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Un-Islamic burning of churches & homes in Pakistan; respecting other religions is important in Islam

AsiaUn-Islamic burning of churches & homes in Pakistan; respecting other religions is important in Islam

A wave of unrest swept through Pakistan’s Punjab province as accusations of blasphemy ignited tensions between the Muslim majority and Christian minority communities.

On August 16, 2023, a church on the outskirts of Faisalabad was set ablaze following an attack by Muslim men who accused a Christian family of blasphemy. A Pakistani Christian man named Salim Masih was allegedly accused of blasphemy of the Quran.

In response to the escalating situation, the assistant commissioner for Faisalabad called for the deployment of armed forces to maintain law and order, emphasizing the sensitivity and vulnerability of the situation. Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar condemned the violence, promising stern action against those who targeted minorities.

Government officials and witnesses also reported that a total of eight churches and numerous homes were vandalized by a furious crowd of over a hundred men in response to the alleged blasphemy. The National Commission for Human Rights confirmed the burning of eight churches and labeled the situation as “sad and shameful.”  There was fear among Christians of being burnt by the vigilantes.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik, a far-right Islamic extremist political party in Pakistan, burned down churches and they were heading to set Christian houses on fire, according to sources.

Voices That Condemn This Burning Both From the Islamic World and Others

Faraz Pervaiz, A Pakistani Christian whose profile reads, “Accused of blasphemy by FIA because of my fervent faith and belief in Jesus Christ, Fighting against Draconian #blasphemy Laws. from Pakistan”, tweeted, “The situation is getting worse as the clock ticks by. Today the announcements were made from mosques. Religious minorities are not safe in Pakistan.”

A reporter s stated that if the accused #Rocky and #Amirraja would not be handed over to Muslim extremists in the next 30 minutes then we would make this place hell and the Government of Pakistan would not be able to control it. Moreover, the accused house has been set on fire and the reporter was speaking from the alleged destroyed house. “Such pro-#blasphemy brigades in #Pakistan are known to have state-backing.”

 

Faraz Pervaiz went on to say that the Pakistani Muslim extremists were chanting religious slogans “Labaik Ya Rasool Allah” as they burned down churches and the attacks come after local Muslims accused the Christian family of blasphemy.

Nadine Maenza, an advocate for international religious freedom and working family policies voiced her alarm writing, “Alarming developments in #Pakistan today. Appears false accusation of #blasphemy has led to mob violence against churches & Christian houses in #Faisalabad.”

Sara Taseer, a liberal Muslim Pakistani said, “This is the 3rd church burned today. Mob is heading to the 4th church in Faisalabad. Christian community SOS today #Pakistan”

Yashpreet Kaur Rana, a writer voiced, “When a Quran is burned in Denmark or Sweden, it becomes a global crisis.  When churches are burned and people are brutally killed in Pakistan, it becomes a minor news article, and nobody really cares.”

Wasiq Wasiqf, a Muslim intellectual from the UK expressed, “Christians are not safe in #Pakistan 👇

This is an example of Christians being persecuted and their church being vandalized.

This is no different from what ISIS we’re doing to Christians and Yazidis in Syria.

Shameful!”

Yasir Talib of the Centre for Social Justice, who was present during the incident, recounted how the home of a Christian man accused of blasphemous comments against Islam was vandalized and set on fire. The Catholic Church, the Salvation Army Church, the Pentecostal Church, and the local Christian colony were also targeted and torched.

The Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop, Azad Marshall, expressed deep distress over the incident, highlighting the desecration of Bibles and the false accusations that led to the torture and harassment of Christians. Calls for justice and action resonated within both the local and international communities.

Riina Kionka, the EU ambassador to Pakistan, expressed concern over the reports, emphasizing that the treatment of minorities reflects a society’s commitment to the rule of law and tolerance. Pakistan’s stance on blasphemy, which carries the possibility of a death sentence, has led to tragic incidents of violence against religious minorities in the past.

Notably, the case of Asia Bibi garnered international attention. Convicted of blasphemy and initially sentenced to death, she was eventually released from death row in 2018 after her appeal against the conviction succeeded.  Asia Bibi was later granted asylum with her family in Canada. This incident, along with the recent church burnings, underscores the ongoing challenges faced by religious minorities in Pakistan due to the country’s strict blasphemy laws.

