blasphemy

After Death Threats, Bangladeshi Atheist Relocates to U.S.

Taslima Nasrin. Photo courtesy of Reuters / RNS

An internationally renowned atheist activist has relocated from India to the U.S. after receiving death threats from an extremist group that has claimed responsibility for at least one of three machete killings of South Asian atheists this year.

Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi gynecologist, novelist, and poet, arrived in New York state on May 27. The move was orchestrated by the Center for Inquiry, an organization that promotes secularism and has been working with atheist activists in countries where atheism is unprotected by blasphemy laws.

Vatican Blasts Muhammad Cartoons as Pouring ‘Gasoline on the Fire’

Photo via dade72 / Shutterstock.com

Palace of the Vatican, "The Dome." Photo via dade72 / Shutterstock.com

The Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper blasted a series of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as “blasphemous” but also condemned the “mad and bloodthirsty” extremists who opened fire at a Texas exhibit of the cartoons.

The front page article in L’Osservatore Romano likened the exhibit in Garland, Texas, to pouring “gasoline on the fire” of religious sensitivities and was critical of its sponsors, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and professional provocateur Pamela Geller.

Why Does Islam Ban Images of the Prophet Muhammad?

Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

Muslims waiting for the call to prayer in Aleppo, Syria. Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

On May 3 in Garland, Texas, two gunmen opened fire at a “draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiativelisted as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Police shot and killed the two gunmen. A security guard was injured. Most Muslims consider images of the prophet highly offensive, as Islam prohibits them. The attack comes almost four months to the day that four cartoonists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed by extremists offended at the magazine’s satirical depictions of the prophet.

Why do images of the founder of Islam — even cartoons drawn by amateurs — incite so much anger in some people that they are motivated to violence?

Pakistan Faces Criticism for Harsh Blasphemy Law

Rimsha Masih, a teenage girl who was alleged to have dumped torn and burnt pages of the Quran. Photo by Naveed Ahmad. Via RNS

Mohammad Asghar, a 69-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, faces a death sentence in Pakistan for claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad in letters written to officials and police in 2010.

The retired British national of Pakistani descent is partially paralyzed after a stroke, but Pakistani courts have so far refused to acknowledge his physical and mental limitations.

The charges against Asghar recall the case of Rimsha Masih, a teenage girl who was alleged to have dumped torn and burnt pages of the Quran into a garbage heap nearly two years ago.

COMMENTARY: Blasphemy Charges Pervert Islam's Teachings

Qasim Rashid is the author of "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid. Via RNS

Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.

Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.

They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws to Require Death Sentence for False Accusers

A Quran photographed in a Kansas City, Mo. mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Pakistan’s constitutionally mandated Council of Islamic Ideology told the government anyone who wrongly accuses a person of blasphemy against Islam must be executed — a measure intended to protect innocent people who are often killed by mobs.

The CII demanded the measure after endorsing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which allow a death sentence for people found guilty of desecrating the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, mosques, or Islamic beliefs.

Atheists Rally Around Jailed Bangladeshi Bloggers

An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.

Activists Hail Release of Christian Pastor in Iran, Teen in Pakistan

Religious rights activists are hailing the release over the weekend of an Iranian pastor accused of apostasy and a Pakistani girl who was charged with blasphemy.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released on Saturday after a six-hour hearing, reported the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked to garner American support for the minister’s release. The Christian convert had faced possible execution.

“Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voice has been heard,” read an online announcement from ACLJ.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed Nadarkhani’s release “after being unjustly imprisoned for three years because of his faith,” said its chair, Katrina Lantos Swett.

'Pussy Riot' Sentencing: Can't Jail Female Fury

Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted today of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin's repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Their "performance prayer" titled "Hail Mary, Putin Run!" (see video and lyrics) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced today to two years — time served credited against the sentence, so they've got another 19 months to go. While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, Wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison - as a woman - is not the kind of thing we do for money.

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