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Plight of Pakistani Minorities: Abdul Shakoor serves 5-year Jail term for selling banned books in Punjab Province of Pakistan

Critics say the Ahmadiyyas invite the ire of mainstream Muslim clerics because they propagate their beliefs as the true version of Islam

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Representational Image. Image source: VOA

Her hands trembled— a sign of Ageing — as she held her thin, long dupatta scarf in front of her face and turned slightly away. After covering her face in front of men for several years had made her shy.

For the first time after 53 years of age, she has been alone. On charges of selling banned books her 50-year-old spouse, Abdul Shakoor has been convicted  and is serving a five-year jail term. The books, which Nayeema claims he removed from the shop after a government notice, were comprised of religious literature intended for their own sect.

According to human rights activists, Nayeema and Abdul Shakoor belong to Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the country .

Shakoor’s small shop, which sold books and spectacles, was in the main bazaar of Chanab Nagar, a town of 60,000 — 95 percent of them Ahmadiyyas. The town, in the heartland of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is the de facto headquarters for the million or so Ahmadiyyas living across Pakistan.

New actions

Community representatives claim that while they have faced decades of government-sanctioned discrimination, it has recently increased under the country’s new National Action Plan (NAP), a comprehensive strategy introduced to counter years of religious terrorism and growing violence in the country.

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The plan calls for banning all materials, books, CDs, DVDs, even pamphlets that could be labeled hate speech, or that were deemed to incite violence against any group.

Ahmadiyyas complain that the government of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, has used this as a pretext to ban most of their religious literature, including all the books written by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a man they consider their messiah and the founder of their religious sect. The banned material also includes community newspapers and periodicals, including those catering to children.

Copies of legal notices provided to VOA state that the books are “treasonable and seditious” and intend to “promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens.”

“We wrote to the government and asked the chief minister to at least pin point what part of our literature was hate speech? Why were they banning it all?” said Syed Qamar Suleiman Ahmed, a senior member of the community who heads the press coordination committee. “But they did not respond. They usually don’t bother responding to us.”

Ahmed added that while various official notifications had been issued to ban some of these books before the NAP, no one took action on them until after the plan was introduced in late December 2014.

Starting in 2015, the community claims they noticed a renewed vigor to go after their literature, with reminders and new notices in the newspapers. Shakoor was arrested in December 2015.

As a result of such actions, members of the community can no longer purchase these books from their bookshops and can no longer keep them in their community library. Even websites carrying this literature have been blocked.

“I cannot obtain these books for my children. How am I supposed to teach them about our founder?” asked Amir Mahmood, who is in charge of the press section for the community.

Muhammad Nasir, the librarian for the main Ahmadiyya library in Chanab Nagar, said he had to get rid of almost 75,000 books out of the 200,000 previously displayed.

Islamic teachings

Unlike the country’s other religious minorities, the Ahmadiyyas insist they are followers of Islam and its Prophet Muhammad. However, they also consider their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a metaphorical second coming of Jesus as well as Imam Mehdi, a messiah whose advent was foretold by Muhammad. That irks many mainstream Muslims who believe Muhammad was the last prophet and the Ahmadiyyas are muddying their religion.

Posters, pamphlets, and booklets by certain far-right religious groups openly declare that Ahmadiyyas should be killed.

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Islamist political movements against the Ahmadiyyas resulted in a change in the country’s constitution in 1974 to declare them non-Muslims, followed by a 1984 law that barred them from “posing as a Muslim.” They are not allowed to use the Muslim call to prayer “azaan” or call their houses of worship mosques. Such actions could result in a jail term of up to three years.

Over the years, various Ahmadiyya places of worship have been torn down, sometimes under court orders, because their structures included domes and minarets, which are associated with mosques.

Critics say the Ahmadiyyas invite the ire of mainstream Muslim clerics because they propagate their beliefs as the true version of Islam.

However, Ahmed said there was no way for people in his community to clarify their position. “Whatever the mullah (Muslim religious cleric) claims we believe is not true. But we’re not even allowed to defend ourselves as per law.”

Legal marginalization

The ban on their books, Ahmadiyyas say, is the latest in a long list of government actions designed to ostracize them.

An advertisement for a low-income government housing scheme near Chanab Nagar placed in local newspapers earlier this year by the Punjab government’s Housing and Town Planning Agency clearly specified that anyone participating would have to take an oath that he or she was not Ahmadiyya.

Constitutional law expert Salman Akram Raja was surprised to hear about it.

