Clearly, the Quetta church attack was a direct strike on the increasing communal cohesion between the Christians and Muslims in Pakistan. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while condemning the attack has aptly called it, “an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations/create religious cleavages.” Indeed, it was an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations and create religious cleavages. But is the Pakistan army genuinely interested in tackling the onslaughts of the contagious religious extremism in the country?
Though the ultra-extremist Salafist terror group, Daesh (Isis) has claimed responsibility for the attack via the al-Aamaq media outlet, it has not yet provided evidence-based statement to substantiate its claim. But Baluchistan, a strategically important region bordering Iran as well as Afghanistan, has long been in the grip of deep-rooted sectarian groups linked to the Taliban, al Qaeda and now ISIS.
The first thought that emerges on this gruesome incident is that if the terror attack on the Church in Pakistan was carried out by the ISIS, it was clearly a systematic attack to counter the growing unity of Muslims and Christians, as some moderate Muslim thinkers have rightly pointed out.
Pakistan is on top of the Muslim majority countries where religious minorities are persecuted for their religious beliefs and rituals. Christians make up an estimated 1.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 200 million people. But besides systematic attacks by extremist groups, they face institutional persecution and violence from the majority-Muslim members who are brazenly violating the basic human rights as well as the essential Islamic values. The famous Islamic historian and Hadith scholar Imam Bukhari quoted the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as saying: “Whoever kills a Muaa’hid (any peaceful citizen) will not smell the fragrance of paradise”. Speaking generally about all the non-Muslims living in a Muslim state, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Anyone who kills a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim country will not smell the fragrance of the paradise.” (Nasaa’i). He is also quoted as saying: “If anyone kills a man whom he has granted protection pre-maturely, Allah will forbid him to enter paradise.” (Abu Dawood)
But ironically, the self-styled ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan remains in brazen violation of the holy Prophet’s traditions. Pakistan’s most notorious blasphemy laws are ill-designed to target the religious beliefs and practices of various faiths and sects, eventually leading to smear the face of Islam, Qur’an and the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the global media.
With the blasphemy laws, extremist goons in Pakistan are often underfoot to justify mob violence against liberal-thinking individuals as well as the non-Muslim minorities.
Along with other minority communities, Christians in particular, have long been held hostage to religious persecution, discrimination. Sidelined into lowly paid jobs and often the target of trumped-up blasphemy charges, this religious minority in Pakistan has always been hit by the radical Islamist ideologies over the years. Courts require a higher burden of proof for Christians to prove their innocence and some have been imprisoned on the testimony of their accusers.
Following the latest attack, dozens of Christians protested in the north-western city of Peshawar and called on officials to protect religious minorities. Similarly, last year Lahore suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during the Easter season — a suicide bomb in a park that killed more than 70 people including many children. In 2013, 82 people were killed when suicide bombers targeted a church in the city. The bombing was later claimed by the Jamaat ul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
Thus, it seems that Pakistani police and troops have been less serious in battling the radical Islamist groups in the country. This is utterly tragic state of affairs in a society which prides itself in its Nizaam-e-Mustafa (prophetic rule of governance).
Nevertheless, the Prophet of Islam avowedly advocated the rights of Christians whom he adored ad “the people of the book” as well as other non-Muslim citizens in his state. During his lifetime in the Arabia, the non-Muslim citizens were protected even against the foreign invading enemies. He stated in categorical terms: “He who hurts a non-Muslim citizen of Muslim state hurts me and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” (reported by Imam Tabrani). Another Hadith reporter Al Khateeb quoted the Prophet as saying this: “Whoever hurts a non-Muslim, I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Rising” and “On the Day of Resurrection I shall dispute with anyone who oppresses a person from among the non-Muslims, or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his capacity or takes something from him against his will.” (reported by Abu Dawood).
Noted classical scholar of the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Imaam al Quraafi comments on the above Hadith reports: “The covenant of protection imposes upon us clear obligations towards the non-Muslims living in our states: they are our neighbours under our shelter and their protection is upon us. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by even an abusive word, or by slandering their reputation or by causing them a harm or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His messenger and the religion of Islam.’ (Kitaab al Furooq).
