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Thursday, August 8, 2013


“There should be no compulsion in religion...” Quran 2:257
“...And do not say to anyone who greets you with the greeting of peace,
          [i.e., salaam alaikum] ‘You are not a believer.’...”  Quran 4:95

Religious blasphemy laws can be a touchy subject, especially in Pakistan, where just bringing up the subject of the blasphemy laws and whether they are right or wrong is considered to be, well… blasphemous. This wasn’t always the case.
The well-intentioned concept and motives of most blasphemy laws are easy to understand. No person or group should be free to insult another religion’s beliefs or holy personages, or desecrate their Holy Scriptures, icons or places of worship. The Golden Rule is the foundation of many freedoms -- from speech to privacy – with the right to freely choose and practice one’s religion, without fear of insult or attack, usually at or near the top of the list for most people, even those who are not religious. As Jesus (peace be upon him) said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Article 18 of the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, with regard to a person’s beliefs, that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Most blasphemy laws are formulated with that sentiment in mind. They operate on the premise that offensive speech or actions designed to hurt someone’s feelings or provoke physical harm are usually directed at members of one religion by the members of another, separate religion; Muslims against Hindus or Christians against Jews, for example. But religious persecution can and frequently does occur between denominations within the same faith; Catholics against Protestants, or Sunni Muslims against Shia Muslims.
It is, in fact, this element of sectarian animosity and persecution that can turn blasphemy laws into a double-edged sword used to cut the throats of the very people they were intended to protect. This is exactly what is happening – and has been happening for nearly thirty years – in Pakistan, where accusations by Sunni Muslims of desecrating the Quran or uttering blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) are routinely used to jail business rivals or personal enemies or members of minority sects like the Shias and the Ahmadis or members of other religions whose homes or business are coveted by blasphemy accusers.
“Proof” of Quran desecration is often only eyewitness testimony or is found to have been done by the accuser to prove their charge. In the matter of “proof” of uttering blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), no evidence is presented because to do so would require repeating the blasphemous remark. As for legal help against such a charge, most lawyers are reluctant to defend the blasphemy-accused because it implies support for them, which could mean losing business -- or worse, your life.
And in fact, lawyers are rarely needed anyway, because just the accusation of Quran desecration or insult to Islam or Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is enough to generate a mullah-led flash mob of angry Muslims intent on beating or killing the accused. Even police protection in jail isn’t really protection because those accused of blasphemy are almost guaranteed to be brutally assaulted or murdered in jail by the police or other inmates. As a result of what they know is coming if they are accused of blasphemy, most victims go into hiding or flee their homes or the country itself, if they can afford to. These last are indeed the lucky few.
Because of this sad state of affairs, Pakistan today has a reputation as one of the most dangerous and religiously intolerant places on earth. And what many people in the West do not appreciate or even understand is that the inferno of religious violence and bigotry that is tearing Pakistan apart is being stoked not just by the anti-Western, Jihadist agendas of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, but by the tacit approval -- via legislative and Constitutional sanction -- of the government.  
This began in 1974 under democratically-elected president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who endorsed and signed an amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution which declared that Ahmadi Muslims were non-Muslims. Here are the amended and added sections of the Constitution pertaining to Ahmadis. (Note: the terms “Qadiani” and “Lahori” are used to refer to two separate Ahmadi groups. The Qadiani group is the original Community founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in Qadian, India. The Lahori group split off from the original in 1914, six years after the death of the founder in 1908. They are called “Lahoris” because they relocated to Lahore, India in 1914.)

An Act to amend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan . . . is hereby enacted:

1.        (1) This Act may be called the Constitution (Second Amendment) Act, 1974
(2) It shall come into force at once.

