Posts Tagged ‘ Hindu ’

Pakistan Should Abolish Overly-Abused Blasphemy Laws

By Arsalan Iftikhar for The Washington Post

My grandfather was one of the most well-known literary figures in Pakistan’s history and once famously told me that, “Anger is the most extravagant luxury in the world.” I am always reminded of my beloved grandfather’s poignant sentiment whenever I read stories about death sentences being meted out in accordance with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws; with the most recent example being the case of an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who is facing blasphemy charges for allegedly burning pages of the Koran in rural Pakistan.

The child was arrested last week in a Christian area of the capital Islamabad, after a crowd of people demanded that she be punished for allegedly desecrating pages of the Muslim holy book. According to BBC News, it is not clear whether she burned pages of the Koran or was just found to be carrying them in her bag. Additionally, the BBC reported that doctors in Pakistan have examined this young Christian to further determine her mental capacity (some unconfirmed reports stated that she has Down’s Syndrome), with the results due to be presented in a Pakistani court in the coming days.

Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, has said she is innocent of the charges and should be released. Shortly after her arrest, Bhatti told BBC News that, “The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”

As an international human rights lawyer, it is my personal belief that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are one of the most obvious obstacles preventing the nation of Pakistan from protecting its religious minorities (including members of the Christian, Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities). According to Pakistan’s penal code, here are the primary sections dealing with blasphemy charges and their potential criminal punishments:

“Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

In recent times, these controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan have created major international headlines and generated debate across the globe. In November 2010, a Pakistani Christian female laborer named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. Her sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail. Only a few months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both prominent Pakistani politicians – were assassinated in cold blood after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

CNN also further reported that militants attacked two mosques in May 2010 and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadiya sect, a minority Muslim group often “viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis” in Pakistan.

As a proud and practicing Muslim, I have written previously on “blasphemy” issues insulting Islam around the world and how modern Muslim societies should respond to such controversies. Most Muslims are aware of a well-known Islamic parable which tells the story of the prophet Muhammad and his daily interactions with an unruly female neighbor who used to curse him violently and then proceed to dump garbage onto him every day from her perch-top window each time he would ever walk by her house.

One day, prophet Muhammad noticed that the woman was not present to throw garbage outside of her window. In an act of true prophetic kindness, he actually went out of his way to inquire about her well-being and then proceeded to visit his hostile neighbor at her bedside inside of her own home when had found out that she had fallen sick.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly (and overtly hostile) neighbors is the truly Muslim and Islamic standard that we should all use within our collective lives, not threats of violence and/or death sentences which disparately impact religious minorities in Muslim-majority nations. After all, if our prophet Muhammad treated those who cursed him with kindness, shouldn’t other Muslims do exactly the same?

Thus, although Pakistan has a very long way to go in terms of protecting religious minorities within their national borders, it can take a giant step in the right direction by abolishing its overly-abused blasphemy laws and show compassion to people of other religions, something that Islam’s prophet taught us over 1,400 years ago.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

India and Pakistan: The Truth of the One Nation Theory

By Aakar Patel for FirstPost

The first time I came to Pakistan, I was taken aback at how good some of the infrastructure was. The airports at Karachi and Lahore were small, but they were efficient and well designed. I think my host told me the Japanese had built one or both of them, and those airports were a very different thing from the ones I had just taken off from in India.

This was when the government made the airports and as with all things the Indian government takes up, our airports were clumsy and barely functional. But a few years later this changed. Today the airports at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are pretty good. They’re not world class (nothing in India can ever be), but they are not embarrassing as the earlier ones were.

The differences that I had thought were significant turned out not to be so.

This led me to think of how similar we were as nations. Not in the sense that Mohd Ali Jinnah meant. I think it is fairly obvious that the character of India and of Pakistan is different when we observe their constitutions. India’s secularism is fundamentally Hindu in its nature. Pakistans constitution is Islamic by design and in appearance.

Though this is an important aspect of nationhood, however, it is only one aspect.

What I mean is how we are one nation in all the negative aspects. Our neighbourhoods and streets are among the most shameful in the world, because we are selfish and blind to the concern of others. Delhi’s drivers are as terrible as those in Lahore (and the women of Delhi and Lahore would concur on the behaviour of the loutish men of those cities). Half of us are illiterate and the half who are literate don’t really read much. The comments sections of Indian and Pakistani websites are the most dreadful in the world, without qualification. Hateful and pedantic, the product of minds who are only functionally literate. We think time will bring some big change in our society but it isn’t easy to see where this change is going to come from.

