Aysha Khan 05-03-2016

A Pakistani refugee cries as she leaves a detention center. Image via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/RNS

Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said May 2.

“At worst, they have spiraled further downward.”

Ryan Stewart 03-28-2016

As many Christians sat down Sunday morning to celebrate Easter, a suicide bombing targeting Christians halfway across the world in Lahore, Pakistan killed 72 people and injured at least 320. Right as American Christians were shouting, “He is risen, Alleluia!” an entire city cried out in horror and mourning. As American children hunted Easter eggs, a bomb exploded into Pakistani children visiting a neighborhood park.

Todd Green 03-28-2016

Syrian refugees who came from Aleppo waiting at the refugee camp in Essalame border gate on Turkey - Syria border in Essalame, Syria in February. gungorkarakus /

The Christian tradition calls its followers not to bear false witness. So how do we live out this calling? What does it mean not to bear false witness against Muslims in the age of ISIS? Here are three false assumptions, if not outright lies, often repeated about Muslims and terrorism, along with some facts that can help us have more honest conversations about our Muslim neighbors and about the violence we encounter in western nations.

Paul Bhatti. Image via Rosie Scammell/RNS

Paul Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, worked as a surgeon in his home country of Pakistan and in Europe, while his brother, Shahbaz, went into politics and became Pakistan’s only Christian Cabinet member as the country’s first minister of minority affairs. Then, on March 2, 2011, Shahbaz was cut down in a hail of bullets in an attack by a militant group that called him “a blasphemer.”

Photo via Shahbaz Sindhu / RNS

“Tania” and Ferdose Khan live as partners in Lahore’s khawaja sara community. Photo via Shahbaz Sindhu / RNS

Saima Butt witnessed an acid attack in February 2014 that left the victim scarred and writhing in pain. One onlooker said the assault was God’s retribution, and that her death would mean one less sinner in society.


“People enjoy our agonies and treat us like insects,” Butt said of herself and of the anonymous victim.

Butt is supervisor at the Khawaja Sara Society in Lahore and a member of the local “khawaja sara” or third-gender community. Pakistan added a third-gender option to national identity cards in 2009, but official recognition has not stopped discrimination against those who choose not to be identified as either male or female.

Rose Marie Berger 05-11-2015

Tackling their finances is perhaps the most effective way of restricting terrorist groups. 

U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created in 1998 as an independent, bipartisan body. Public domain image.

An independent religious freedom watchdog panel has welcomed the State Department’s annual religious freedom report and its list of the world’s worst offenders, which had laid dormant for three years.

The list of “countries of particular concern” had remained unchanged since 2006 — and hasn’t been formally issued by the State Department since 2011 — when Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan were cited.

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the list be doubled to include Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Egypt. Turkmenistan was the only new addition to this year’s CPC list, bringing the total to nine countries.

The State Department and the independent USCIRF have often been at odds on who makes the list of worst offenders, and in a statement, USCIRF noted the “disappointing omission” of Pakistan in particular.

“Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.

Profile of a woman. Vector image courtesy Janos Hajnalka/

Profile of a woman. Vector image courtesy Janos Hajnalka/

Some die for choosing, others for not choosing. But they all die because they are women. Rogers was mentally ill, and there is debate about whether it was his illness or a misogynistic culture that caused his rampage. For Farzana’s family, and for the 1000 Pakistani girls and women who die each year in the name of honor, there is no question.

Michael Winter 05-29-2014

Farzana Parveen, 25, was beaten to death on May 27 near the high court in Lahore, Pakistan. Creative Commons photo by Omer Wazir

As a crowd watched outside a courthouse, the family of a pregnant Pakistani woman beat her to death Tuesday because she married the man she loved instead of her cousin.

The 25-year-old woman’s father, brother, and spurned fiance were among about a dozen male relatives who used bricks and clubs in the so-called honor killing of Farzana Parveen for disobeying her family’s wishes. She suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Lahore police charged her father, Mohammad Azeem, with murder, and the others were being sought. Azeem told police he helped kill his daughter because she had shamed the family.

“I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” police investigator Rana Mujahid quoted him as saying.

Parveen was attacked as she and her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, arrived at the gates of the Lahore High Court. They went there to dispute charges brought by her father that Iqbal had kidnapped Parveen, who had been engaged to her cousin for several years.

Robert P. George, chairman of U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom on Thursday. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe.

One of the nation’s leading — and official — champions of religious freedom implored the Obama administration to add Pakistan and Syria to the list of nations that most egregiously violate religious rights.

