From: Huffington Post, Nov 30 2010
Pakistan: The Shame and the Promise
The world is shocked by the death sentence imposed in Pakistan on Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother of five, imprisoned under the country’s controversial blasphemy statute. This inhumane act paradoxically occurred while devout Muslims fulfilled their Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca where they prayed for Allah’s mercy. This punishment is contrary to Islamic teachings on justice.
How can the benevolent act of sharing water, the source of life, undertaken by this Pakistani Christian woman toward her Pakistani Muslim co-worker lead to a death sentence? The co-worker refused to accept water drawn from the same barrel as a non-Muslim sparking a callous and controversial case.
Court documents indicate that the encounter provoked two unmarried women to accuse Bibi of making an offensive remark about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Bibi denies this allegation testifying that she never defiled the Prophet or commented against Islam. She maintains her innocence but asked forgiveness and after already serving 15 months in prison received an astounding response by the judge who condemned her to be executed. Leaving one to ponder, where is Islamic justice?
This harsh Blasphemy Law, forced upon Pakistan by former President Zia ul Haq, was one of the first examples by extremists in Pakistan to manipulate and exploit Islam for their own political gain. In Zia’s case, it was consolidation of power. Later his supporter Nawaz Sharif, known for ordering the Pakistan nuclear tests in 1998, now heading the hardliner Pakistan Muslim League PML(N), continued the politicization of Islam. Equally disturbing are the actions of former self installed President, Pervez Musharraf, who defends the cruel Hadood ordinances that force women to produce four witnesses when they are raped or be arrested for adultery.
This pattern of perversion of Islamic principles in Pakistan now rivets the world’s attention as it did when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated three years ago. Bibi and her family fear that she will be murdered as well while waiting for justice to be served. The death sentence against Asia Bibi for blasphemy is not only directed against her and her family, but in a broader sense against all of Pakistan, a nation whose international reputation hangs by a thread.
The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan are antithetical to the protections to minorities guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution and the very concept of religious freedom on which Pakistan was founded in 1947. A study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace reports that a total of 964 people have been charged under this ordinance: 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmedis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 of other religions. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy have been murdered through extra-judicial killings. In the case of Asia Bibi, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court said, “the treatment meted out to the woman was an insult to humanity.”
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Noel Irwin Hentschel specializes in World Religions and Global Ethics at the Franciscan School of Theology and is CEO/ Chair of AmericanTours International and The Noel Foundation.
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