By: Raza Habib Raja
One of the most important days of my life occurred in 1994. At times a tragic event changes you as a person. They say and I agree that tragedy more than anything else has the potential to bring about change. Perhaps tragedy evokes negative emotions like hurt, fear, embarrassment and revulsion. Emotions which do not reinforce your existing state of mind but force you to look into the status quo with a critical eye.
That day changed my life forever. I had woken up and was reading the newspaper when a two column headline caught my eye. According to that news story, a crowd of several thousand had burnt a man alive as a punishment for desecrating Quran in the city of Gujranwala. The man’s name was Hafiz Sajjad Tariq and he had accidently dropped Quran on a burning stove. Being a religious person, he panicked and merely uttered words “ Oh God, I have sinned and burnt Quran”, words that were unfortunately heard by a neighbor who had just entered the house. The neighbor went out and started screaming hat Hafiz had burnt Quran.
What followed next was horrifying but perhaps not unusual. Soon there were announcements from the loud speakers (I hate that device) that Hafiz had burnt the Quran. The mullahs were urging Muslims to show their “love” for Islam and the Muslims in that city obliged. Hafiz was dragged out of his home and beaten up. At that point police came and took Hafiz into protective custody. But charged up Muslims wanted “justice” and so a mob of thousands gathered outside the police station and demanded that Hafiz should be handed over to them. The police buckled under pressure and handed Hafiz to the crowd. Crowd stoned him to death and then burnt his body. Afterwards the burnt corpse was dragged in the streets.
I felt a nauseated revulsion and just put the newspaper down. That fateful day changed my life forever. That incident demonstrated the flip side of “reverence” of religion. It showed that one could easily vent out his/her (by the way some of our Muslim sisters also actively participated) gutter instincts under the excuse of “reverence”.