For Christians, surviving the modern-day witch-hunt in Pakistan has become increasingly difficult and depressing
A mob outside the Nankana Sahib police station in Punjab province where 20-year-old Waris Ali was burned to death for alleged blasphemy on Feb. 11 (Photo- supplied)
Published: February 15, 2023
As the world celebrated Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, authorities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shared messages condemning the lynching of another alleged blasphemer.
In the latest case of blasphemy-linked murder in the South Asian nation, Waris Ali was dragged out of a police station and burned to death by a religiously charged mob on Feb. 11 in the Nankana Sahib district of Punjab province.
The 20-year-old was accused of performing black magic by attaching a photo of his former wife on the pages of the Quran.
A day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took notice of the incident, police arrested 60 suspects involved in the lynching of Waris Ali.
His murder marks the modern-day witch-hunt that ended in Europe in the 18th century but continues to rear its ugly head in Pakistan, which incidentally means “the land of the spiritually pure.”
Back then in Europe, they searched for evidence of witchcraft. Now, the ultra-conservative Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party is doing the same in Pakistan.
“There is forgiveness for a sinner but none for the traitor of Allah’s Prophet. Join TLP for the welfare of faith and the world,” read its posters stuck on electric poles in the streets.
In 2021, a crowd associated with the TLP killed the Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara accusing him of blasphemy. He was burned to death in Sialkot in Punjab province.
Last year, a mentally-ill person was brutally stoned to death for allegedly desecrating the Quran in Talumba town of Khanewal district, also in Punjab province.
Such mob violence is usually followed by coming-of-age clichés like “condemned in the strongest terms” and assurances from politicians that “minorities enjoy complete religious freedom” in Pakistan.
The prime minister’s special representative for interfaith harmony, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, blames the lack of adequate knowledge of Shariah (Islamic rules) for the mob attacks.
“More than four decades of the war-like situation has led to extremism and terrorism in the country. Illiterate people, under the garb of faith, became preachers and promoted their opinions as beliefs. Such thoughts are absent in the Quran, Sunnah (the teachings of Prophet Mohammed), acts of his companions and instructions of Islamist jurists,” Ashrafi explained.
Ashrafi, however, avoided commenting on how such groups were empowered in the first place.
Pakistan’s descent into religious chaos began in 1953 when agitations against the Ahmadiyya community, considered a heretical sect by mainstream Islam, led to the imposition of the first martial law for three months in Lahore city.
In the years following the partition of British India, millions of Muslims moved to what is now Pakistan. Thousands of Ahmadiyya people, who supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims, also moved en masse from their holy city of Qadian, the birthplace of their sect’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in India’s Punjab area.
Several prominent political leaders of the Muslim League, the then-ruling party of Pakistan, were from the Ahmadiyya community. For example, Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign minister of Pakistan, was from the Ahmadiyya community.
However, a riot against them broke out in 1953 which resulted in the killing of several members of the Ahmadi community and the destruction of their homes, shops and places of worship. It must be considered the first major move against the community in the history of Pakistan.
Their belief that their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophesied messiah made them heretics, thus providing a perfect base for the alliance between the mullah (learned Muslim) and the military, to take on them.
The campaign against the Ahmadiyya community planted the seed of religion-based hate in Pakistan forever.
The secular character of the country was changed forever when Pakistan became the Islamic Republic in 1956. The constitution made it mandatory that only a Muslim could become the president of the country.
In 1984, then President General Zia ul-Haq promulgated an ordinance prohibiting Ahmadiyya people from indulging in “anti-Islamic activities” by referring to themselves as Muslims. They were also banned from preaching.
His Islamization program prohibited pop music, entertainment and dancing, besides introducing the death penalty as the maximum punishment for insulting Prophet Mohammed.
As the tussle for national leadership become fierce, the military and political leaders vied with each other to prove themselves as greater defenders of Islam, to stay in power.
In January this year, the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, effectively sharpening blasphemy laws and increasing punishment for insulting the Prophet’s companions, wives, and family members to 10 years along with a fine of 1 million rupees (US$4,424).
The legislation comes at a time when Pakistan is facing economic distress due to fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves, a weakening rupee, a worsening macroeconomic crisis and a threat from the Taliban, the ultra-conservative jihadist group.
In the 37 years until 2022, at least 86 people were killed for blasphemy-related crimes, which is more than two people each year, published records show. The victims include 50 Muslims, 25 Christians, seven Ahmadiyya people, one Hindu, one Buddhist, and two other persons whose religious identity cannot be ascertained.
“The latest killing is a matter of concern for everyone. Even mentally challenged people are insecure. Once again, our country is defamed,” said Father James Channan, director of the Dominican Peace Center.
He suggests the government undertake a massive awareness campaign to prevent people from taking law into their own hands.
Though many priests condemned the misuse of blasphemy laws, they remain tight-lipped when it came to the role of the TLP. Many bishops and church organizations hold indoor rallies to avoid public exposure and risk being seen as reformists.
You either become a traitor for pointing out the problems in state policies or a blasphemer for questioning the controversial laws.
For Christians, surviving the modern-day witch-hunt in Pakistan has become increasingly difficult and depressing.
May the season of love overcome the season of witch-hunting in Pakistan.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
Categories: Ahmadis, Ahmadis And Pakistan, Asia, Christianity, Pakistan, Pakistan Inter-Faith
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