Akmal Bhatti, a prominent Christian leader, informed Reuters that a furious crowd had set fire to a minimum of five churches and ransacked abandoned homes. These houses were left vacant by their owners due to the provocative announcements made by clerics through mosque loudspeakers, which incited the mob.

Videos circulating on social media depicted local Muslim leaders exploiting mosque loudspeakers to rally their followers for a demonstration. In one video, a cleric can be heard urging unity among Muslims and calling for a gathering in front of the mosque due to alleged Christian desecration of the Holy Quran. The cleric’s statement included a fervent call to uphold Islam, even if it meant risking one’s life.

Ahad Noor, an official of the district government, revealed that a tense situation had emerged between the police and the crowds. Despite police and Rangers (a paramilitary force) being deployed to control the scene, the crowds remained defiant and unyielding.

The Right Rev Azad Marshall, a bishop from a neighboring city, Lahore, expressed deep distress on behalf of the Christian community. He appealed for justice and immediate action from law enforcement and judicial authorities, requesting assurance of the safety and value of all citizens within their own homeland. He conveyed this message via Twitter, now known as “X.”

Blasphemy holds significant sensitivity in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where individuals considered to have insulted Islam or its figures could face the severe penalty of death. Across the country, Islamist rightwing leaders and political groups often exploit this issue, resulting in incidents ranging from political assassinations to threats of nuclear retaliation against European nations and even instances of mob violence and lynching over allegations of blasphemy.

This behavior is entirely inconsistent with Islamic teachings

This behavior is entirely inconsistent with Islamic teachings. Islamic teachings advocate respect for other religions. The Quran teaches believers to treat individuals from different faiths with kindness and consideration, fostering harmonious coexistence. Islamic teachings advise Muslims to participate in respectful discussions and refrain from insulting or ridiculing the beliefs of others.

The Christian population, constituting around 2% of Pakistan’s populace, occupies a marginalized position in society. Unfortunately, they frequently become targets of baseless blasphemy accusations, perpetuating their vulnerability and marginalized status.

One of the Quranic verses that emphasizes respect for other religions is found in Surah Al-Kafirun (Chapter 109), verse 6:

“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

This verse acknowledges and affirms the right of individuals to hold their own beliefs and religions. It reflects the principle of religious tolerance and encourages peaceful coexistence without imposing one’s beliefs on others.

The Quran provides insights into the attitudes towards Christians and Jews: “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (The Holy Quran 2:62) Additionally, it states, “…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” (The Holy Quran 5:82) These verses depict a shared belief among Abrahamic faiths and promote equality among believers, directly contradicting the actions of groups like Daesh, which perpetrate unjust oppression against religious minorities.

The Holy Quran teaches the equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of their religion, race, or social status. Disrespecting other faiths is explicitly condemned in the Quran: “Do not abuse those whom they worship besides Allah.” (6:109) This prohibition extends to engaging in arguments with non-Muslims in a disrespectful manner. The Quran advises discussing matters with people of other faiths in a courteous manner (29:46). Thus, taking a life in the name of religion goes against the very essence of Islamic teachings.

Sadly, the actions of religious extremists in the Middle East have deviated from these teachings. These radical elements distort Islam for their own agendas, misrepresenting the religion’s true essence. This departure from authentic teachings is deeply concerning and disheartening, particularly when witnessing the persecution of religious minorities.

To counter extremism and foster religious tolerance, it is crucial to revisit the teachings of Islam and live by the principles of equality and respect for all, regardless of faith. A saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad serves as a powerful reminder: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

The essence of Islam promotes religious tolerance, equality, and respect for all human beings. The actions of extremists do not align with the true teachings of the faith. By understanding and adhering to these principles, we can combat extremism and promote a world where individuals of all faiths are treated with dignity and equality.

It is time we unite against any form of extremism found in the globe.  We see extremism existing on both sides – India and Pakistan. While the number of individuals displaying such tendencies may be limited, their actions cast a negative light not only on their respective religions but also on their nations.

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