By Faheem Younus
March 13, 2013
Billa was his nick name. An uneducated Christian boy, who used to clean sewer lines, remove garbage, and on a good day, play cricket with us on the streets of Lahore. I fondly remember how he could hit the ball out of the park and make the team proud.
But my life in Pakistan was rife with contradictions. At Jummah prayers, the team heard Islamic stories of equal treatment of non-Muslims and a few hours later, despite taking a bath, Billa would dare not shake hands with us, let alone eat on the same dinner table. Thanks to cricket though, we remained a team.
Three decades and over 1000 blasphemy cases later levelled at both the Muslims and non-Muslims of this country, the uneducated poor Christians are under constant religious persecution in Pakistan. On March 9, a mob of over 3,000 people vandalised Joseph Colony – a dilapidated Christian neighbourhood in my birthplace of Lahore, Pakistan – when a Christian man was accused of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). More than 150 houses, including two small churches, were ransacked and set ablaze.
Don’t blame me; harassing minorities in the pretence of blasphemy accusations is not my version of Islam. But regardless of the twisted interpretations of our religious scholars, it’s not Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) version of Islam either. So the question becomes; whose Islam is it anyway?
I don’t know but this cannot be the Islam of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who actually warned us to repel such mobs through his messages of peace. However, when the self-appointed custodians of Islam were actually burning two small churches, where were the “real” Muslims?
This cannot be the Islam of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who offered his own mosque to a Christian convoy from the tribe of Najran when it was time for their prayers.
Will “real” Muslims, who are shameless enough to share an alcoholic drink – declared unlawful by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – with a Christian friend, also share their mosques with them?
This cannot be the Islam of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who took a covenant from the seventh century Muslims to protect the properties and freedoms of the monks of Egypt’s Saint Catherine’s Monastery in specific, and Christians “far and near”, in general.
Even today, the copy of the original letter is available in Saint Catherine’s library.
So then, how can blasphemy laws – which enable “real” Muslims to masquerade their personal vendettas as religious fervour – protect the honour of our benevolent Prophet (pbuh)?
The reality is inescapable. It seems as though Pakistan doesn’t practice Islam – it practices pandering. By making arrests and offering compensations it panders to the West and by keeping blasphemy laws on the books it panders to the rest.
I could not live with such brazen attacks and contradictions. Hence, 15 years ago, I packed up all my conflicted memories and started a new life in America. But the memories followed me.
So deeply embedded was Billa in my consciousness that for the first few months after immigrating to America, I imagined every janitor in my hospital was Billa in disguise. I felt compelled to shake their hands. We broke bread and built bridges of interfaith equality.
Call it my way of honouring my Prophet (pbuh).
I doubt Billa can or will read my words; I believe he does not even need my words. He must be hoping for his team members to repel future mob attacks by repealing blasphemy laws.
Here is my call to those who believe they are “real Muslims”; let’s set aside all our sectarian differences and take an unequivocal stand to repeal blasphemy laws. Start the conversation at least. Not to appease America; but to please our Prophet (pbuh). Let’s truly uphold Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s covenant of protection for Christians, far and near.
Now it’s our turn to hit the ball out of the park. Now it’s our turn to make our Prophet (pbuh) proud.