Earlier this week, ambassadors from (most) Muslim countries met in Islamabad, in order to deliberate upon the fast expanding issue of blasphemous content (across the West world), being disseminated through the print and social media. For all intents and purposes, this was the first ‘high-level’ meeting, aimed at generating consensus about the approach of the ‘Muslim world’ in regards to blasphemy, and for devising a concerted strategy to tackle the same.

It the meeting, it was decided that “a comprehensive strategy paper” concerning blasphemy laws and policy will be circulated to all participants, by our Foreign Affairs Ministry, in order to evolve a future course of action; a formal reference will be sent to Secretaries General of the Arab League and the OIC; and that governments of Muslim countries will eventually agitate the matter before the United Nations.

One must give the devil his credit, when it is due. The PML-N government must be applauded for at least initiating this process, regardless of how toothless the outcome has been (for now).

While on the point, it must also be recognized that the elusive Muslim world, collectively, has chosen to remain impotent in regards to recent incidents of blasphemy. This is not to say that wars should have been started on this pretext, but that some attempt should have been made to develop a pan-Islamic response to such incidents. Or, at a minimum, a concerted narrative concerning incidents of blasphemy should have been evolved through a deliberate and consultative process.

Nothing of the sort, however, has been done till date. The ‘fault’, in this regard, rests with all Muslim countries, as well as religious scholars and intellectuals therein. However, the bulk of blame rests with the self-declared ‘leader’ of the Muslim world – the regressive Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is quick to kill or imprison its own people, but an absolute quack when it comes to the rest of the world. A country that curbs personal freedoms, persecutes minorities, funds wahabi fanaticism across its borders, and facilitates the west in terms of wars against Muslim neighbors, And the sordid leadership of this intellectually inert regime has cost the Muslim world its religious integrity and poise.

Surprisingly, notwithstanding the proceedings in Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s courtroom, Pakistan is the only Muslim country in which the courts had the audacity to take rational steps towards reforming the blasphemy debate. Specifically, the honorable Supreme Court’s judgment in Mumtaz Qadri case, authored by prolific Justice Asif Khosa, observed that questioning and debating the blasphemy law does not, in itself, constitute an act of blasphemy. And this categorical observation, from the highest court in our land, was delivered as a damning verdict against the religious fanatics, thus opening the gates for much overdue debate about the structure, substance, and applicability of blasphemy law in Pakistan.

The truth is that all countries, even the most liberal of them, have an anti-blasphemy law and administrative policies. However, such laws are not geared towards the protection of religion, or that of God and His Messenger. (Who are we, in any case, to lend God our protection?). The anti-blasphemy laws, across the world, are meant to protect the sentiments of those who follow and practice the religion. And this distinction, of protecting people, as opposed to protecting the religion or God, must find its way into a unified response of Muslim countries, against incidents of blasphemy.

But protecting the sentimentality of individuals, through the enactment of blasphemy laws, necessarily entails a corresponding reform of the culture of religious intolerance within the society. In Pakistan, from Asia Bibi to Rimsha Masih, from Shahzad and Shama to Joseph Colony, blasphemy charges have become the most convenient of ways to settle personal disputes. In a culture where fiery religious rhetoric is the most enabling tool for galvanizing mobs against other (defenseless) individuals, it is not the law of blasphemy that sentences people to the gallows, but instead the charge of blasphemy alone; a charge that can ignite riots and torch cities.

A reform of the intolerant religious culture, across most of the Muslim world, is far more challenging a task than that of registering protests before the United Nations. In our own country, reforming our overall religious culture might be a long and tedious job – spanning a rethinking of our madrassa structure, of its curriculum, of the khutbas in the hundreds of thousands of mosques that have mushroomed all across Pakistan, and of the fiefdom of mullahs in matters of religion – perhaps we can start with a simple realization that strikes at the heart of reforming our blasphemy ideology: we, the people of Pakistan, living in a small geographic area, during this brief moment of life, are not the final custodians of the respect and sanctity of God or His religion.

That the most merciful, the all-powerful Allah, who feeds us when we are hungry, and protects us from things that we know not of, was God before we ever existed, and will be God forever after we are gone. His beloved Muhammad (SAWW), who was a prophet at the time when Adam (AS) was between clay and water, does not need us to spill blood in order to celebrate his dominion over the path of truth. That our piety to Islam, our love for the Prophet (SAWW), and our surrender to the kingdom of the Almighty, does not need the seal of ‘infidel’ blood. That those before us, who were blessed by His infinite grace – Ibne Arabi, Al Ghazali, Tabriz, Rumi, Bhitai, Ganj Buksh – killed no one to prove their station in the pedigree of saints. And we, the spiritual inheritors of this great progeny, need not pick up the sword to shield the ‘respect’ of Infinity.

The sooner we learn these lessons (of Islam), the sooner we can start our journey back to light. And maybe, in the process, we can convince the rest of the world that Islam truly is a religion of peace, which does not deserve (nor will tolerate) any contempt towards it.