I know of few other nations where people would not be embarrassed at the thought of keeping servants. Few cultures would be so unaffected, so uncaring of privacy to not mind the constant presence of the servant in the house. I am not even talking about the bestial manner in which we treat them, because every reader of this piece, whether Indian or Pakistani already knows what I mean.

We divide ourselves into nations based on things like which animal the other eats or does not eat. The outsider probably sees no difference between us, and rightly.

We produce very little of meaning to the outside world, and it is tough to think of what our contribution is to the nations from whom we take so much. In science and technology we have nothing to offer the West, despite the boasts of Indians that we gave the world Arabic numerals and zero (I agree with that; we have given the world zero).

Pakistanis stake claim to Islams golden age. Daily Jang columnist Hassan Nisar often takes up this point. He says that the Arabs laugh when Pakistanis owns Islams achievements. What aspect of the conquest of Spain or the scientific revolution in Baghdad did Punjabis and Sindhis participate in?
To the world we are one people in that sense.

My friend Col Iftikhar, from Musharrafs batch in the Pakistan Military Academy, said he discovered this horrifying fact when he went to Mecca a few decades ago for Haj. He met some Saudis, one of whom asked him where he was from. Lahore, said Ifti. Where’s that, the Saudi asked (this was in the 70s). Pakistan, said Ifti proudly. Where’s that, the puzzled Saudi asked. Ifti took out a map and pointed. Ah, said the Saudi to his friends, he’s Hindi.

Our problems are so primitive that they should make us stop and repair ourselves immediately. But they don’t seem to affect us at all. Our media carry on like we are normal people. Reading the militant bombast of the strategic affairs experts in the newspapers of these two nations, the outsider would never suspect that these were two nations unable to even keep their public toilets clean.

Baisakhi Festival: Sikhs Pray For World Peace, Porous Borders

By Maha Mussadaq for The Express Tribune

Tears gushed down Supreet Kaur’s face as she stared at the shrine of Punja Sahib and prayed for less stringent border controls so she can visit Hassan Abdal every year for Baisakhi. The three-day festival ended on Friday.

Wiping her tears with her veil Kaur said that her ‘mannat’ — a prayer that she hopes will be answered by visiting the shrine this year — is that people around the world live as one and all borders become porous. “I want the world to live in harmony and peace. So far all my prayers have come true and I am sure this one will as well”

Supreet was not the only one to wish for easier access to the shrine. Thousands of pilgrims who came for Baisakhi prayed for a change in visa policy for Sikhs so that they are able to visit the shrine any time of the year. Some pilgrims complained about acquiring a letter of invitation from either family or friends in Pakistan for their visa.

Rajpal Singh said that it was unfortunate that many Sikhs could not visit Pakistan because of the restrictions. “Both governments should devise a verification system so that Sikhs can cross the border for religious rituals. Even a permit would be fine,” Rajpal added. “I want these restrictions to come to an end so we can visit other shrines in Pakistan, such as Baba Buleh Shah’s,” Supreet said.

Baisakhi is an annual event which holds a very special place in the lives of Sikhs. The day marks the beginning of the new solar year. It also marks the formation of Khalsa (the pure one). Sikhs believe that it was on this day in 1699 when the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh declared all human beings as equal.

On Baisakhi, traditions of Gurus were compiled by Sikhs. Guru Granth Sahib was established as their eternal guide and the holy book. Punja Sahib is one of the three holiest shrines for Sikhs because of a large rock bearing an imprint of Guru Nanak’s hand or punja, founder of the Sikh religion. Sikhs swim across the stream, making a wish as they touch the imprint.

Security

Due to security fears, Sikhs could not leave Punja Sahib without permission. Some 3,000 Rangers had been deployed by the Punjab government in and around the premises.

Arrangements

Approximately 8,000 Sikhs came to Punja Sahib this year for the annual Baisakhi festival. Singh said that he was extremely satisfied with the arrangements and was happy to see the hospitality of the Pakistani government. However, Major Singh, 67, said both governments should improve facilities offered to pilgrims, including operational bathrooms and lights in trains.

