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Misinterpretation of Islam pushing Pakistan to insanity

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Is it insanity or being loyal? A teenager in Pakistan, just to punish himself, slashed off his own hand as he thought he had committed a blunder on the name of religion. Have Pakistanis “really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulavis and mullahs,” an editorial in a leading daily wondered on Monday after such an incident.

The editorial “‘Accidental’ blasphemy” in the Daily Times said that in a country where religious fundamentalism has so vehemently branded itself onto the psyche of the common man, one call on a mosque’s loudspeaker is enough to send hordes running to kill the unfortunate person accused – something that is hardly surprising anymore.

“However, recently an appalling incident has surfaced in which a boy, 15-years old, cut off his own hand to punish himself for the blasphemy he believed he had committed,” it said.

The issue originated at a gathering at a local mosque, located in the town of Hujra Shah Muqeem, a small village near Lahore, where the cleric after telling the listeners that those who love Prophet Mohammad always say their prayers, followed by inquiring who of them had stopped praying.

According to accounts, Mohammed Anwar, ostensibly mishearing the question, raised his hand, after which the crowd instantly moved to accuse him of committing blasphemy.

“After this, he went back home and cut off the hand he had raised, put it on a plate and presented it to the cleric. On being asked during the interview if this was painful for him, he responded with an unequivocal no.”

The editorial said that while the “insanity of the brutal act is completely lost on the young boy, the rest of his community including his own family has since come together to celebrate and revere the boy for his act. Latest reports say the cleric has been arrested on the charge of instigating the chopping off.”

It added that the daunting realization that extremism and fanaticism, rampant within all facets of society, dominate the way religion is understood confronts us time and time again, and this incident too is a clear reflection of it.

“However, the sheer savagery of this act compels one to ask: have we really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulvis and mullahs that we now chop off our limbs in order to acquire the status of a believer who has been indoctrinated by their parochial and dogmatic interpretations?”

The daily went on to say that the “black and white mindset has coloured religious interpretation in such a way that people have turned religion, in its essence a potent force driven by rationality and reason, enjoining a way of being that is humane, merciful, and tolerant, into a convoluted version that constantly demands violent retribution from others and from one’s own self.”

“The fear that is evident in the boy, who is unable to trust his own conscience, is also what has led us to close the doors to any debate or open discourse on matters even remotely related to religion. These beliefs are left to stew in the absence of any counter-narrative from the government, media, or any other institution, which has allowed more harmful attitudes to emerge,” it said and added: “Unless this fear that is driving society towards insanity is dealt with, there appears little chance of overcoming its apparent manifestations.” (IANS)

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Post Anything Against Islam (Blasphemy) and You Will be in trouble in Pakistan

In yet another repressive step, Pakistani government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content

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In yet another repressive step, Pakistan government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content
Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, urging the government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media. VOA

Pakistan’s government has formed a regulatory body to monitor and block blasphemous content online in an effort to further extend the enforcement of the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law into cyberspace.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government-run communications regulatory agency, has created a 25-member group tasked with cracking down on websites, social media accounts and online pages that they consider offensive to Islam.

“The committee, being constituted by the Ministry of Interior, will include representatives from PTA, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ministry,” Ismail Shah, PTA’s chairman, told the standing committee on information technology of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament recently.

FILE - Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017.
FILE – Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017. VOA

Earlier in May, PTA had sent text messages to millions of cellphone users in the country and warned them not to post or share any blasphemous content online.

Controversial issue

Blasphemy remains a controversial issue in the Muslim-majority country where anyone labeled as “blasphemous” faces dangerous consequences: The law states anyone found guilty of insulting Islam will receive a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.

As government is committed to scrutinizing online contents, some rights activists charge that monitoring the internet will be a slippery slope.

FILE - Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan.
FILE – Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan. VOA

“The monitoring of social media for blasphemous content is a dangerous precedent in Pakistan. The law has often been misused in the past and now a crackdown on internet will further complicate the situation,” Zohra Yusuf, a Pakistani human rights activist, told VOA.

Silencing dissent

Critics worry the state is using religion and national security as a pretext to discourage dissent on the internet, where people can express their opinions on topics such as politics, the military, social issues, women’s rights, religious freedom and human rights.

“In any democracy, such controls cannot be termed legal. Selective controls, targeted crackdown and culture of impunity only brings unrest in the society, especially for minorities and marginalized segments of the society,” Shahzad Ahmad, Pakistan director of the digital rights advocacy group Bytes for All, told VOA.

Lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party, however, vowing transparency in the enforcement of the law, defends the government’s action and considers it legal.

“PTA follows a process and blocks a blasphemous link after complete scrutiny. Similarly, the regulatory body completely investigates before anyone is apprehended or taken into the court under blasphemy charges,” parliament member Zahra Wadood Fatimi told VOA.

Threat to freedom

Despite assurances from the government, rights activists worry formation of the group could be considered a Trojan horse, which will lead to people losing the relative freedom of expression they enjoy in cyberspace.

