Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore
Updated: February 25, 2021 05:20 AM GMT
UCA News reporter Kamran Chaudhry at Model Town police station in Lahore on Feb. 21 after the most recent blasphemy case was filed. (Photo: UCA News)
Earlier this month, a hardline Islamist political party complained to police about the Maloon (cursed) who tore down its posters on the walls of a college in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The station house officer assured strict action. Arrest the corrupt urgently. Beheading, the only punishment for blasphemer,” Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan said in a tweet referring to the posters that carried the name of the Prophet Muhammad as an inspiration for college students to join the group.
The incident is one of the latest in a series I have been tracking on social media on an almost daily basis. Most of them are filed against Shia Muslims on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s companions.
According to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice (CSJ), 2020 marked the highest abuse of the blasphemy law. Among the 200 accused, 75 percent of the accused were Muslims, while the largest number of victims (70 percent) were Shia. The others were Ahmadi (20 percent), Sunni (5 percent), Christian (3.5 percent) and Hindu (1 percent) while religion was not confirmed in 0.5 percent of cases.
So far this year, three Christians have fallen victim to the blasphemy law and related religious freedom violations. These include a nurse in Karachi who was beaten by her own staff for alleged blasphemy last month.
Surprisingly three Muslims, including a Shia cleric, issued video statements in her defense.
A seminary in the northern city of Mansehra last week issued a religious decree urging careful inquiries into blasphemy cases following a police raid on a shoe shop. The local clerics declared those arrested as innocent.
I was also touched by the response of Ali Haider, a police constable at Model Town police station in Lahore.
“Usually small things lead to such big issues and destroy families,” he told me during my visit to investigate the two Christians arrested this month for preaching Christianity. I believe the families of these Muslims must have discussed the increasing unrest from blasphemy laws.
This is the first time Muslims have publicly condemned weaponizing faith. This is a ray of hope in dark times. The repeated mob attacks are slowly starting to get on the nerves of the nation.
However, the attitude of government representatives adds insult to injury.
In his Feb. 23 tweet, Aamir Liaquat, a member of the National Assembly, shared a photo of Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, photoshopped as Hindu goddess Kali. Certainly it wasn’t funny.
In a Facebook post, the coordinator of the Pakistan Hindu Youth Council, Chaman Lal, requested Prime Minister Imran Khan ban Liaquat for hurting the sentiments of peaceful Hindus of Pakistan.
“So here is one of the politicians who claims to be a religious scholar, I don't know how someone can be so cheap that he can use the sentiments of others for point scoring in politics. How can someone use religion in politics? Isn't this blasphemy?” he asked.
Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Khan's special representative on religious harmony, entirely rejects NGO reports regarding the misuse of blasphemy laws.
He said the Muttahida Ulema Board, a body of Islamic clerics, had dealt with more than 140 cases on merit in the past two years.
"Insult of religion or dignity of the Prophet wasn’t misused in any of them,” he stated in a recent notice. “Leaders of all religious orders agreed to recommend warnings and correctional measures in only a few cases. Our office welcomes all NGOs and media representatives to provide proof of the misuse of the blasphemy law.”
Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the CSJ, rejected offering a knee-jerk reaction. “The term NGO is becoming a barrier. They term our voice as interference. If these cases were solved on merit, why were the clerics were even involved?” he argued in a recent consultation.
Christians in Pakistan can easily relate to the Passion of the Christ by reflecting on their own sufferings. At times, it may be monotonous and even boring to read my stories from Pakistan because of their dark themes, but I implore my readers to put themselves in our shoes and pray in this Lent season for Christians in Pakistan who remain unlucky and face discrimination.
In his message for Lent 2021, Pope Francis called on the faithful to care “for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Pakistani Christians are facing the double pandemic of prejudice and the coronavirus. As the famous adage goes, “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
Kamran Chaudhry is a Catholic commentator based in Lahore. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.