Thousands of pilgrims were accommodated inside the gurdawara like every year. A huge portion of Punja Sahib is still under construction but most pilgrims were satisfied with the rooms provided.

Approximately, 2,300 Sikhs travelling from India have been accommodated in more than 400 rooms in Punja Sahib. Paramjeet Singh laughingly said just sleeping under a shade at Punja Sahib is more relaxing than any other place in the world. “It’s not about my physical needs; I am spiritually satisfied.”

Business opportunities
A large number of men and women had set up their stalls at the back of the gurdwara. Hindu vendor, Inder Kaur had come from Sindh to sell jewellery made in Mumbai. He said merchants make approximately Rs25,000 in three days. “I love shopping here because they sell items such as clothes or even bindia that we do not get in Pakistan,” said Kalvinder Kaur, who was buying bangles from Inder.

Pakistan’s Hindu Girls Forced into Muslim Marriages

As Reported by IRIN

Sixteen-year-old Ameena Ahmed*, now living in the town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, does not always respond when her mother-in-law calls out to her. 


“Even after a year of `marriage’ I am not used to my new name. I was called Radha before,” she told IRIN on a rare occasion when she was allowed to go to the corner shop on her own to buy vegetables. 


Ameena, or Radha as she still calls herself, was abducted from Karachi about 13 months ago by a group of young men who offered her ice-cream and a ride in their car. Before she knew what was happening, she was dragged into a larger van, and driven to an area she did not know. 


She was then pressured into signing forms which she later found meant she was married to Ahmed Salim, 25; she was converted to a Muslim after being asked to recite some verses in front of a cleric. She was obliged to wear a veil. Seven months ago, Ameena, who has not seen her parents or three siblings since then and “misses them a lot”, moved with her new family to southern Punjab. 


“The abduction and kidnapping of Hindu girls is becoming more and more common,” Amarnath Motumal, a lawyer and leader of Karachi’s Hindu community, told IRIN. “This trend has been growing over the past four or five years, and it is getting worse day by day.

Pakistan is one of several nations across Asia suffering from a shortage of females as sex-selective abortion has played growing role in the deficit. Portable ultrasound machines have made gender selection much easier. A 2005 study quoted by Wiki estimated that more than 90 million females were “missing” from the expected populations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone.

He said there were at least 15-20 forced abductions and conversions of young girls from Karachi each month, mainly from the multi-ethnic Lyari area. The fact that more and more people were moving to Karachi from the interior of Sindh Province added to the dangers, as there were now more Hindus in Karachi, he said. 


“They come to search for better schooling, for work and to escape growing extremism,” said Motumal who believes Muslim religious schools are involved in the conversion business. 


“Hindus are non-believers. They believe in many gods, not one, and are heretics. So they should be converted,” said Abdul Mannan, 20, a Muslim student. He said he would be willing to marry a Hindu girl, if asked to by his teachers, “because conversions brought big rewards from Allah [God]. But later I will marry a `real’ Muslim girl as my second wife,” he said. 


According to local law, a Muslim man can take more than one wife, but rights activists argue that the law infringes the rights of women and needs to be altered. 


Motumal says Hindu organizations are concerned only with the “forced conversion” of girls under 18. “Adult women are of course free to choose,” he said. 


“Lured away”

Sunil Sushmt, 40, who lives in a village close to the city of Mirpurkhas in central Sindh Province, said his 14-year-old daughter was “lured away” by an older neighbour and, her parents believe, forcibly converted after marriage to a Muslim. “She was a child. What choice did she have?” her father asked. He said her mother still cries for her “almost daily” a year after the event. 


Sushmat is also concerned about how his daughter is being treated. “We know many converts are treated like slaves, not wives,” he said. 


According to official figures, Hindus based mainly in Sindh make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s total population of 165 million. “We believe this figure could be higher,” Motumal said. 


According to media reports, a growing number of Hindus have been fleeing Pakistan, mainly for neighbouring India. The kidnapping of girls and other forms of persecution is a factor in this, according to those who have decided not to stay in the country any longer. 


“My family has lived in Sindh for generations,” Parvati Devi, 70, told IRIN. “But now I worry for the future of my granddaughters and their children. Maybe we too should leave,” she said. “The entire family is seriously considering this.” 


