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RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

IN PAKISTAN

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Religion in Pakistan:

According to Pakistani government sources, almost all of the 130 million citizens of Pakistan are Muslim:

bullet77% are Sunni Muslim
bullet20% are Shi'a Muslim
bullet1.5% are Christian
bullet1.5% are Ahmadis, Hindus, Zikris, followers of other faiths, or persons of no organized religion.

However, Christian leaders insist that they constitute at least 6% of the total population. 18

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Pakistani Blasphemy Law

An old blasphemy law, which was written in 1927 during during colonial days, banned insults directed against any religion. In 1986, dictator General Zia-Ul Haw modified the law to protect only Islam. The law require a life imprisonment or a life sentence for anyone who defiled the name of Muhammad or committed other blasphemy. In 1990, a religious court ruled that the penalty for crimes under the law (Section 295-C of the country's Constitution) is execution. 6 The law states: "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by inputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy prophet Mohammed...shall be punished with death and shall be liable to a fine." The law is being used in Pakistan to discriminate against religious minorities: largely Christians, and Ahmadis. Under the present law, a Muslim may blaspheme Christianity with impunity. But a Christian doing the same against Islam can theoretically be executed.

Iqbal Haider, then the Law Minister, urged reform of the blasphemy law because several individuals had been falsely accused. There was a suspicion that the motivations of their accusers was to settle old scores or to intimidate others. In response, some extreme Fundamentalist Muslim leaders put a price of $40,000 on Haider's head.

On 1994-JUL-28, Amnesty International urged prime minister, Benazir Bhutto to change the law because it was being used to terrorize religious minorities. 4 The AI press release stated: "Pakistan's blasphemy laws are so vaguely formulated that they encourage, and in fact invite, the persecution of religious minorities or non-conforming members of [the] Muslim majority."

Benazir Bhutto attempted to change the law, but was unsuccessful. She did direct all district magistrates to release any accused persons under this law until their case had first been investigated. A subsequent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif won two thirds of the seats in parliament in 1997-JAN with strong support from Muslim religious fundamentalists. His government has reversed the ruling of the former prime minister. Individuals are now being arrested for blasphemy, and held without bail, while their cases are being investigated. No Christian charged with this crime has every been granted bail. 1

The government is considering appending to the blasphemy law an amendment that will provide heavy penalties in the event of false accusations.

As of mid-2002, only the testimony of a single Muslim is sufficient to prosecute a non-Muslim on blasphemy charges. 18

Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of stating that he supported British writer, Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses." Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had used the conviction to force Mashi's family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih has been released. 18

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Persecution of Ahmadi Muslims:

The vast majority of Pakistanis are either Shi'a or Suni Muslims. Two of their foundational beliefs are that Muhammad was the last and greatest of the prophets, and that the Messiah is expected sometime in the future. However, followers of the Ahmadiyya Movement  believe that God sent Ahmad to be that Messiah, "a messenger of His in this age who has claimed to have come in the spirit and power of Jesus Christ. He has come to call all people around one Faith, i.e. Islam..." While followers of Ahmadi consider themselves to be a part of Islam, Shi'a and Suni Muslims disagree; they consider Ahmadis to be guilty of apostasy, to be non-Islamic. (11)

The movement's founder was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He was born in Qadian, India. He felt that he had a mandate from God to correct a serious error within Christianity. Most Christians believe that Jesus is a member of the Godhead. "...because Jesus, whom God sent as a Messiah to the Israelites was taken for a God, Divine jealousy ordained that another man [Ahmad] should be sent as Messiah so that the world may know that the first Messiah was nothing more than a weak mortal."

After his death, the community elected a series of Khalifas (successors). The current and "Fourth Successor (Khalifatul Masih IV), to the Promised Messiah was chosen in the person of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad" on 1982-JUN-10. The Ahmadiyya Community currently has more than 10 million members worldwide.

Probably the most famous Ahmadi from Pakistan was Dr. Abdus Salam (1926-1996). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 for his theoretical work on the unification of two fundamental forces of nature. (12)

The Pakistani government supported the expulsion of Ahmadis from Islam with legislation: "In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved the Second Amendment to the Constitution literally excommunicating Ahmadi Muslims and banishing them from the fold of Islam...In 1984, General Zia-ul Haq, promulgated Martial Law Ordinance XX...branding Ahmadis as criminals liable to fine and imprisonment if they practiced their belief in Islam, used Islamic terms or posed as Muslims." (6) The punishment is up to 3 year in jail and a fine.