“It will be another tool for the state and people to settle down personal scores and vendettas. Do we even remember the secular bloggers abducted earlier this year and returned as ‘blasphemers?’”Zohra Yusuf asked.

In January 2017, five secular social media activists went missing from different cities in Pakistan. The activists reappeared after a few weeks with a label of “bloggers who committed blasphemy,” local media reported.

The bloggers were critical of the country’s powerful military, the existing political system and human rights violations committed by different factions, according to reports, which said the bloggers, fearing for their lives, sought refuge abroad.

Harsh punishment

The state’s punishment is harsh for those found guilty of committing blasphemy. In some cases, when courts have not charged suspects, Pakistanis have taken the matter into their own hands.

A simple accusation that someone has committed blasphemy can lead to threats against the suspect. Other times, it could mean death.

In May, a Hindu man was rescued by police from a mob in Hub, Baluchistan. The man was accused of posting blasphemous content on social media.

In March, Mashaal Khan, 23, a journalism student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was beaten to death by fellow students. He had been accused of posting blasphemous content online.

Earlier this year, Islamabad’s High Court issued directives to the Ministry of Interior to take prompt action when it saw content it deemed blasphemous on the internet, even if it meant blocking social media websites in the country.

A few days later, Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared online blasphemous content on social media a “nefarious conspiracy.” He directed his government to take strict actions against those involved in such activities. He also ordered officials to discuss the matter with international social media companies.

With the formation of PTA’s regulatory body on monitoring blasphemous contents online, there will likely be more restrictions in cyberspace and more scrutiny of those who talk out against religion online.

Reported by Madeeha Anwar of VOA.

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3 Ahmadi Men Sentenced to Death in Pakistan on Charges of Blasphemy; Minority Communities are increasingly facing the Heat in the Country

“Blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. Rights groups say the controversial blasphemy law has often been abused to settle personal vendettas and disputes.

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Pakistan-protest
Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries take part in a rally in support of blasphemy laws in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students of Islamic seminaries rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media to hurt sentiments of Muslims. The placards, in center, in Urdu language are reading as "Authorized Institutions immediately take action on the incidents of blasphemy and remove blasphemous content on social media". (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed) (VOA)

Washington, October 15, 2017: A court in Pakistan’s Punjab province has sentenced three men of a minority religious group to death on charges of violating the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed were found guilty and convicted by the trial court Wednesday for insulting the prophet of Islam.

The men were tried under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code, commonly referred to as the blasphemy law, which recommends either life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone found guilty of deliberately insulting Islam.

The men were arrested in May 2014 in a remote village in Punjab province after residents filed a complaint with the police and accused the defendants of tearing down a religious poster.

Four men were arrested at the time. The fourth man, Khalil Ahmad, was shot dead by an angry man while in police custody just a few days after the incident.

Saleemuddin, a spokesperson for the Ahmadi community, told VOA that the charges against the defendants and the court’s verdict were unfair.

“The convicted men were trying to take down a poster, which had anti-Ahmadi slogans and text that urged the community to socially boycott the already persecuted Ahmadi community,” Saleemuddin said.

“We will challenge the trial court’s decision in high court,” he added.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but Pakistan’s state does not recognize them as such and labels them heretics. There are more than a half-million Ahmadis living in Pakistan under the constant threat of persecution.

The Ahmadi community “is one of the most mistreated communities in the country. They have had been a target of blasphemous charges, sectarian violence and target killings,” said Mehdi Hasan, a prominent human rights activist in Pakistan.

ALSO READ Military Dictatorship Always Halted Progress in Pakistan, says Pakistan Prime Minister

Ahmadis ‘a threat’

The death sentence for the three individuals came just a few days after Muhammad Safdar, a prominent member of the ruling party and son-in-law of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, publicly denounced Ahmadi community members as a threat to Pakistan and urged the country’s institutions not to hire them in the military or the civil service.

Safdar’s remarks stirred a debate in the country on the issue of minorities and their rights.

Pakistan Minister of the Interior Ahsan Iqbal, without mentioning Safdar by name, denounced the anti-minority rhetoric coming from politicians.

“It is tragic to see hate speech against minorities in National Assembly. We believe in inclusive Pakistan. Pakistan respects all minorities,” Iqbal said in a tweet.

Abuse of law

“Blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. We’ve seen several incidents where angry mobs killed those accused of committing blasphemy without giving them a right to face the trial,” human rights activist Hasan told VOA.

Rights groups say the controversial blasphemy law has often been abused to settle personal vendettas and disputes. Due process is often ceremonial, the rights activists add, and decisions are often informed by the growing religious intolerance in the country.

