Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s largest province, was murdered earlier this month when he was shot by one of his own guards, who was apparently enraged at Taseer’s defense of a woman accused of blasphemy under a controversial Pakistani law. What happened within hours of Taseer’s death, when his body was still shrouded in the Pakistan flag and his coffin had yet to be lowered in the graveyard of the martyrs, shocked and confused me as a Pakistani. Religious leaders from all across the country chose to condemn Taseer and congratulate the murderer. Facebook fan sites for the assassin were set up within hours of the killing, and lawyers offered free services for defending the guard in court.
There is a mosque located a stone’s throw from my office, and the men who work with me often head there to offer prayers on Friday. This mosque is affiliated with a religious organization whose leaders urged Muslims not to attend Taseer’s funeral or to express regret over his killing.
A few days after the funeral, I put on a loose-fitting shalwar kameez, covered my head, and stepped into the dimly lit interior hall where men offered prayers. It wasn’t time for the afternoon namaz yet, so the room held only a few men silently reciting the Quran in a corner. I wanted to ask the religious scholar who heads the mosque how anyone could express joy over a murder of a politician whose only fault was speaking his mind on a controversial law.
The head of the mosque wore glasses and had a circular slightly depressed mark on his forehead. In Islam, the mark is considered a sign of great piety: It’s believed that it is created only after thousands and thousands of prostrations before Allah. Taseer’s murderer had a similar mark on his forehead.
I sat in front of the mosque leader and waited for him to look up from the pages of the Quran he was reading. “How can anyone be happy at the murder of our governor?” I asked. “He was an enemy of Islam,” the scholar answered with composure. “He was siding with those who had insulted our prophet.”
When I was growing up in Lahore, convent schools were the most sought after educational institutes in the city. And being invited to a Christmas party was chic. Children, both Muslims and otherwise, would wear Santa costumes just because they were cute, and huge Xmas trees would adorn shopping malls and hotels.
But now being a non-Muslim is a crime in Lahore. Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy, has sworn that she did not insult the prophet, but the court has still sentenced her to death. Taseer was killed for stating that he thought Aasia was innocent. And my husband believes I am insane for even daring to write all this. To be honest, I only dare to do so because I know this post is being published in English, and mullahs probably don’t read Slate .
Photograph of Pakistani Islamists burning a poster of Salman Taseer by Arif Ali for Getty Images.