Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore
Updated: December 08, 2017 07:09 AM GMT
Pakistani activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik religious group gather at a blocked street during a protest in Islamabad Nov. 17, 2017. Roughly 2,000 protesters demanded the resignation of Pakistan's federal law minister over a hastily-abandoned amendment to legislation connected to blasphemy. (Photo AFP)
One whisper and you are dead.
Irfan Mufti, deputy director of the secular activist group South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, posted this message on social media recently.
He was warning of the rise in Pakistan of extremist Muslim cults such as Tehreek-e-Labaik in Punjab province.
Christian and other minority religious leaders also fear the growing political influence of Tehreek-e-Labaik.
This group recently staged a series of violent demonstrations in Punjab, accusing the national government of pursuing an anti-Islamist agenda.
The sect attacks moderate Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus and others.
Further, Tehreek-e-Labaik demands the introduction of draconian Islamic Sharia law, which would impose severe punishments for a wide range of offences.
Critics have accused Tehreek-e-Labaik of promoting Jihadi radicalism aimed at making Pakistan an Islamic state.
Mufti warned that cult worship of the Prophet Muhammad was developing into a form of hysteria.
And their propaganda weapon of choice was the making of blasphemy accusations.
"One whisper and you are dead," Mufti stated in his message shared on social media.
Farooq Tariq Henry Olsen, spokesperson for the Awami Workers Party, told a Dec. 6 seminar that the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan was "fascist" in nature.
Referring to Tehreek-e-Labaik and other Islamic hardliners, Tariq warned that sermons by radical clerics promoted violence.
"The Muslim saints never used this language," Tariq said.
"But the state has shamelessly given in to these groups."
This was a reference to the government agreeing to a wide range of demands from militant demonstrators, including the resignation of a minister accused of attempting to modify anti-blasphemy laws
"For the first time in the country’s history, a violent group has been awarded with state money," he said.
Tariq was reacting to the government paying 1000 rupees (US$9.48) for bus fares to members of Tehreek-e-Labaik when they were released from detention over the protests that resulted in six deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Tariq said recent developments suggested that fundamentalist Islamic groups would increasingly target members of religious minorities.
Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of the Pakistani bishops' national commission for justice and peace, condemned the use of violence in recent protests.
"Personally, I am concerned with the sectarian divide within Islam," he said.
"Unless we stop this attitude, it will harm the social fabric and sovereignty of the state."
About 80 percent of the Christians in Pakistan live in Punjab, the most populous of the country´s four provinces.
Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws are often used to target minorities, including Christians.
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