Before a congressional subcommittee on Thursday Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said it makes little sense that the roster compiled by the U.S. has barely changed in a decade.

The congressionally chartered commission George heads recently advocated that the State Department add eight nations to the eight already designated as “countries of particular concern.” But among the recommended additions, he singled out Pakistan and Syria for their deteriorating and troublesome records on religious liberty.

Naveed Ahmad 02-19-2014

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.

Naveed Ahmad 02-03-2014

Shiites torch a procession mourning deaths of Prophet Mohammad’s grandchildren. Photo by Naveed Ahmad. Via RNS.

Qadeer Abbasi is recovering from a broken arm in his two-room shanty home not far from the capital, Islamabad.

On Nov. 15, Abbasi, 34, offered noontime Friday prayers at Madrassa Taleem ul Quran when the seminary was attacked by a procession of Shiite mourners. Besides the Sunni madrassa, the Shiites also struck 100 shops, four private banks, and scores of cars.

In less than an hour, 12 people were killed and intense gunfire prevented humanitarian services from ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Leonard Rodgers 11-05-2013

Pakistani Christian women pray for victims of suicide attack on a church in Peshawar. Photo: AP

Decades ago, Christians and Muslims mingled at Youth for Christ events in Peshawar. What happened?

Richard S. Ehrlich 10-16-2013

Screenshot from Photo via RNS.

Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere went online to buy live cows and goats for the traditional Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, known as Eid al-Adha, because shopping on the Internet was easier than going to crowded street markets to buy the animals.

“The purchase of sacrificial animal [online] has gained popularity as it is found to be the most convenient way of buying an animal for the ceremonious day,” Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper reported Wednesday.

Adam Ericksen 10-15-2013
 United Nations Information Centres /

Malala Yousafzai attends Delivering on the Global Education Promise, United Nations Information Centres /

Malala Yousafzai has captured our love and imagination.

Malala was recently a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the end of the interview, Stewart was so enamored with Malala that he asked if he could adopt her. The remark was hilarious because it was true. After 5 minutes with this girl, who wouldn’t want to adopt her?

Malala is the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for education in the face of persecution from the Taliban. She explained on the show that, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.”

In the face of persecution from the Taliban, Malala says she “spoke on every media channel I could and I raised my voice on every platform that I could and I said, ‘I need to tell the world what is happening in Swat and I need to tell the world that Swat is suffering from terrorism and we need to fight against terrorism.’”

But it was what she said next that stole our hearts. She reflected upon what she would do if a member of the Taliban came to take her life.

If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’

Rose Marie Berger 10-10-2013

Just as she left the world speechless when she addressed the United Nations in July, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for women’s rights and access to education, rendered America's jester Jon Stewart tongue tied when he hosted her this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her new book I Am Malala is just released.

"Education is the power of women. That's why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful," said Malala, who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week.

The Taliban first targeted Malala on "Googlenet" in 2012, she said. But she decided that it was better to not respond to the threats with violence, even in self-defense.

"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then you will be no better than the Talib," she told a star-struck Stewart.

"Can I adopt you?" Stewart asked.

Richard S. Ehrlich 09-24-2013

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.

Richard S. Ehrlich 08-12-2013
Geo Tez introduces the Burka Avenger. Photo courtesy RNS/Geo TV

Geo Tez introduces the Burka Avenger. Photo courtesy RNS/Geo TV

Pakistan’s new animated television series, “Burka Avenger,” features a female Muslim teacher disguised in a tight black outfit with a cape and ninja-style head cover who throws heavy books and sharp pens at men who oppose education for girls.

The fictional show coincides with the real life of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani student who was shot in the head in an unsuccessful bid to kill her because she spoke out in support of girls’ education.

The Burka Avenger has been mostly victorious against her Taliban-like enemies during the first two shows, which began on July 28.

Richard S. Ehrlich 08-06-2013
A show in Pakistan is giving away babies. Screenshot of news story from The Guar

A show in Pakistan is giving away babies. Screenshot of news story from The Guardian, via RNS.

A controversial Muslim scholar-turned-television-host has given away at least two abandoned babies during his live TV show in Pakistan, saying “it is real Islam” and not exploitation because the infants find homes with couples who want to adopt.


Duane Shank 07-25-2013

In response to criticism, the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and is limiting them to “high-value targets.” The Associated Press reports:

The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called "signature strikes" - hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program. …

Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.

Read more here.