ISTANBUL — Pakistan’s
notorious “blasphemy” laws can put even children at risk, and Christians say
the days when they could teach their offspring pat answers to protect them from
accusations of disparaging Islam or its prophet seem to have passed.
A 30-year-old Pakistani woman who grew up in Lahore said her Christian parents
taught her formula answers to keep from falling prey to accusations under the
blasphemy statutes, such as “I am a Christian, I can only tell you about Him.”
But even then, before militant Islamists began influencing Pakistani society as
they have in recent years, schoolchildren were taught not to discuss religion,
“We knew never to get into religious discussions with others,” she said. “We
had them at home — our parents would put us through the drill of asking us
tough questions to see how we answered. Only now I realize that was practice
In this way, she was imbued with the fundamentals of the Christian faith and at
the same time learned that she should discuss it only with her parents, said
the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Though the Christian faith is
inherently evangelistic, the blasphemy laws have made people silent, she added.
The blasphemy statutes signal to non-Muslims that they are second-class or “dhimmi”
status citizens who must stay within narrow social boundaries, leave or be
killed, she said.
“Christians constantly face questions like, ‘What do you think of the Quran, do
you like it?’ and, ‘What do you think of Muhammad?’” she said. “One answer is, ‘As
a Christian I have only read the Bible, I can’t read Arabic.’ These questions
used to be easier to answer, we had formulas. But those are not working any
more. We just tell children ‘Don’t talk about religion in school.’ This is
shaky ground now.”
She added, “Some parents don’t even tell their children about Jesus, because
they are scared they will go to school and say something wrong. One street kid
did not know anything except about the blasphemy law. When her mother was asked
why she did not teach her daughter about Jesus instead of the blasphemy law,
she replied, ‘If I tell her too much, she will talk about it on the street, and
someone will kill her or charge her with blasphemy.’”
The street child, she said, was afraid to tell her what church she attended.
“She said the mullah in the shop behind us was listening,
and as she said that, I saw the man nearly fall off his chair from trying to
listen to us,” she said.
An entire generation, Christians fear, is growing up not knowing their faith
for fear that it will lead to potentially disastrous schoolyard talk. Moreover,
children required to take Islamic studies in school are in danger with a single
“If they write anything or misspell anything to do with the prophet Muhammad,
they can be in serious danger,” the source said. “In fact, the other side of
this is that they are made to answer questions saying what a wonderful man he
Christian kids in predominantly Muslim areas don’t have friends to play with,
as even a cricket game can be risky, she said. Adults are equally fearful.
“People in offices are silenced into
submission,” she said. “The fear is creating aggression.”
Conviction under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s
blasphemy law for derogatory comments about Muhammad is punishable by death,
though life imprisonment is also possible. Curiously, accusers in blasphemy
cases cannot repeat the alleged derogatory comments without risk of being
accused of blasphemy themselves.
A district court judge last November stunned the nation and the international
community by handing down a death sentence to a Christian mother of five for
allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad.
Subsequently three politicians spoke out against the blasphemy law that put
Asia Noreen (also called Asia Bibi) in prison. Two of them have been killed for
standing up for Noreen and against the blasphemy law. One is in hiding for fear
of her life.
Noreen, mother of two children and stepmother to three others, has been in
prison in solitary confinement since June 2009, accused of having blasphemed
against Muhammad, after a verbal disagreement with some women in the village
of Ittanwali, near Lahore.
If she is released from prison, her life will be at risk. Her husband and
children are on the run, receiving constant threats from Muslims who say they
will take justice into their own hands.
Suspected Islamic militants in Faisalabad
shot dead two Christians about to be acquitted of blasphemy charges on July 19, 2010. Rashid Emmanuel, 32,
and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Emmanuel were shot days after handwriting
experts on July 14 notified police that signatures on papers denigrating
Muhammad did not match those of the accused. Expected to be exonerated, the two
leaders of United Ministries Pakistan
were being led in handcuffs under police custody back to jail when they were
Christian Lawyers’ Foundation President Khalid Gill said the two bodies bore
cuts and other signs of having been tortured, including marks on their faces,
while the brothers were in police custody.
For secular-educated Pakistanis, the blasphemy law has come to symbolize the
measure to which militant Islam has overtaken society. In the span of three
months, Islamists murdered two of the nation’s most outspoken leaders against
the blasphemy law. On Jan. 4 Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province,
was murdered, and on March 2 parliamentarian Shabaz Bhatti, who as federal
minister for minority affairs was the only Christian cabinet member, was
assassinated in Islamabad.
moving increasingly towards a state driven by fear of militants, where even
moderate politicians make conservative choices to appease Islamist threats,
according to Sara Taseer Shoaib, daughter of the late Taseer.
definitely becoming more right-wing and extremist when it comes to religion,”
she said. “Religious parties are gaining a cult following, and even moderate
leaders are trying to gain popularity and votes by taking a right-wing
The reasons for this shift, she said, are many: issues like defense of the
blasphemy law serve to deflect attention from the real issues of poverty and
lack of hope; there is an increasing trend to blame all woes on the West; and
there is a prevailing sense of a need to defend Islam as the perception remains
that it is under global attack.
(EDITORS NOTE — From Compass Direct News, a California-based news service
focusing on the persecuted church.)
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