“I’ve not seen this but I’m shocked and this is completely unconstitutional,” he said.

However, Muhammad Khurram Agha, the secretary of Housing, Urban Development & Public Health and Engineering Department of the Punjab government said the ad in the newspaper was placed erroneously and as soon as it appeared, the relevant authorities took immediate action and the auction was called off.

“Whenever this auction happens again, it will be open to all. The housing department does not discriminate against anyone,” he said.

In other instances, the community complains the local authorities have, over the years, used a perceived danger to law and order as an excuse to stop them from holding open-air rallies, conferences, or even sports events, in a city where 95 percent of the population belongs to their sect. Meanwhile, their critics have been allowed to hold what they said were “anti-Ahmadiyya” rallies in their city.

They provided VOA with copies of several legal notices dating as far back as 1994, ordering planned sports events to be cancelled due to what the notices claimed was a “danger to peace.”

No comment

Various officials of the Punjab government did not respond to VOA’s repeated requests for a comment. Political leaders from the ruling PML-N party, including some who are usually happy to defend their government on other issues, excused themselves once they found out the questions were about the Ahmadiyya community.

Human rights activists contacted for this story were not surprised. Political leaders, they said, either agreed with the discrimination, or feared speaking up.

According to activist Tahira Abdullah, certain Pakistani groups that were closely affiliated with the Saudi-style, ultraconservative version of Islam “killed without compunction.”

“Thus, most politicians and political parties are too scared and afraid of a violent reaction if they voice any sympathy or solidarity with the plight of the Pakistani Ahmadiyyas,” she said. “Only a few human rights defenders and a handful of journalists are willing to speak on the record now.”

Supporting the persecuted community was also perceived to be politically damaging.

Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf, one of Pakistan’s main opposition parties, who had made various statements earlier in his career in favor of Ahmadiyyas and against “any laws that discriminate among human beings” made a reversal before the parliamentary elections in 2013 and declared that he considered Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims and that his party would not repeal laws declaring them so.

Members of the community faced a dilemma. On one hand, they wanted to raise awareness about the persecution they faced. On the other hand, they were so fearful of a violent backlash that they wanted to keep a low profile.

Meanwhile, Nayeema was worried about her old husband, incarcerated in a cell in the blistering summer heat. He had lost weight in jail and developed health issues. She has appealed his conviction, with little hope of winning. (VOA)

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‘World’s Oldest’ Buddha Statue Unearthed in Pakistan During Excavations

A centuries-old sleeping Buddha statue has been unearthed during excavations near Bhamala Stupa in Haripur district of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

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Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue is found excavated in Pakistan. Pixabay.

Islamabad, November 17: A centuries-old sleeping Buddha statue has been unearthed during excavations near Bhamala Stupa in Haripur district of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Archaeology And Museums Director Abdul Samad told Dawn News: “The 48-feet-long sleeping Buddha statue dates back to the third century, which makes it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha statue.”

He said that archaeologists found the statue, with its head intact, during excavations near the Bhamala Stupa.

“We have discovered more than 500 Buddha-related objects during excavations, in addition to the 48-feet long ‘sleeping Buddha’,” he said.

The latest discoveries by the archaeologists have opened new chapters in the history of the ancient Taxila Valley Civilisation.

“This is one of the few sites in the world to have the cruciform Stupa, which was reserved for Buddha himself,” Samad had said. (IANS)

 

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These 8 successful Muslim women are showcasing Freedom their way!

Though there are forsure many but here we present to you the some handful of success stories of Muslim women in modern world. Totally independant and unbounded, they have carved a niche for themselves in many fields through their creativity, talent and self - belief

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Muslim women
Bashing unfreedom-The new age Muslim woman.Pixeby

Not everyone is following rigid fundamentalism these days. In 2017, people and specially some inspiring Muslim women are embracing freedom and individuality through their inspirational work in global markets. Be it fashion, lifestyle,sports or politics- they are setting standards in every domain, breaking stereotypes all the way long!

Have a look at the success stories of these leading Muslim ladies and what they believe in.

SAUFEEYA GOODSON

Dubai based fashion entrepreneur Saufeeya is a global figure appearing in many fashion magazines. Being the co-owner of Modest Route, she has re- branded Modest fashion in a very stylised manner grabbing the attention of 2million followers on instagram page. She is frequently mentioned in Vogue or Teen Vogue under the trademark of her bold, daring and contemporary outfits made for modern age Muslim woman. This trendsetter with her avant garde style has been revolutionizing Islamic modest clothing in world.