In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan . . . in Article 106, in clause (3), after the word “communities” [ i.e., those declared non-Muslim ], the words and brackets “and persons of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’)” shall be inserted. [ bold emphasis mine. ]

. . . after clause (2), the following new clause shall be added, namely:
“(3) A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the last of the Prophets or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or a religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law.”
It is essential to understand that Clause (3) of Article 260 was written specifically to legislatively nullify and deny the claims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 in Qadian, India, for the purpose of bringing people back to God and restoring Islam to its original purity and spiritual vitality.
Ahmad proclaimed that God had appointed him the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah whose advent was foretold in the Holy Quran and in the Hadith (recorded sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). What particularly incensed Muslims of his day (and to this day) was that he forbade the Jihad of the sword to convert people to Islam or wage offensive wars, replacing it instead with the Jihad of the pen.
To that end, he wrote more than 80 books in defense of Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to remove the misconceptions and corruptions that have disfigured Islam from its true form and beauty. His writings and life have inspired tens of millions of Muslims (and non-Muslims alike) to dedicate themselves to God and strive in the Greatest Jihad – to become righteous, God-fearing and peaceful members of society and of his Community. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community motto is: “Love for All – Hatred for None.” Despite intense, often violent and deadly persecution by other Muslims, the number of Ahmadis in the world continues to increase on a daily basis.
Ahmadiyyat Islam is the only unified body of Muslims in the world – unified under the divinely-supported system of the world’s only spiritual Khalifate, which has continued in an uninterrupted chain of successors (Khalifas) from the time of the demise of the Promised Messiah in 1908 up ‘till the current, 5th Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
With all this going for it, you would think Muslims would flock to join the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, but no – most reject it and consider the founder an apostate and his followers “wajibul qatl” – an Arabic slogan which means ”Deserving of death.” This expression calling for the murder of Ahmadis is a common sight in Pakistan on government buildings and courthouses, in storefront windows, on banners and signs, in newspapers and magazines, and on religious TV shows hosted by clerics. The question that most non-Muslims would ask is: why all this hatred against Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadis? The answer has to do with what Muslims expect from the Imam Mahdi.   
Prior to the 20th century, Sunni Muslims expected that the Imam Mahdi (lit., divinely-Guided spiritual leader) would be raised by God sometime during the mid-to-late 19th century (the beginning of the Muslim 14th century). This corresponded with expectations by several newly-born Christian sects of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus (pbuh) during this same period. Ahmadi Muslims are the only ones who believe that both events – the advent of the Imam Mahdi and the Second Coming of Jesus (pbuh) – manifested as prophesized in Islam and Christianity in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. All other Muslims believe that Jesus (pbuh) was taken bodily alive to heaven before the crucifixion and that Jesus will bodily descend from heaven to the earth after the appearance of the Imam Mahdi.
Generally speaking, what will follow after that won’t be peace and love, but war and bloodshed – the “Bloody Imam” concept -- to restore the worldly power and material glory of Islam through the conquest and destruction of its enemies (the Christians and Jews, primarily.)
Because the Ahmadiyya Community founder’s mission was decidedly non-violent, non-political and focused entirely on spiritual and moral reformation, it is easy to see why the extremist Muslim clerics and their followers (from the late 19th century to the present day) have always been so opposed to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers. Peace, tolerance and non-violence are dangerous ideas – especially to those who are opposed to them and want to use their religion to defend their un-Islamic beliefs and barbaric behavior. The last thing these extremists want is for someone sent by God to rebuke them and require them to play by God’s rules.
Thus, Clause (3) of Article 260 has to define as “non-Muslim” anyone who makes any claims to be a reformer or prophet after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This effectively declares anyone who ever claims to be the Imam Mahdi – who by definition must be a Muslim – is not a Muslim, along with all those who believe in and follow him.
The idiocy of this is matched only by its irony. All Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, believe in the eventual appearance of the Imam Mahdi who (as his title denotes) will be guided by God and thus, by all rational definitions, will have to be a prophet of God and a Muslim.
