Will Muhammad Shoaib Adil be convicted for blasphemy or will the state save him?
“The clerics tried to attack me at my office and later at the race course police station. The police were very supportive and didn’t let them touch me. Later, they surrounded the race course police station and tried to pressurise the police. Luckily, some of my friends came to my aid and they did whatever they could to make sure I get out of police station safely.”
He was freed from the police station in the wee hours of night, when the angry mob had dispersed. That day his life changed and he went into hiding along with his family. This is how Muhammad Shoaib Adil narrated his story.
That the space for liberal voices is shrinking in our society is a known fact. The brutal murder of human rights activist, Rashid Rehman, serves as a reminder that raising your voice can get you killed. As the state watches helplessly, more and more enlightened people are being targeted.
Muhammad Shoaib Adil is the editor of the liberal Urdu monthly Naya Zamana and is being hounded by fanatics, spewing venom against him on the basis of alleged ‘blasphemy’ charges.
He was picked up from his office on June 12, 2014, by the police, along with dozens of angry clerics who had filed complaints to register a blasphemy case against him. His crime: he published the autobiography of Muhammad Islam Bhatti, a former judge of the Lahore High Court who happened to be Ahmadi. Islam Bhatti and Ahmad Tahir, the compiler of the book, were both named in the complaint as well.
Adil published the book almost six years ago. The book contains nothing sacrilegious against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and yet, he was taken to the race course police station where he was locked up.
Naya Zamana has been regularly published since May 2000 and has very good circulation in the rural areas of the countries. Adil has published several books on art, literature, science and a few other topics and is of the view that his only crime is having given space in his magazine to articles written by minorities.
“Naya Zamana is the only progressive Urdu magazine that believes and promotes the cause of a secular and pluralistic political culture in Pakistan. It has been the defender of human rights for minority sects like Shias and Ahmadis throughout its 14 years. Due to our support to the Ahmadi community, I too was labelled an Ahmadi, which I am not. My father, Professor Rafiullah Shahab, was a known Islamic scholar and a writer of many books on religion.”
When he started the magazine, Adil was appreciated by the likes of Ahmad Bashir, who also contributed regularly to the magazine until his death. This publication is especially popular in the Saraiki belt and the far flung areas of Balochistan. Other than local readership, the magazine also has subscribers in the US and many European countries as well.
According to Adil, the real target behind this conspiracy was Naya Zamana,
“Their real aim was to pressurise me to stop the publication. The last issue of the magazine courageously focussed on the tragic murder of Rashid Rehman in Multan. In the past, we have published material whenever minorities – Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, Shias – have come under threat. They have used the pretext of a book published six years ago to muzzle my voice.”
Due to the threat to him and his family, Adil has had no choice but to go into hiding. With the miscreants still on the prowl, the magazine office has also been closed and nobody knows how long this will last.
What the future entails for him, he is not sure – but the one thing that is for certain is that fact that his life will never be ‘normal’ again. The magazine had become his passion over the years.
“Naturally I am sad; the magazine has stopped running but I have to make sure that my family is safe. There is no other alternate than to stop its publication.”
Luckily for him, his friends were there to help him escape the mob at the police station… the big question is: will the state save him and his family when the perpetrators strike again?
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.