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Embracing sanity to combat hatred

Intolerance is a poison that must be rooted out of society

Christians displaced in Islamabad take shelter in a Church Christians displaced in Islamabad take shelter in a Church
  • Silent Thinker, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • August 31, 2012
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Khalid Chisthi, the imam of Naimia mosque in Islamabad, appeared on a prime time television talk show yesterday in part to air his response to claims that he had encouraged Muslims to confront Christians in the wake of blasphemy allegations against a teenage Christian girl.

Reports emerged earlier this month that accused the mosque of rallying local Muslims against the local Christian minority after Rimsha Masih had been accused of desecrating the Qu’ran.

His comments on the television program shed some light on the general perception of non-Muslim minority communities in the country.

“Our rulers are not supporting us. They say we are lying,” Chisthi said.

“The fact is I had been getting complaints about Christians playing drums and music during adhan, the call to prayer. They did not stop it at Christmas or whatever celebrations although this is our Islamic country,” he said.

“My heart ached at this and in my next Friday sermon, I warned people of an incoming temptation. I called for [the Christians’] expulsion if they did not stop such activities.”

The program later showed Christians saying that local Muslims are not allowing them to stay in the same community and that they plan to vacate their rented homes in coming days.

A bail hearing for Rimsha Masih, who remains in custody, has been delayed until tomorrow after her accusers challenged a medical report that states the girl is a minor and mentally impaired.

Meanwhile, President Asif Zardari has paid close attention to this latest blasphemy case. Even some mainstream clerics have called for Masih’s release. The Pakistan Interfaith League yesterday urged its members to avoid bias and observe the case with a level head and a cool mind.

Also yesterday a priest sent me a list of comments from well-known clerics, all of whom were demanding an impartial investigation.

While such comments and developments are encouraging, the real challenge remains. What does the country do to change the mindset of those who are so quick to seek action against anything they deem to be blasphemous?

Both Christians and Ahmadis (an Islamic sect considered heretical by orthodox Muslims) have been subject to some of the worst examples of human rights abuses in the wake of blasphemy allegations.

“Our society is eating its own people, eliminating those who are different. We are getting isolated from the rest of the world, which looks at us as an intolerant nation,” said Irfan Mufti, deputy director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan at an education seminar yesterday.

“They don’t share what we stand for and are running out of patience with us.”

Foreign investment has ended in Pakistan. People like Khalid Chishti are responsible for putting the character of the state at risk. Has he ever penned a book on religion. Have any of the nation’s leading clerics ever produced a coherent religious or political text?

Rather than confirming their followers in the faith through competent and compelling teaching, these so-called scholars merely divide communities and disseminate hatred.

What has happened recently in Islamabad is not limited to one sector or community. Hindus, Sikhs and Christians across the country are looked upon as second class, if not third-class, citizens. I have heard the mockery of Christian liturgical music on Sunday mornings. I have seen and reported on churches being attacked because of the volume level of their loudspeakers.

But surely there is a cure for our sick, sad and loveless society.

Some educators say that Pakistan could become a progressive and democratic nation in the next decade or more if the biases and hatred in our textbooks are removed. Government and religious leaders must endeavor to revive compassion in our society. We must use all our energy to champion the concept of tolerance.

Rimsha Masih’s case is not a conspiracy against the country. It is a conspiracy against humanity. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used to oppress a variety of different people, from laborers to elected ministers. But the plight of one child has stirred a new discussion on the misuse of these laws.

May sanity prevail.

Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore
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