Whipping up religious sentiments is a powerful tool in Pakistan and it has always been used by rulers to control people and create pressure groups of religious parties to bolster their reign. Minorities, especially wealthy Hindus, are easy prey in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the majority community has licence to kill anyone, particularly persons from minority communities, in the name of blasphemy without waiting for court trials. The ugliest part is that the murderer is hailed as a “ghazi” or “martyr” to the nation.
It’s time the world wakes up to the medieval treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. The blasphemy law was first introduced in 1860 by the colonial administration. The law stipulated ten years of imprisonment or fine or both. Later the law was amended in 1927. In 1953, when anti-Ahmadiyya riots erupted, Jamaat-e-Islami demanded amendments to the law but the Government of Pakistan did not entertain its requests. However, when anti-Ahmadiyya riots erupted again in 1974, the second Amendment was introduced in the Constitution of Pakistan and all Islamist parties came together under the banner of Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (movement for the protection of the finality of the Prophethood). Later in 1984, the Zia-Ul-Haq regime passed an anti-Ahmadiyya ordinance, which decreed that “Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslims” or “pose as Muslim”, and those who defied the law faced three years in prison.
Cases of extortion from minorities in Pakistan are frequent but rarely reported to authorities for the fear of reprisals. Victims pay huge ransoms as protection money to mosques and madrassas to save their lives. Otherwise they have to leave their business and properties.
A Hindu friend of mine narrated one such incident to me: “Due to coronavirus, our temple is closed so I am performing my early morning prayers (bhajans) at home only. One day my neighbour knocked at my door and threatened our family. ‘You Hindus should go to India and sing your bhajans there. If you want to live in Pakistan, live quietly, don’t chant Krishna nonsense early morning’.”
He added, “Believe me I was not chanting loudly. My neighbour always look for an opportunity to browbeat us so that under pressure we should sell our apartment to them and leave this place, while they always listen Indian music loudly all the time. Even there is a mosque-madrasa in our apartments where loudspeakers keep on blaring out.”
In 2009, Aasya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was accused of blasphemy. “Why you used my cup for drinking water? You are non-Muslim, a ‘kafir’.” Argument over this led to Noreen’s arrest in 2010. She was convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court and sentenced to death. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer both were assassinated for advocating on behalf of Asia Bibi and opposing the blasphemy laws.
Under global pressure, in 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi on grounds that there was insufficient evidence. But she was not released from custody because of safety concerns. A Muslim cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi announced a bounty of 500,000 Pakistani Rupees to anyone who would kill Asia Bibi. In 2019, she finally got a safe passage and arrived in Canada, but she continues to receive threat to her life.
Mishal Khan, a student of mass communication of Abdul Wali Khan University, was killed in 2017 on the premises of the university by a mob on allegation of posting blasphemous content online. He was in the hostel of the university when he was stripped naked and severely beaten up by a group of students and then shot. He succumbed to his injuries. The mob was kicking his lifeless body and beating it with wooden planks. His body was then thrown from the second floor of the building. The mob even tried to burn his body while chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”. At least 25 law enforcement officers were present there, but no action was taken. Later investigations found that the content Mishal posted had only secular views and references to books on democracy and equality of humanity. But before this realisation came out, Pakistan had already lost a beautiful soul.
Recently, on July 29, Tahir Naseem, an American, was shot dead inside a Pakistani courtroom where he had gone for a trial for alleged blasphemy. He was an Ahmadiyya but one of my sources told me that he was having mental issues. His murderer justified the killing, “A light appeared in my dream last night and ordered me to kill this enemy of Allah so that I can be awarded with gift of heaven.”
The murderer was praised by a majority of people in Pakistan and even Government officials and politicians used his picture as their display
picture (DP) on their social media profiles.
When I reported this case and announced a campaign on social media against the blasphemy laws, forced conversions and enforced disappearances in Pakistan and organised a protest at the Consulate General of Pakistan in Houston, I received many life threats and was targeted by unknown profiles on the social media.
Blasphemy Law (Clause , 295C) of Pakistan panel court reads: “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 (PBUH) shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”
The law prescribes the death penalty for those who are found guilty of blasphemy. The option of life imprisonment has been defunct since a 1991 Federal Shariat Court judgment.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are derived from the Holy Quran and Hadiths, but there are differences between different Islamic schools of jurisprudence in this regard. Several Islamic scholars believe that Quranic verses are misinterpreted by dominant Muslim groups in Pakistan with the support of establishment that allows them to use blasphemy laws as a tool to achieve their narrow sectarian interests and agendas. A Quranic verse, which directly mentions blasphemy, calls on Muslims to not blaspheme deities of other religions, lest people of those religions retaliate by blaspheming against Allah.
“And do not insult (wa la tasubbu) those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult (fa-yasubbu) Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus, we have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return and He will inform them about what they used to do.” — Qur’an, 6:108
However, a few Hadiths justify severe punishments for blasphemy. But not everyone agrees. Secular Muslims in Pakistan have always demanded abolition of the blasphemy laws but didn’t succeed because of the interest groups. Whipping up religious sentiments is a powerful tool in Pakistan that has always been used by rulers to control people, and create pressure groups of religious parties to perpetuate fear. Minorities, especially wealthy Hindus, are easy prey in Pakistan.
(The writer, an exiled political leader from Sindh, is vice president of Jeay Sindh Thinkers Forum. He is currently living in the US)