But when you apply the Constitution’s Second Amendment and the blasphemy laws in Ordinance XX, the very person they believe must come to save Islam – the Imam Mahdi – won’t be a Muslim because he will be coming after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). But Muslims still believe the Imam Mahdi must come. He just won’t be a prophet, according to them.
The inherent injustices created by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are laid bare by just one concept, which is central to our understanding and protection of the basic human right to freedom of religion: the blasphemy laws are unjust on more than just legal grounds because no political assembly has any religious authority or right to interfere with anyone's chosen religious beliefs.
What is sadly ironic – tragic, really – is that in August of 1947, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, echoed this in his famous statement promising complete religious freedom for all in the newly-created country of Pakistan. He declared:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Fast-forward a quarter century to the time of the Constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims and one can easily see how ethically bankrupt and blinded by religious fanaticism the lawmakers of Pakistan had become.
And to take things to even higher levels of absurdity and moral insanity, this official government stripping of Ahmadis of their God-given right to profess to be Muslim and freely practice their faith of Islam was later criminalized in 1984 under Dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s infamous Ordinance XX. This addition and modification to the pre-existing British colonial rule-era blasphemy laws of 1860 and 1898 was largely instigated by the same Muslim clerics and political leaders (and their followers) who had demanded only a decade earlier that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims by the government.
To put the bite of law into that 1974 Constitutional amendment, Ordinance XX not only specified by name as its target anyone calling themselves Ahmadi, but it increased the severity of the penalties for acts or statements deemed offensive to Muslims or directed against Islam, the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Listed below are the blasphemy laws that do not name Ahmadis, but which are routinely brought to bear against Ahmadis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and the members of other religious minorities in Pakistan.
Pakistan's Criminal Codes (PPCs) relating to blasphemy.
295 forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object.
295-A forbids outraging religious feelings.
295-B forbids defiling the Quran.
295-C forbids defaming the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)   
With the enactment of Ordinance XX, penal codes 298B and 298C specifically targeting Ahmadis were added to the blasphemy laws, making it a crime punishable by fine and up to three years in prison if an Ahmadi says “As-Salaam alaikum” (peace be upon you), or makes the call to prayer (Azan) or publicly performs the 5x daily prayer (salat), or uses Islamic expressions of respect or blessing for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his family, companions or Khalifas, or calls him-or-herself a Muslim, or propagates their faith, or calls their place of worship a “mosque.” In short, an Ahmadi can be fined and jailed for doing or saying anything that “outrages” the feelings of a Sunni Muslim, which can be anything and everything pertaining to Islam.
Ahmadis are not allowed to vote as Muslims. If they wish to register as “Muslim,” they must sign a statement declaring Mirza Ghulam Ahmad an apostate, a liar and a false prophet. No true Ahmadi will do this. Likewise, in order to obtain a passport or national ID card, an Ahmadi must sign a statement like the one on the voter registration card which says they believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was false. Ahmadis who refuse to sign this are prevented them from leaving Pakistan to perform the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), which is obligatory on all Muslims at least once in their lifetime if their health and finances permit.
Ahmadi students are often expelled from schools, colleges and universities only because of their faith. The same goes for Ahmadis in government or banking or the military. Across all levels of society, Ahmadis suffer discrimination. On a family level, people who convert from Sunni Islam to Ahmadiyya Islam are usually disowned by their parents and ostracized by their siblings. friends and co-workers – some are even killed for converting to Ahmadiyyat.
Ahmadi mosques are often attacked, vandalized, burned, closed or taken over by Sunnis with no arrests of the perpetrators by the police or help from the police in preventing such attacks. In addition, the police are often called on to remove from the outside of Ahmadi mosques the Kalima – the Arabic declaration of Islamic faith (There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah). And this is almost always being done by people who are themselves Muslims! To date, because of police complaints (FIRs) filed against Ahmadis for violating the blasphemy laws, hundreds of Ahmadis are in prison, and since the blasphemy laws were first enacted, thousands of Ahmadis have been jailed for up to three years and fined.
