Pakistan: Draconian religious laws and frenzied atmosphere – by B.R. Gowani

Since the creation of Pakistan, Muslim parties wanted the Ahmadi Muslims to be excommunicated. Finally in 1974, they succeeded when the Z. A. Bhutto government caved in for political reasons. More restrictions were imposed on them by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s regime (1977-1988). (Though Ahmadis consider themselves as Muslims, and they are as such throughout the world, it is only in Pakistan that they are considered non-Muslims.) Last Friday, militants killed 95 Ahmadi Muslims when they attacked them in two of their mosques in Lahore.

Lack of strong will and the half-hearted actions by the Pakistani establishment against these militants have accorded Pakistan a permanently rogue status in the international media and has turned Pakistan into an international spectacle for the world to watch, formost, free of charge. Occasionally, someof the countries have to bear the cost through the loss of lives of their citizens (such as the November 2008 attack in Mumbai, India), but mostly it is Pakistan itself which has paid a heavy price through the destruction of its economy, and sacrifice of secularism, women and minority rights,and human lives. It has created a culture of extreme intolerance, venomous hatred, constant violence, and suicide bombings.

The country has become a School of the Assassins for disgruntled militants (with minor/ major, real/perceived grievances), where they learn the techniques of eliminating the enemy. And the extremists living inside Pakistan do not want Zikris, Shia Muslims (the Twelvers, Ismailis, and Bohras), or non-Muslims in Pakistan—the former, because they do not fit the criteria of proper Muslims as conceived by these extremists, and the latter for remaining outside the fold of Islam. Both these groups are labeled as infidels.

These militants have often gunned down Twelver Shias in their mosques. More than 4,000 people have died in sectarian violence between 1987 and 2007.Then there is a segment of Muslims who are not of the Taliban type, but are violent nonetheless. They absorbed the extremist interpretation of Islam: first during Zia’s rule and more recently from the hate-spreading print and electronic media.

Extremist and sectarian outfit exploit Zia’s blasphemy law to harass, taunt, beat up, burn and loot houses and businesses, and attack places of worship of Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis. In many instances they also kill them, and accuse them of blasphemy in order to settle personal grudge, and in case of Hindus, they kidnap their girls and women and convert them to Islam.
Unsurprisingly in 2009, most of the 41 victims accused of blasphemy were Muslims!

In the light of the above facts it is not difficult to understand why this is the case. Why would a member of a minority risk her/his life in such a fanatic country, where you get from 3 years jail to life imprisonment, or a death sentence, for defiling Qur’an, the names of Prophet Muhammad, his wives, other family members, his companions, and the first four caliphs?

Anwar Syed reminds us of this biased law:

“The blasphemy law in Pakistan does not protect religions other than Islam. No penalties will be imposed on the man who alleges that the attribution of divinity to Krishna is misconceived, or that the Hindu scriptures are nothing more than fiction. Equally safe is the man who declares that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s claim to being a prophet is false.”

He also observes that no room for any kind of discussion exists:

“It appears that any assessment of the Prophet’s honour and dignity that falls short of the level that others may have assigned him will probably be interpreted as blasphemous. It follows also that no part or aspect of his word or deed is to be open to scrutiny.”

Hence, there can be no criticism of Islam, Qur’an, Muhammad, or of any other harsh Islamic law. This rigidity has created a cadre of Muslims who are just waiting to counter any kind of maligned or non-maligned criticism or intentional mischief, in a violent manner. Recently someone came up with an idea of “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” This time the government of Pakistan decided to make a fool of itself. Also a good way to get into the news, it announced a ban (now lifted) on Facebook and Youtube. However, people in Pakistan were probably able to view the sites through other sources. Saudi Arabia and Iran banned the site without making a fuss or announcement.

If 1400 years ago the people of Arabia desperately needed a prophet, then these violent militants are more in need of a prophet, imam, dai, spiritual guide, pope, or reformer, who is well versed with the realities of the 21st century, now more than ever. Who else can make them understand that the world has changed, has become much smaller through technological advances, and that, plurality only enhances and betters human survival?

If the Ahmadi Muslims have another prophet/reformer, and that community is not proving harmful to society, than what is wrong with that?

Let’s hope the death of Ahmadi Muslims become a catalyst for a change in Pakistan. Z. A. Bhutto declared them non-Muslims, and so in a way it falls on his son-in-law President Asif Zardari to undo this discriminatory law. He should muster enough courage to pull the Ahmadi Muslims back into the Islamic fold.

Pakistan must strive to keep religion out of the public arena. Imagine the public outcry if during the month of Ramadan more than half of the US population is prohibited from eating outside their homes from Sunset to Sunrise! And then, there are hardcore believers who keep an eye on their neighbors to check whether they are fasting or not. This is what happens in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries during Ramadan. (Pakistan’s population is over 175 million and the US is over 300 million).

In final analysis, this is a battle or war which the Pakistani government and the military will have to fight—but without the involvement of the United States—because their participation creates more sympathizers for the militants and makes this tragedy an unending saga.



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