that is against the teachings of the Holy Quran or Sunnah.”
In May 2014, the Council repeated its earlier ruling that girls as young as 9 years old were eligible for marriage if “the signs of puberty are visible.” The legislators—from the ruling party I remind you—were forced to withdraw their bill immediately.
The mullah mafia had won once again. A great “victory for Islam.” Pedophilia was “Islamic.” And to question it was blasphemy. Which is punishable by death, in case you were ever in doubt.
That boy lived just outside Lahore. That capital city was Islamabad. Welcome to Pakistan 2016. A country committing Islamicide.
How I mourn you, Pakistan. You were once the pride and hope of South Asia. Muhammad Ali Jinnah fought to found you, to build a country in which “Muslims will cease to be Muslims, and Hindus will cease to be Hindus, not in the religious sense, but as citizens of the state,” and yet today your Sunni terrorists would murder Jinnah as a “heretical” Shia.
Like all rotten gangsters seeking power through intimidation, with every new victory Pakistan’s mullah mafia extends its clutches further. Their definition of blasphemy gets broader and broader, starting with a direct insult; yet now encompassing “heretical” sects such as Shia and Ahmedis; and, wider still, being deployed to protect pedophilia.
Everyone is petrified. The mullah mafia seem invincible. To offend them is obviously to offend God. And to offend God, the Most Merciful, apparently deserves death. But of course, this has got “nothing to do with Islam.”
Perhaps it was all over when the progressive leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the late Benazir Bhutto’s father, gave in to this mullah mafia and introduced legally sanctioned sectarianism to Pakistan’s laws in 1974, declaring the Ahmedi sect to be infidels. Perhaps it was the end when Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came to power in 1977, using Islam to crush his opponents, and introducing strict medieval-era penal codes such as public flogging.
Perhaps it was finished when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a jihadist terrorist in 2007.
Or maybe I should have lost hope in 2011 after the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by his own bodyguard amid accusations of “blasphemy.”
Or likewise when Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed that same year, for the very same reason.
Maybe those of us desperately clinging to the memory of a secular Pakistan that was, that could have been, should just call it quits now.
But then I think of this boy. And I think of the child “brides,” and the acid victims, and all the brave voices—military and civilian—who have given their lives to fight this madness; and I think of the assassinated Governor Salman Taseer’s son, Shahbaz Taseer, and former Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani’s son, Ali Haider, both still missing after terrorists kidnapped them hoping to ransom them. And it wrenches at my gut.
When I see the protesters lighting candles at Liberty Chowk after every major terrorist attack, when I hear of brave new Pakistani voices boldly proclaiming their counter-extremist message from within, when I behold the slightly paralyzed left side of Malala’s face looking back at me in her photograph, I am forced to remind myself, amid all the depression: Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan Lives.