Blasphemy: A stark reminder to the society
Namrata explores Osman Haneef’s debut novel Blasphemy (Published by Readomania, April 2020) which raises some important questions on the cruel laws and outdated practices.
“People are entitled to change their minds.”
Osman Haneef (Blasphemy)
These words from Osman Haneef’s debut novel Blasphemy stay in your mind long after you are done reading it. It denotes my exact thoughts after reading it. I plunged into it with curiosity, completely unaware about what was about to hit me and was in for a surprise. It is one of those rare books which remind you, the problems you are bogged down with, are not yours alone. The degree of the problem might vary, but there are many out there battling with it and wondering if there is any end to it. Haneef’s novel tries to show us that end, though carefully disguised.
Through Blasphemy, Haneef explores the controversial law of Pakistan. Highly insightful and majorly one that raises a lot of important questions, this story of a young Christian boy wrongly charged of blasphemy is an engaging read.
It is interesting to note, the number of hats Haneef adorns. He has worked as TV actor, a strategy consultant, and a diplomatic adviser, and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017. Bringing together his experiences of observing the world, its culture and practices closely, he manages to weave a fascinating story where fact meets fiction.
With a minimalistic cover in blue with shadows of domes and a lone man’s silhouette standing out between the book’s title, Blasphemy is screaming for attention – just like the book’s content and topic.
All around the world, if we look at it closely, we notice how religious righteousness, religious intolerance and fanaticism have spread its tentacles. In the name of religion, we have had killings, violence and what not – just so that one could claim supremacy over the other. The sheer display of power is nauseating to an extent. The bleak headlines of newspapers give no hope and are getting scarier day by day. In such times, a story that talks about a deceptive law and one person’s battle against it, is promising.
Written in a lucid tone, author Osman Haneef narrates the heart-wrenching story of Danesh and Sikander with a certain honesty that is moving. It is evocative and enthralling. The characters in the novel are such, they grow on you. When the novel begins you are keen to explore their roles and somewhere in the middle of the novel, you have certainly chosen sides and even labelled some of them. It is towards the end that you find yourself looking at them in newer light, reminiscing their journey in the book. Through his writing prowess, Haneef makes these characters come alive in his words. They are convincingly real, to an extent that you are torn between feeling sad about Sana and Sikander and feeling angry for Danesh. The emotional turmoil is extreme for a reader and there is a lot to process, but it is undeniably exciting.
The language of the book cannot be called philosophical despite being packed with wisdom and interesting observations about life and its choices. Rather, on the contrary, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it blatantly straightforward and honest. Haneef merely mentions the facts and presents it without pushing the reader to conclusion. A reader, at the end, is free to derive their own conclusions.
“So, why is Islam the best religion?“
“What did you think of the Khutbah?”
‘Do you really think there is a flaw in the word of Allah?’
‘No, of course not. It is our interpretation,’ Yahya said.
Through various dialogues like these, Haneef has tried to throw light on many misconceptions and wrong practices encouraged in our society for years. The conflicting thoughts, the arguments that follow and the extreme biases that are laid bare in the book are taut and gripping. With his meticulous and accurate observations, Haneef shows us a glimpse of Pakistan’s society all intact with its class differences, economic challenges and the growing indifference among the people. It also exposes the superstitions, blind-beliefs and such traditions of the society. One might argue that the story is based in Pakistan where blasphemy is punishable and hence not applicable for a generic analysis. Interestingly, across the world, blasphemy is punishable by death in 13 countries and anti-blasphemy laws exist in 32 countries. Likewise, there are many such laws which globally might seem outdated or unnecessary but are being practiced in particular regions and countries. So the context might vary, but at the core, the story of struggle against outdated laws remains the same.
In this compelling saga of resentment, hatred, humanity, love and religion, what comes victorious at the other end is always a stronger human being and sadly what is lost is also a human being. There is nothing else at stake except us. Danesh’s story haunts for a while because of its close resemblance to reality and how life, is perhaps even gorier.
Choosing a challenging topic like this for a debut is not easy, as Haneef says in his interview to Team Kitaab, “You never feel completely secure when writing about blasphemy!“
And yet, he has managed to do a brilliant job at it. In the whole book, he doesn’t seem to evade or disguise any of the discussions or topics. He puts them effectively, in order to highlight their pros and cons, equally. If this book makes you angry and uneasy, his job is done. It reminds you of Manto and his famous words,
“If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”Saadat Hasan Manto
Blasphemy is Haneef’s way of holding a mirror on the face of society and asking it to look at its reflection- ugly, vicious and cruel. This is also a reminder of what is wrong with our society and how we can bring about a change in it.
Reviewer’s Bio: Namrata is the editor of Kitaab.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story.