Pakistan

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.

Sunni-Shiite Violence Soars in Pakistan

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.

Holy Innocents in Pakistan

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

MY HEART WAS broken when I got the news on a Sunday in September: All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, had been attacked by two suicide bombers just after the Sunday service, as worshippers filtered out of the sanctuary. Eighty-five people were killed, including 34 women, seven children, and two Muslim police officers there to provide security. Later reports said the bombers were Sunni extremists.

In 1976, I was honored to start Youth for Christ in Peshawar. There were few Christians in this area near the Afghan border; Peshawar was not and is not a big town. Undoubtedly, some of the adults in and around the church when it was bombed were people I had met decades earlier.

News of the bombing confounded my memory of Peshawar 38 years ago. Religious plurality then was not perfect, but it was in great contrast to today. Christians, though few, served the Lord with some freedom. Youth for Christ held open-air rallies in the park, amplified by public-address speakers, with young people singing Christian songs with Bible messages to be heard by anyone within earshot. No security was needed, and truth be told both Muslim and Christian youth were in the audience and the choir.

The start of the second Gulf war in 2003, and subsequent military actions, changed everything. Reports say the church bombing in Peshawar was in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes that killed innocent men, women, and children, along with suspected terrorists, in that part of Pakistan. Peshawar is strategically located on the border with Afghanistan, not far from the famous Khyber Pass and only about 125 miles from where Osama bin Laden was killed.

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On Eid al-Adha, Tradition Gives Way to Online Innovation

Screenshot from Bikroy.com. 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.

Malala Yousafzai and the Tradition of Islamic Nonviolence

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

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.’

Jon Stewart to Malala Yousafzai: 'Can I Adopt You?'

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.

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.

New Muslim Superhero? A Wonder Woman-like Education Warrior

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.

DRONE WATCH: U.S. Reduces Strikes in Pakistan

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.

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