Equally disturbing is the escalating tide of attacks since the mid-1980s by Sunni Muslims against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims. In its 2011 annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated:
“There was a direct link between the rise of the Taliban and the suppression and oppression of the minorities and of all those whose beliefs differed with those of the extremists who dared to expose hatred and violence in the name of religion. . . It is obvious that the mere charge of blasphemy, however preposterous it may be, is now a conviction in itself.”
A cursory review of attacks against religious minorities from July 2009 to March 2011 (about 18 months) illustrates the tragedy and intolerance that rages unchecked in Pakistan.
July 30th, 2009 - hundreds of members of two banned radical Islamic groups descended on the Christian-populated town of Gojra in the Punjab, torching about 60 houses – including a targeted firebombing that killed a Christian family of 6 by trapping them in their home and burning them alive. A 7th member of the same family was earlier shot in the head by the same attackers.  
May 28th, 2010 - members of a Pakistani Taliban group simultaneously attacked two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore -- using grenades, suicide vests and AK-47s to indiscriminately murder 86 men and boys during Friday Jumah Prayer -- only because they were Ahmadis. Several of the attackers were eventually subdued and captured by the Ahmadis inside the mosques and turned over to the police. The killers were later released without being charged and promptly disappeared.
July 2010 - A trader in Faisalabad reported to police that an employee had been given a Christian pamphlet containing disrespectful remarks about Prophet Muhammad. According to police, the pamphlet appeared to have the signatures and addresses of Christian Pastor Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid. The brothers were later shot and killed while leaving a district court. Both had denied the charge of blasphemy.
November 2010 – A Christian mother of 5, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy; the case sparked international condemnation in the West. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer criticized her arrest and death sentence and visited her in jail to draw attention to her plight. He was shot dead on Jan. 4th, 2011 by his own security guard. Federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, also called for Asia Bibi’s release and criticized the blasphemy laws, vowing to fight to end them. On March 2nd, less than two months after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead in Islamabad on his way to work.  
A comprehensive report entitled: “Pakistan: religious freedom in the shadow of extremism” by UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide examines religious persecution in Pakistan in 2011. You can read it on their website:
Now, as a direct result of these blasphemy laws, hardly a day goes by without another shocking news story from Pakistan about Islamist militants or Muslim vigilantes responsible for stonings, beheadings, attacks on girls’ schools, the burning down of Christian churches and neighborhoods, and the targeted shootings of religious minorities and people like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti who expressed sympathy or support for them.
The common denominator in all these atrocities and violations of fundamental human rights is two-fold: one element stems from the breakdown of the Rule of Law caused by lax, non-existent or selective enforcement of civil and criminal laws. The other element, ironically, evolves from just the opposite – the sanctioning by the very laws and Constitution of Pakistan of vigilantism and religiously-motivated hate crimes.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and Constitutional amendment targeting Ahmadis targets everyone who believes in freedom of conscience and the end of religious bigotry and intolerance. The blasphemy laws also highlight the behavior of two distinct camps of Islam: the Ahmadis, who have never once repaid the violence they suffer with violence from their own hands; and those Muslims who either turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the evils borne by their infamous blasphemy laws, or those Muslims who applaud such evils -- or perpetrate them -- as if the intolerance and inhumanity inflicted upon the Ahmadis, Shias, Christians, Hindus and others were the sworn duty and religious obligation of every “devout” Muslim.
A paraphrase of the famous quote by Nazi-era German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller is tragically applicable to the present climate of religious intolerance and persecution in Pakistan:
“First they came for the Ahmadis, but I did not speak up because I was not an Ahmadi… Then they came for the Shias, but I did not speak up because I was not a Shia… Then they came for the Hindus, but I did not speak up because I was not a Hindu… Then they came for the Christians, but I did not speak up because I was not a Christian… When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.” 
[ with Imam Shamshad for Asia Today monthly & other weekly newspapers. Appeared in edited form in the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of Liberty Magazine -- online link here: ]

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