By Syed Ishrat Husain
November 14, 2018
Asia Bibi a Pakistani Christian woman was convicted of blasphemy in 2010, and sentenced to death after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) during an argument a year earlier with Muslim colleagues. The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Bibi had touched, because she was not Muslim. At the time, Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her taking revenge. Asia Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy charges was commuted last month and is trapped in a prison that has been converted into a safe house. On October 31, she won her appeal against the conviction and death sentence. The appeal, accepted by SC in 2015, challenged the Lahore High Court’s October 2014, verdict upholding a trial court’s November 2010, decision sentencing Asia Bibi to death for committing blasphemy in 2009. Asia Bibi’s lawyer had to flee Pakistan to the Netherlands after she was acquitted. He told the reporters in The Hague that the UN and EU made him leave against his wishes. His departure comes as Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, begged the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada to grant his family asylum, in a video message.
India: Mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims via laws banning cow slaughter. As of November, there had been 38 such attacks, and 10 people killed during the year. In July, even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally condemned such violence, an affiliate organization of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, announced plans to recruit 5,000 religious soldiers to control cow smuggling and love jihad. So-called love jihad, according to Hindu groups, is a conspiracy among Muslim men to marry Hindu women and convert them to Islam.
Bangladesh: 2015, four prominent atheist bloggers were killed by machete-wielding assailants. These attacks continued into 2016, with the deaths of over 15 people including religious minorities, and social workers. Local militant groups recruit from among madrasa students and teachers, while one of the first deadly attacks on a blogger, back in 2013, was carried out by students at North South University, a prestigious Dhaka educational institution. Many of the restaurant attackers in July 2016 were well educated and came from wealthy families. The militants claimed that they were motivated by the alleged defamation of Islam.
United States: Armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others.
Altogether the above incidents are recent, and they all are related to religious belief. However it will be unjust if I do not acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of religion for people enduring trying times. When people experience pain or hurt, illness or death, hardship or devastation, fear or loss, religion can be a unique balm. It influences on two fronts, providing both communal and personal support. Having faith in God can provide a sense of internal peace, love and hope. Such a faithful person can recognize that they are not alone, no matter how dire or painful their situation may be. God is up there, with outstretched arms. Extensive research has revealed positive, beneficial and undeniably comforting aspects of religious beliefs which help people cope with life’s trials and tribulations. In this respect, there is so much in religion that is beautiful, touching, effective, and wise. Religion allows people to feel loved in a creation that is often loveless. Religious congregations provide social support, child care, counselling. Religious heritage links people to their parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. Religious life is often full of music, food, festivity, tradition, and delight. Religion; both its theism as well as its communal dynamics, can often inspire altruism and charity, goodwill and humility.
But what about those non-religious people who don’t believe in God and don’t conceive in the efficacy of prayers. What about those non-religious people who have experienced traumas, and calamities. Those who are battling cancer, children who have lost parents or vice versa, who have experienced spinal cord injuries. Their experiences reveal that while it may not be as comfortable to endure trying times without the comfort of religion. There have been innumerable books written the philosophical firmness of atheism or polemically besetting, or condemning this or that aspect of religious life.
Secularism: Being secular does not mean hating religion or taking religion as the problem. While there are secular or atheist people who are unfriendly to religion, majority of secular men and women appreciate various expects of religion. They understand that religion provides sustenance, support, inspiration and hope for millions of people all over the world, every day.
Secularism is simply a theoretical account for ensuring equality throughout society in politics, education, the law and elsewhere; for believers and non-believers alike. The detachment of religion from the state is the foundation of secularism. It ensures religious groups don’t interfere in affairs of the state, and the state doesn’t intervene in religious affairs. Secularism seeks to maintain the absolute freedom of religious and other beliefs, and protect the right to manifest religious beliefs insofar as it does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religious belief is always balanced, by the right to be free from religion. Religious people have the right to state their beliefs publicly, but so do those who oppose or question those beliefs. Religious opinions, ideas and organisations must not enjoy privileged protection from the right to freedom of expression. In a democracy, all ideas and opinions must be open to discussion. People have rights; ideas do not.
Nonetheless if atheists, agnostics or ex-Muslims or ex-Christians consider that there is no God and Bible and Quran are the books written by men, then what is the problem with following the golden rules of any religious book, because we all are following man-made laws all over the world. We stop at traffic lights, we stand in the queue whether we are at the airports, train stations, bus stands or hospitals, we do wear a particular uniform at schools, and we follow the timings of schools and office hours. Some of you may take issue with me, but I believe religion was and is helpful in bringing discipline to human society, because of the minimum percentage of those who make religion unacceptable for so many people. We must not make life difficult for the practicing religious people. In that respect are common attributes, traits, characteristics, and values one finds among non-religious people, and within secular culture.
Golden rule: It is honourable to do good. But what is good? The answer is the Golden rule. Being good means treating others as you would wish to be treated. This is the basic principle of secular morality. Not harming others, but serving or assisting others, should they seek assistance or help. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Golden rule is ancient and widespread throughout the world. Though it was undoubtedly articulated countless years prior to Islam and Christianity the Golden rule was recorded in ancient China, among the teachings of Confucius, who taught; Do not inflict on others what you do not desire others to impose upon you, and what you would require of your friend, first apply in your treatment of him. All of these formulations predate Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ. Although we get other versions of Golden rule within all of the world’s religions, from Buddhism to Bahaism the Golden Rule was first written down by the ancient Egyptians as far back as 600 BCE contains an inscription stating; that which you hate to be made out to you, do not do to another. Not a single one of these religious articulations of the Golden rule requires a God.
Syed Ishrat Husain is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK. He has previously written for @the_nation @Dawn_com @DunyaNews @TheAsians