The scene has been repeated so often in Pakistan in the past several years that the word “shocking” is no longer applicable, because it’s no longer shocking, just (sadly), tragically predictable. As for the perpetrators, the only thing that changes is the name of the so-called Muslim extremist group that proudly takes responsibility for the latest suicide bombing, target killing, or mob attack. As for the victims, that category rotates through a familiar list: Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus.
This time around, on Saturday, March 9, an angry mob of 3,000 so-called Muslims affiliated with the Taliban attacked Joseph Colony, a Christian enclave in the industrial section of Lahore. Fueled by charges of blasphemy against a Christian who lived in the colony, the mob proceeded to loot the houses while the police looked on and did nothing. The police were equally uninspired to uphold the rule of law and safeguard people and property when the lawless mob set fire to an estimated 180 Christian homes and two churches. (A few days later, though, elsewhere in Lahore, the police regained enough of their sense of civic duty to wade in with batons, tear gas, and riot gear to disburse a vocal crowd of demonstrators—all Christians—protesting the blatant injustice and lack of police protection only days earlier in the attack at Joseph Colony. If the protestors had been wielding torches, I’m sure the police would’ve had the fire department at the ready.)
So how did this latest spasm of violence and inhumanity erupt, costing the homes and worship places of hundreds of innocent Christians? It is reported by a French news site that the charge of blasphemy against a Christian was made by his Muslim friend—while both of them were drunk! Getting intoxicated, it seems, was a shared pastime they engaged in on a daily basis after work. It isn’t difficult to imagine how, while drunk, the animosity of the Christian could be easily roused by the frequent maltreatment and disrespect of him and his fellow Christians at the hands of so-called Muslims. And it is just as easy to imagine how the drunken Muslim would naturally take offense at any unkind remarks directed at his religion or the prophet Muhammad.
And as everyone in Pakistan knows—especially Christians and Ahmadi Muslims—saying or doing anything that could be seen as an insult against Islam or the Koran or the prophet Muhammad is just not something you do without worrying about the often deadly consequences. In fact, those consequences are so well known that you would be crazy to even consider blaspheming Islam, the Koran, or Muhammad—knowing how quickly a mob of angry and impassioned Muslims would show up on your doorstep to teach you a quick and violent lesson in Islamic intolerance of perceived blasphemy in Pakistan.
This state of intolerance began in 1974, when the Pakistan constitution was amended to appease the mullahs for their political support by declaring Ahmadi Muslims apostates from Islam. Since then,Ahmadis have been the victims of discrimination in political advancement, voting, housing, education, and business. And starting in the mid-1980s with draconian enforcement and reinterpretation of nineteenth-century British India-enacted blasphemy laws, Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities (including Christians) have suffered intense persecution, boycotts, and even targeted killings and mass murder at the hands of extremist Sunni Muslims.
These amended blasphemy laws initially criminalized the public practice or expression of Islam by Ahmadi Muslims as a way to keep them isolated from the Sunni mainstream, but later the blasphemy laws were directed against anyone not classified as the “right kind of Muslim,” such as Shias, or against members of minority religions, such as Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus.
Nowadays radical mullahs and their congregations routinely threaten violence against religious minorities and political insurrection against the ruling party if they are opposed or brought to justice. It is then no surprise when government leaders and politicians either ally themselves openly with the terrorists or don’t confront or oppose them, choosing silence instead. And those brave souls, such as Punjab governor Salman Taseer and his minister of minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who do stand up and speak out against the terrorists, end their careers in a hail of gunfire.
Concerning the terrible price Pakistan will pay for doing nothing to repeal the blasphemy laws, Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, has summed up the current situation quite succinctly: “The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups. As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury, and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion.”
It is just this abuse in the name of religion that is at the heart of the survival of Pakistan as a nation. As the Christians of Joseph Colony can attest, it is easy to see by their actions who are the ones truly guilty of bringing dishonor to the name of the prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam. The true blasphemers continue to be those Muslims who burn down the homes and churches of Christians, and who force Christian and Hindu girls to convert to Islam and marry Muslims, and who become suicide bombers and violent jihadists, killing innocent Shia and Ahmadi Muslims because they are not following the Islam of the suicide bombers and violent jihadists.
Today the rule of law and a hope for justice do not exist in Pakistan, nor in Indonesia, nor in Saudi Arabia, nor in any professed Muslim country where the freedom to practice one’s faith peacefully and in peace is only a fleeting dream held hostage to hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism. These are not the qualities or directives of the prophet Muhammad, nor are they what define the true teachings of Islam. Sadly, it is when Muslims think and act like those who looted and burned the homes of Christians in Lahore that we are confronted with a blasphemy that must be condemned.
Author: Imam Shamshad A. Nasir
Shamshad A. Nasir is imam of the Baitul Hameed Mosque, Chino, California. Imam Nasir currently serves as the missionary-in-charge of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for the southwest region of the United States.