Even going by the Islamic laws enunciated in the state of Pakistan, Muslims have no legal superiority or privilege over non-Muslims. There are compelling evidences in the sources of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that establish the full liberty for non-Muslims to practice their religions, follow their cultural customs and rites and lead their lives as per their own choice. No coercion or restriction can be inflicted upon them.
Despite these unequivocal Islamic traditions in favour of religious minorities, Christians in Pakistan are the worst hit, that too during the Christmas season. Their churches are the target of extremist Islamist zealots, especially during Christian holidays.
Tellingly, an AFP reporter at the scene saw shattered pews, shoes and broken musical instruments littered across the blood-smeared floor of the church in Quetta. The dastardly attack on innocent Pakistani Christians praying in Quetta’s church on Sunday was not an isolated instance. Earlier, in March 2016, more than 70 people died in an attack on a Lahore park where many Christians were celebrating on Easter Sunday. The deadliest attack against Christians in Pakistan happened in September 2013, when two suicide bombers targeted All Saints Church in Peshawar, killed more than 80 people.
These xenophobic acts can bring no gain to Islam or Muslims. They can only fuel the fire of global Islamophobia or further the nefarious ends of the extremist Islamist fringes in the country.
Islam, in Pakistan, has transformed from a multidimensional universal religion into an ossified and stilted cult of Islamism. How this happened has a historical context, beginning in 1947 when Pakistan emerged as a new state. The division of India at the end of the British Raj was only possible when the British paved the way to Two-Nation theory.
The question of creating Pakistan as a nation-state was only possible when a shrewd and articulate politician like Mr. Jinnah, leader of the All India Muslim League, applied his considerable political faculties to use Islam as the major building material for creating Pakistan’s national identity; apart from religion, the nation consisted of divergent ethnic, provincial, cultural and linguistic identities. Since then, the civilian and military leaders have routinely used Islam for their political ends and to justify state policies.
Despite the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, religious parties in Pakistan continued to impact both the state policies and the people at large. Islam had become a major power factor in the country for the mainstream bourgeois politicians and the leaders of the religious parties. Now, Islam was called upon by the fundamentalist parties to promote belief in the supremacy of divine laws over man-made laws. Whatever the Pakistani parliamentary system was to undertake had to be in conformity with the laws of God as enshrined in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Pakistani democracy was theocracy in disguise, where the ultimate sovereignty belonged to God, not to the elected representatives of the people.
Thus, a crude form of religiosity in the guise of Islamism had entered the political arena; people accepted this political Islam as their true Islam. This false consciousness, wherein the political ideology of Islamism was embraced as true Islam, has poisoned the body politic of the country.
The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1970s and 1980s gave a big boost to the sectarian religious parties, most of which adhered to the Sunni branch of Islam, and to the militant extremists who have been hell-bent on imposing political Islam as a way of life over the country. As a result of the blasphemy laws, they were free to assert their power and influence over the state and the civil society in a way and to a degree that had not been seen before in the shaky history of this country.
A coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and all-inclusive brand of Sufi Islam that was the traditional faith of the people of this vast region of the Indian Subcontinent before 1947. This traditional faith gradually came under increased pressure from the politicizing activities of an anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist and anti-democratic Islam led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder, Maulana Maududi, who was a renowned and influential ideologue of a totalitarian ‘Islamic ideology’, or Islamism.
In Maududi’s hidebound, conservative version of political Islam, there was no room for any western democratic and humanist traditions that are basic to a modern democratic state. There were to be no basic democratic freedoms of civil society (read all Muslim sects, and all religious minorities), and no space for an open and free educational system; such freedoms were subordinated to the Maududi’s Islamic indoctrination.
The role of Maududi was not confined to Pakistan; his influence had reached many parts of the conservative Muslim countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The seeds Maududi sowed became the plants that sapped this noble religion of all progressive ideas and pushed people into a rigid conformity with his brand of ‘Islamic ideology’. The introduction of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan was a natural result of the process of Islamisation that Maududi and other right-wing religious parties had set in motion. They had found fertile ground for their agenda in the social conditions of Pakistan.
