Restlessness is spreading worldwide and increasing daily in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and America. In fact, the entire world is experiencing great unrest as a result of a lack of peace, increased violence, and religious intolerance. Political and economic restlessness is increasingly common and increasingly connected to religious persecution. In this regard one cannot ignore the atrocities committed against millions of defenseless minorities in Pakistan—be they Christians, Hindus, or Muslims.
Recently an 11-year-old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, suffering from Down’s syndrome, was charged and incarcerated for blasphemy. It is alleged that she burned pages of the Koran. Burning texts of the Koran is considered blasphemy by Pakistani law, and that can mean the death penalty or life in prison.
Asia Bibi, another Christian, was imprisoned, receiving a sentence of death by hanging for allegedly showing disrespect to the prophet Muhammad when she touched the eating utensils of some of her Muslim coworkers.
A few months after Bibi’s sentence, Punjab governor Salman Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, both prominent Pakistani politicians, were assassinated in cold blood after they called for an amendment to the national blasphemy laws.
Samuel Yacoob, an 11-year-old Christian boy, was tortured and beaten to death in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
In another bizarre case, 11 nurses, three of whom are Christians, were recently poisoned in a Karachi hospital for not fasting during Ramadan. Fortunately, they all survived and are now recovering from the ordeal.
Hindus, who once constituted more than 15 percent of Pakistan’s population soon after Partition, have now dwindled to less than 2 percent. Several reports confirm that Hindu families are seeking asylum to India because of growing radical Islamic movements in Pakistan—expressed through abduction and forcible conversions.
Shias, who form a minority Muslim group in Pakistan, have not been spared such atrocities either. In two separate incidents during the past six months some 37 Shia passengers were martyred on their way to Gilgit.
Another minority group—the Ahmadi Muslims—suffer torture and threats to their lives on account of their beliefs, some of which are different from those of mainstream Islam.
On August 20, 2012, Ahmadis living in Rawalpindi, were not allowed to offer Eid prayer at their main place of worship. The spokesperson of the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan said that the government and local administration has violated Article 20 of the constitution after stopping Ahmadis from congregating for Eid prayers. Article 20 ensures every citizen to freely perform religious duties.
In 1974 Pakistan’s parliament adopted a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In 1984 military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq issued Ordinance XX, which forbids Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim or to “pose as Muslims.” They are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed publicly or call their places of worship mosques. They are barred by law from worshipping in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Koran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years.
These laws serve as permission to the masses to persecute Ahmadis in Pakistan. Their mosques have been defaced—the Kalima (Islamic creed) and minarets have been forcibly removed from them, and many Ahmadis have been imprisoned for blasphemy.
The majority of Islamic schools in Pakistan teach their pupils that Ahmadis are wajib-ul-qatal (worthy of being killed), which translates into legal killing of Ahmadis throughout Pakistan.
On May 28, 2010, during the Friday worship services in two mosques in Lahore, 95 Ahmadi Muslim men were shot dead and more than 100 injured. Scores of other Ahmadis have been martyred on account of their faith.
Pakistani Muslims must follow the example of the prophet of Islam, who, upon persecution, sought refuge for his followers in the Christian state of Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia, then ruled by a Christian king, who welcomed the Muslims with open arms. Muhammad instructed all Muslims to help protect the people of other faiths, their places of worship and their religious symbols from attackers.
Pakistan needs to adopt a civil attitude to the way minorities are treated. In Western countries laws protect all society, including all people of faith, and they are free to practice their religion. When these laws are trampled upon, the perpetrators are brought to justice. When people are unjustly treated, there is support from every corner of the civilized world, protesting the injustice.
When seven people were killed and scores injured by a lone gunman at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin not long ago, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, spent nearly 90 minutes visiting the surviving families, expressing her sympathies and offering her support. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States also made a press release strongly condemning the “senseless shooting” of the Sikh worshippers.
Pakistan, on the other hand, widely supports such individuals as A.Q. Khan, who is “renowned” for selling his country’s strategic scientific secrets. Khan recently took center stage on a religious TV show in Pakistan taking potshots at the Ahmadi community.
Pakistan needs to change its attitude toward the defenseless minorities. I therefore call upon all Muslims and the international community to protest the blasphemy laws, demand freedom for those imprisoned because of their faith, and offer protection for members of all religious communities. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan must be repealed. The legal framework of Pakistan requires an overhaul. More fundamentally, the masses need to be educated to respect human rights and freedom of expression, especially in religion. Only when its citizens can be persuaded that civic responsibility begins with tolerance will Pakistan step out of the Dark Ages and strive for the dignity all of its diverse people deserve. May God grant the families and friends of all those affected steadfastness and patience, and may their distress turn into peace.