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This is an absolutely despicable practice that the Pakistani government needs to put an end to just like the blasphemy laws of the nation. The religious minorities of Pakistan deserve equal rights, protections and freedoms.

Thou Shalt not Mock or It May Cost You Your Life!

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a couple weeks back, I did a great deal of contemplation about the situation in Pakistan and the current state of affairs of Pakistan and indeed in much of the Muslim world.

The current situation, especially in Pakistan and when it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims, is apparently the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world. Indeed, the plight of Asia Bibi, (also known as Aasia, Ayesa Noreen) Islam and Islamic Blasphemy laws have come under rightful scrutiny as of late.

One question that tugs at the heart of the debate for me is why is it that Muslims seem to get so very offended to the point they want to KILL you over a remark or something that comes out of your mouth? As Americans, we wonder to ourselves, “Haven’t they ever heard of sticks and stones may break my bones, but words don’t hurt me?!

Sadly, what the fundamentalist preachers at all the podiums of their Friday sermon or khutbah, nor any of their brethren on the run and in caves like the Taliban and Al Qaeda fail to realize that we are all God’s children. And God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, or whatever name you assign him, he is One and the same God of all religions. He is too big to fit into just one religion, concept, version or story of him.

And we all are his creations. Not one of us is superior over the other in his eyes and he judges us all equally. To him, the children of these three religions and its offspring’s are all related to each other. Adam being the first man, then Eve, and then all the Biblical figures and names such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, yes especially Jesus. He is their Messiah too!

Jesus, in fact is mentioned some 28 times in the Muslim holy book, Qu’ran whereas their own prophet Muhammad is mentioned only 4 times. And the fact that Jesus is also considered by Muslims to be the Messiah, it is sad that his followers should get such abject treatment in Pakistan and sadly, many Muslim countries.

If only the bad guys realized the connections between Christians and Jesus only then would a Pakistani Christian woman, suffering needlessly in a cell tonight going on 2 years away from her children in solitude, and constantly fearful for her life, would see her horrific ordeal come to an end.

These people are incapable of understanding basic rights, freedoms and even the unhindered concept of free will. No, they are primitive minded in their their spiritual and daily lives. They fail to see that a Christian’s God and a Muslim’s God are the one and the same. And he never would agree to laws like Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws at all. Why? Well because the Muslim God is known first and foremost as a Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate God.

In fact, the Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration to the average Muslim who says it countless times as he or she starts each day and till they rest their head to sleep. “ It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all except one chapter of the Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.”

The common translation:”In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate” essentially is saying that God is compassionate, and full of grace. So how would this God punish Asia Bibi? What would he do if he is so full of compassion and mercy? Would he even punish her? And if he is such a gracious and a compassionate God, then wouldn’t he feel that nearly a two year jail sentence in solitary is already far more than her crime not to mention being away from husband and children and being worried about mob vengeance on her or the death penalty?

That God may act in a multitude of ways and we cannot ever know till said Judgment Day. That is what Judgment Day is all about after all. In fact, this is probably one day when the man upstairs works overtime judging all of us mankind, from the beginning with Adam to the last standing comes till Tribulation and the End of Days. It is only he, the Creator who will do the judging and this is something that the men with the loudspeakers who climb to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayers, just do not really understand, in my opinion. They apparently constantly seem to forget and pass judgment from the pulpit and this in turn helps set the “popular” opinion amongst the ultra-religious faithful of Pakistan’s society.

My only prayer to this Creator is that may he keep Asia Bibi safe tonight and continue to give her strength. And if God should call her home and have her die a death at the hands of the real savages those that not only kill but shockingly, in your name, then please Allah grant her heaven just as you should governor Salmaan Taseer, a man who was only defending the rights of all your children, including those of other faiths. He was being compassionate and gracious towards a fellow human being God, as he was only trying to emulate his creator, You Lord. Ameen.

And while you are at it Lord, will you also please let the imam at the microphone know that “Thou shall not mock, should not cost you your life.” Afterall, “Thou shall not kill is one of your top 10 commandments, whereas mocking prophets or religious figures does not make the list!

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a Sufi Muslim who is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you like the Official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to get the latest articles as they publish here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment.

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case.

The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws.

And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her.

Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Christians who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority.

As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics.

Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws.

General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations.

Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi.

In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims.

There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of five children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi?

The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

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