There had also been many other puritan and revivalist groups within Islamic movements, some having very large followers. However, what Maududi introduced was something qualitatively distinct; he brought the whole spectrum of political Islam under his Islamic ideological program and laid down the foundations of Islamism in the form of strict party discipline and indoctrination, where the aim was to gain power to establish a theocratic system that no-one could challenge.
This is the state of affairs in Pakistan, a country being traumatized under the burden of religious fanaticism, obscurantism and infantile world-views. People living in democratic countries, where the rule of law and basic human freedoms are taken for granted, cannot understand that such violations of basic rights are taking place in Pakistan at the present moment.
Anyone charged with violating the blasphemy laws is considered sufficiently guilty as to set in motion the prosecution process. Many people have fallen victim to this vicious trap, which even the tormentors in the medieval ages would not have believed possible.
What is even more mind-boggling is the fact that any alleged offenders of blasphemy laws should show that they did not do what they are charged with! In fact, this happens in cases where such allegations, in themselves, are seen as substantial proof of guilt. Here the accused is not regarded innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In the eyes of the law, in the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan, anyone accused of or charged with blasphemy is guilty of the offence until proven otherwise.
In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, a Sunni Muslim, and Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were brutally murdered because they wanted an end to the grave injustices inflicted upon innocent people under the blasphemy laws. The murderer of Taseer was hailed as the defender of the honour of the Prophet by huge sections of the population throughout Pakistan. Strangely enough, many university teachers, preachers, lawyers and columnists zealously defend these pathetic laws in the belief that they are defending God, the Prophet and Islam! In fact, these laws are a true representation of the uncivilized activity, social and spiritual ignorance and false indoctrination that prevail in that country, even today in the 21st century.
It is obvious that religious extremist parties and groups have become emboldened enough to defy the law and order authorities with impunity. They have gained enormous street power; they can always appeal to ordinary citizens. They can attract huge crowds to disrupt the civic life of this country and its people. All this is carried out in the name of defending the honour and the final status of the Prophet; embracing their actions as honouring Allah and the dignity of Islam!
Moreover, a series of weak Pakistani governments remain for the most part deeply mired in their shabby deals and economic exploitation of the people. They also play the Islam card whenever they want to prolong their survival by making new compromises with the Islamist extremist parties and groups. The Pakistani ruling elite know how the Panama investment schemes function, how Swiss banks can hide their ill-gotten millions of dollars and pounds, how European countries can provide them safety and thus save them from any real and rigorous investigations into their economic or political affairs.
Now, turning back to the question of the blasphemy law, we may ask: Has the honor or the name of the Prophet ever been under any real threat or abuse at the hands of any people in Pakistan? Pakistan is a traditional, conservative Islamic country, where around 97% people are Muslims. Why would anyone use vulgar abuse against the Prophet, who is so profoundly venerated, both here and in other Islamic countries? In my view, there is no rationale for doing any such thing.
The main aim of the religious parties and the religious lobby was and still is to fight against the world’s democratic system and neutralize any educational process that opens up the avenues for rational thinking and openness, as we witness in democratic societies in the world.
In Pakistan, theocratic rule and Sharia laws have become the most beloved notions around which hopes and expectations are woven, for the birth of a new world. The Islamists also believe their services to protect the Prophet are bringing the new world closer to the doors of Pakistanis. This is not only misleading but also a grand deception practiced on ordinary Muslim believers.
In fact, the whole scenario of religious fanaticism is deeply preposterous and primitive; it is an expression of total mental and spiritual paralysis—a state of mayhem that has gripped the people for the last seven decades.
In the beginning, to play the Islamic card, such as ‘Islam in danger,’ was used to strengthen the hands of the anti-democratic and religious reactionary forces. The opportunistic and manipulating political leaders and political elites had discovered early on that the Islamic card worked like magic on the people, whose belief includes being enthralled by the rich rewards of Paradise and its abundant delights, rewards reserved only for male Muslim ‘believers’. The clerics have embedded such images in the minds of vast congregations.