Even if courts do drop charges against defendants, mobs and local residents attack them, and law enforcement authorities look the other way in most cases, the activists charge.

blasphemy
Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan. Police say the lynching of Khan, falsely accused of blasphemy, was organized by other students who saw him as a political rival. (VOA)

Social media posts

Nadeem James, a Christian, was sentenced to death last month in Punjab after the court established that he sent a blasphemous poem to a friend via WhatsApp, an instant message application.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a recent report said 15 people were arrested on charges of blasphemy in 2016, including 10 Muslims and five members of religious minorities.

In April 2017, Mashaal Khan, a journalism student, was accused of posting blasphemous content online and was beaten to death by fellow students at Abdul Wali Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan’s government is being criticized for strictly enforcing the blasphemy laws.

In April 2017, the government used newspapers and mobile phone services to warn its citizens not to post or upload any blasphemous materials on social media.

The government has also reportedly encouraged people to report those who violate the blasphemy law. (VOA)

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Seven Decades after Partition: Sikhs in Pakistan Struggle amid Bombings and Violence

Sikhs in Pakistan have been looking to leave Pakistan as their homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam

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Sikhs in pakistan
Types of 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), now 3 Frontier Force, Pakistan Army. ca. 1905. Wikimedia Commons
  • In today’s period, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities
  • Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty
  • Mr. Singh heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan

Aug 15, 2017: At the age of 11, Radesh Singh’s grandfather left his village in India’s Punjab province to move to Peshawar, which is bordered by Afghanistan in the far northwest of the country.

Pakistan wasn’t even a glint in the eye of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the year 1901 when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent and Peshawar held the promise of work and adventure.

It has been 70 years since the partition of India, which divided the subcontinent into majority Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan and led to one of the largest migrations in modern history.

Singh’s family have been waging a secessionist uprising in India ever since, demanding unmitigated sovereignty for India’s Punjab state where they command. Singh’s family is neither Hindu nor Muslim but Sikh, a religious minority in both countries. Feeling increasingly less at home on either side of the border, they have been victims of local Taliban violence in the recent years in Muslim Pakistan.

Singh’s grandfather would never return to his village, not even in 1947. Singh stated that poverty kept his grandfather in Peshawar, which was controlled by fiercely independent ethnic Pashtun tribesmen. He said, “It’s not easy to start over at zero when you have very little,” mentioned BBG Direct.

ALSO READ: 10,000 members of Sikh community in Pakistan lack Education and Health: Sikh Leader 

According to Singh, the enmity in the immediate aftermath of 1947 was slightly lower in the northwest. It was followed by decades of peace. The decision to stay in Pakistan appeared like a reliable option at the time.

The Sikhs had lived harmoniously for centuries alongside their Pashtun Muslim countrymen. Singh explains, Sikhs had a glorious history in the northwest. In the 18th century, they oversaw a dynasty headed by a Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, whose capital was Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore. He rebuilt Peshawar’s infamous Bala Hisar Fort, an imposing walled fortress that some historians assume is as old as the city itself.

In today’s period, easily identifiable because of the colorful turbans and the surname Singh, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities. As indicated by the CIA Factbook, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are non-Muslims which include Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus.

Singh asserted until 1984 Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs lived unitedly in northwest Pakistan. Their children married and worshipped together. But after the tragic assassination of India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, the entire scene changed consequently.

“They (Hindus) cut all relations with us. They said Pakistani Sikhs are like all Sikhs everywhere. No difference. They said, ‘From now on, we will be separate from you”, Singh recalled.

Today Sikhs in Pakistan are contending with the government for possession of dozens of Sikh temples (Gurdwaras); however, they have succeeded to restore some of the buildings. The Pakistan government took over the buildings after 1947 and allowed the squatters to remain.

Once a vibrant Gurdwara attended by hundreds of Sikhs, it no longer resembled a house of worship but rather a sweeping courtyard. However, it was until now that two families called it the home, said Singh.

Singh who heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan, said young Sikhs have been looking to leave as the homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam.

“They want to go to another country, not to India or Pakistan. But every country eyes them with suspicion.,” he said.

He adds, “Even Indians see his Pakistani passport and question his intentions, suggesting he wants to agitate for Sikh secessionism, the battle that resulted in Indira Gandhi’s death and a dream still held by many Sikhs on both sides of the border.”

According to Singh, Pakistan’s slide into intolerance began when Pakistan’s military dictator Zia-ul Haq set the country on the course of Islamic radicalization in the late 1970s with the former Soviet Union’s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Jihad became a rallying cry to defeat the communists in Afghanistan.

Extremism aggravated after the 2001 intrusion of Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition, he proclaimed.

The tribal areas were steadily caught by Taliban and in 2013 several Sikhs were killed, their limbs cut. Singh said the brutality of the killings and the threats sent thousands abandoning Pakistan.

Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty.

“That is why we have a fear in our hearts, that this law can be used against us,” he told.

“In the last nearly 40 years we have been facing the boom, boom (mimicking the sound of explosions) in every city of Pakistan,” said Singh. “In a long time we have not heard any sweet sounds in our Peshawar, but still we love our city.”


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