CAROLYN WALKER-DIALLO

Carolyn hit the headlines when she was sworn in with the Quran back in 2015, becoming the first ever New York City Civil court judge to do so. She bravely stood up to the backlash that resulted later but her strong act inspired many Muslim women around the world. It somehow relieved them from communal stigmatization that they go through.

LINDA SARSOUR

Linda Sarsour- civil right's activist
Linda Sarsour- civil right’s activist.wikimedia.commons

 

Linda, a Palestinian- American civil rights activist, is popularly known for her key role in helping to organize the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.It was a public demonstartion led by women coming together from all walks of life. With her resolute, Linda instilled in a belief in thousands of women to fight for their vanity,esteem and rights.

BEHNAZ SHAFIEI

it is hard to imagine a female road racer/motocross rider and being a Muslim woman makes it a rare case, but Behnaz is exactly that. Born in Iran- a country where women are not allowed for exercising such liberties and are often ridiculed for their driving skills, Behnaz enjoys the fact that many men cannot do the stunts she performs with ease and confidence on her motorbike. She is the only Iranian female to be involved in road racing professionally challenging the preconceived notions of the society in regard to women.

RUMA

Known for her fashion blogs, Ruma recently got mentioned on the Twitter page of H&M where she was applauded for her distinctive panache that voice traditional modesty. According to her the haute hijab empowers feminine sensibility.Being a dreamer as well as achiever, she looks forward to inspire her followers with stories and lessons learned from her life by using social media to promote the art of fashion.

HALIMA ADEN

Halima is a model known for being the first Somali-American Muslim woman to take part in a beauty pageant donning a hijab.With all grace and modesty she hit news by reaching the semifinals of Minnesota USA pageant. She even graced the fashion runway for Kanye West at his show Yeezy season 5. Keeping at bay all Muslim stereotypes, this flamboyant model appeared on the front cover of Allure, wearing a Nike hijab with a caption saying, “This is American Beauty.” 

SHAHD BATAL

As a YouTuber and blogger, Shahd’s focus is mainly on providing viewers with her own original tips on how to attain healthy skin or apply makeup. Sudanese by birth but now living in Minneapolis, her tutorial videos are popularly hitting the internet since 2014. They were recently rehashed and showcased via her new sleek channel. From wearing a classic head-wrap and making pen perfect eyebrows, to her very personal stories with regard to the Hijab, she has been earnestly devoting herself to portray Hijab as a motif of modern age accessory.

 

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY     

Muslim Women
SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY- Pakistani filmaker.wikimedia.commons

 Sharmeen has been mentioned by esteemed Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. A Muslim woman filmmaker, journalist and activist born in Pakistan, most of her films highlight the inequalities that women face. She has received two Academy awards, six Emmy and Lux Style award for her bold vision. Even the Pakistani government has honored her with the second highest civilian honor of the country, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz for her dauntless contribution to films.

These handful examples of empowering, influential and compelling Muslim women express a great deal- to come out of the shackles of a society that restricts you and your creative energies.Not just to the Muslim women of today, they are inspirational for all women who seek for self – actualization.

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Drive Safely! Heavy smog covers India, Pakistan, causing accidents and illness

Authorities have advised people to limit road travel and wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses

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AIR POLLUTION
Motorcycles and vehicles drive on a road while fog envelope the area (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad) (VOA)

Islamabad, November 6, 2017 : Smog has enveloped much of Pakistan and neighboring India, causing highway accidents and respiratory problems, and forcing many residents to stay home, officials said Saturday.

Pakistani meteorologist Mohammad Hanif said the pollution, caused by dust, the burning of crops, and emissions from factories and brick kilns in Pakistan and neighboring India, was expected to linger until the middle of the month and contribute to smog- a combination of smoke and fog. He advised people to wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory ailments.

Mohammad Arshad, a highway police official, said at least 10 people were killed and 25 injured in road accidents linked to poor visibility in various parts of the Punjab province due to smog, since Monday. Authorities have advised people to limit road travel.

Average air pollution in Pakistan’s major cities is about four times higher than the World Health Organization limits.

Similar problems have been reported in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where air quality was rated “very poor” Saturday. Some private schools in New Delhi have suspended sports and outdoor activities.

India’s Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi ahead of last month’s Hindu Diwali festival to try to curb air pollution in the city notorious for smog. Though reports said air quality was better than last year, pollution levels in the capital hit 18 times the healthy limit the night after the festival, as many dodged the ban. (VOA)