In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard a case by a number of Ahmadis who asserted that they were being deprived of their religious rights and freedoms, as guaranteed under Article 20 of the constitution. The appeal was rejected. The court felt that granting the Ahmadis equal rights would be against public order. They said that Shi'a or Suni Muslims, who vastly outnumber the Ahmadis, consider the "movement ideologically offensive." 6 The majority opinion of the court stated that many Islamic phrases were, in effect, copyrighted trademarks of the Islamic faith. Thus the use of these phrases by Ahmadis was a form of copyright infringement; it violated the Trademark Act of 1940. They also found that Ahamdis were committing blasphemy when they spoke or wrote specific Islamic phrases.

One of the main purposes of a country's constitution is to protect the majority from terrorizing and discriminating against minorities. However, there are limits beyond which minorities cannot go. Apparently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan valued public peace for the majority over freedom for a religious minority. The U.S. Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights stated: "...to sanction Ordinance XX and its discriminatory impact and religious restrictions is to violate a fundamental and universally recognized standard of human rights." 7 Honourable Jules Deschenes, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada commented: "20 years have elapsed since the Second Constitutional amendment and 10 years since the promulgation of Ordinance XX; yet those unfortunate provisions are still in force and continue to breed their nefarious results, as can be seen from the above-mentioned recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan" 8

A sampling of persecution during the 1990's include:

bulletRashood Ahmad of Sangahr was found guilty of displaying a verse from the Koran on his wall. He was given a sentence of 2 years in prison and a fine of about US$166.
bulletFive journalists of the Ahmadi daily newspaper Al Fazal were charged under the blasphemy law, Section 298(c). This was in response to complaints that they had propagated their faith and passed themselves off as Muslims.
bulletThe Rawalpindi Development Authority demolished a 40 year old Ahmadi center in Rawalpindi. The government stated that the land had been illegally converted to a place of worship.
bulletNumerous Ahamdis have been murdered for their religious beliefs.

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Persecution of Christians:

The Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, said that the blasphemy law "is a tool for religious cleansing." Some disturbing recent developments include:

bulletIn 1997-DEC, Reverend Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is believed to have urged government officials to amend the law. Some Pakistani Islamic organizations were outraged and demanded an apology from the Archbishop.
bulletA trial on 1998-MAY in Sahiwal Town, Punjab, has generated a great deal of anger among the Christian minority. Mr. Ayub Masih, 34, a Christian laborer, returned to his village in rural Punjab and applied for a house lot under a government program. He was accused of blasphemy, of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and of promoting the writings of Salman Rushdie. He allegedly praised Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses," in a private conversation with a Christian neighbor.  He was jailed and refused bail. He was unable to find a lawyer to represent him. At his trial, he was fined 100,000 rupees (about US $2,100) and sentenced to be executed. All of the Christians in his village have fled. Their homes have been seized. He has appealed his conviction, but the process might take may years. During 2002-FEB, a two-judge panel ruled that his case should be reviewed because of prosecutorial errors. He will probability be eventually released, because no appellate court has yet upheld the death sentence.
bulletTwo Christians, jailed on suspicion of blasphemy, have died in police custody.
bulletRoman Catholic Bishop John Joseph led a protest march on 1998-MAY-6 to the courthouse where Mashi's trial took place. He gave a speech asking for peace and unity between Muslims and Christians. He then committed suicide, apparently an act of protest. 2
bulletOne day later, Raja Zafarul Haq, the Minister for Religious Affairs, said that the blasphemy law does not discriminate against persons of any faith; it is not against any religion. 3

The government is considering appending to the blasphemy law an amendment that will provide heavy penalties in the event of false accusations. Bishop Malik commented: "I think the government is quite willing to listen to us. It is the extreme mullahs who are making trouble."

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Random, mutual extermination of Shiite and Sunni Muslims:

Random acts of violence have occurred in Pakistan for many years between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. These often take the form of unprovoked attacks on peaceful Muslims at prayer. After a horrendous murder spree on 2003-JUL-5, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued a news release titled: "Pakistan Bombing:  A Wake-Up Call for Muslims:"

The suicide bombing in Quetta, Pakistan, Friday, that killed dozens of Shiite Muslim worshipers and injured about 65, should be condemned by all who believe in God and human decency. 

It adds to the outrage that those misguided individuals violated the sanctity of human life that God made sacred, and desecrated the sanctity of a place of worship.

This terrible crime illustrates the depth of misunderstanding and confusion that has darkened those who claim belonging to Islam.  Beyond mere condemnation, MPAC is urgently calling on all conscious and educated Muslims to expose the root of the malignant ideas that would lead Muslims to undertake such terrible acts of sectarian violence.  These ideas  and subsequent actions endanger and offend the basic principles of Islam, which are mercy, justice, freedom, and human dignity.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught that whoever is silent regarding the truth is equal to a devil.  This hadith (saying of the Prophet) is echoed in a well-known modern saying, "all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to remain silent." We call on Muslim intellectuals to initiate a robust debate around this issue.   MPAC will contribute to this debate and will publish the discourse through our channels of communication.

Points of Discussion and Reflection about the Quetta Bombing for Muslims:

bulletThis crime is not one crime, but several crimes (according to Islam) at once, including suicide, mass murder, desecration of a holy place of worship, spreading corruption, destruction on earth and compromising the peace (in a country that was created as a sanctuary for Muslims) and further tarnishing the peaceful religion of Islam.
bulletThe culprits have also committed a crime discussed for centuries by Islamic scholars, known as "crimes of the heart".  These crimes include hatred, cruelty, and sectarian fanaticism.  (6:159)
bulletRegardless of the history (sometimes deep) of sectarian strife in certain places or cultures, there is no escaping the fact that the mentality that can lead to the level  fanaticism witnessed in Pakistan this past weekend is taught, not inherent to Islam or to Sunnis or Shiia.
bulletMuslim intellectuals have been relatively reluctant to exert the effort needed to expose and isolate these poisonous teachings in detailed, specific terms complete with analysis and recommendations.
bulletA major root cause of this type of fanaticism is one group or another believing that they alone hold the key to righteousness and that everyone else is wrong.  One hadith (saying of the Prophet) in particular is often quoted, to the effect that "the Christians were divided into seventy-three sects and so Muslims will be divided into seventy-two sects.  All of these sects are wrong except one. When the Prophet was asked which one is the 'one', he said it is the one that best follows his way."  This hadith has two problems.  This hadith is considered by scholars to be daif (weak), and as such, should not be used as an educational tool.  Moreover, historically and logically, different groups have and do consider their way to be the 'one'.  If this is the case for all groups, than the point becomes moot and therefore meaningless.     
bulletIt is time for concerned Muslims:  intellectuals, religious leaders, community leaders, et all, to head the various 'wake up calls' that have arisen since September 11. 14 

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References:

  1. John Stackhouse, "Pakistani law has Christians up in arms," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-JUN-8.
  2. Sarah Horner, "Bishop Suicide," VOA; quoted in the Pakistan News Service at: http://paknews.org/main2may-8.html
  3. "Blasphemy law is not discriminatory,"  Pakistani News Service, at: http://paknews.net.pk/pns_may11.html
  4. "Pakistan Urged to Alter Blasphemy Laws," Chicago Tribune, 1994-JUL-28
  5. A page dedicated to Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan is at: http://home.inforamp.net/~admalik/mw/human_rights/
  6. "The Situation of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan," at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/hr-pak1.htm
  7. Letter, Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, New York, 1994-FEB-4, cited in Reference 6.
  8. Letter, Judge Deschenes, 1994-APR-22, cited in Reference 6
  9. US State Department Report at: http://www.utexas.edu/students/amso/pakistan.html
  10. An unofficial home page of the "Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam" is at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/index.html
  11. "The Messiah Has Come," at:  http://www.utexas.edu/students/amso/messiah.html
  12. A home page dedicated to Dr. Abdus Salam is at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/salam.html
  13. Munir Ahmad, "Pakistan court orders Christian freed," Associated Press, at: http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/
  14. "Pakistan Bombing:  A Wake-Up Call for Muslims," MPACnews, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, 2003-JUL-7

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Copyright 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-JUL-8
Author: B.A. Robinson

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