By Farzana Hassan
August 23, 2012
In Sharia-benighted Pakistan, an eleven-year-old Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome has recently been incarcerated for blasphemy.
Rimshah Masih allegedly burned pages of the Quran and other Islamic textbooks, including a Quran primer. The girl was found holding the charred pages. She was subsequently beaten by an angry Islamist rabble which, supported by the usual obscurantist mullahs and bigots, is demanding the severest penalty for this disabled girl.
Unfortunately, Rimshah is not the only Pakistani facing such charges. Asia Bibi, another Christian accused of blasphemy, has languished in prison since 2010. She is the unfortunate woman on death row for allegedly showing disrespect for the Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistanis collectively have shown little outrage at these travesties. In fact, the religious climate of the country has turned even educated Pakistanis into dogmatists who think that freedom of expression stops at religion. The media have reinforced this, especially popular talk shows and television dramas.
Concern from the international community has dwindled disturbingly, as Pakistani clerics await Asia Bibi’s hanging.
In both cases the charges appear unfounded. No one knows how Rimshah acquired pages of the Quran or the primer—or if the charred pages were indeed taken out of these books. And no one really knows what Asia Bibi actually said to the women who accused her of blasphemy.
Bibi, a mother of four, dared to touch the eating utensils of nearby Muslim women. When she merely expressed displeasure at segregated and elitist eating practices, she was accused of blasphemy. Since then, fanatics have harassed her family. Rimshah’s family has fled, as have hundreds of other residents of her Christian neighbourhood.
Christians suffer daily in Muslim countries. Their lives are in constant peril because of radical Islam’s assault on beleaguered Christian communities.
Attacks on Christian churches have become common. While all religious minorities are targeted in Muslim countries where radical Islam has taken root, Christians are particularly vulnerable because they are accused of allying themselves with the “crusader” West, particularly after 9/11.
In yet another outrageous case, eleven nurses—including three Christians—were recently poisoned in a Karachi hospital for not fasting during Ramadan. Fortunately all are recovering. We now also hear reports of Samuel Yacoob, an eleven-year-old Christian boy, who was tortured and beaten to death in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Christians in Islamic countries are voiceless and suffer under an intolerable legal framework, with its archaic and reprehensible blasphemy laws. They also endure attacks on places of worship, economic hardship and workplace discrimination.
Muslims everywhere must protest blasphemy laws, demand freedom for Rimshah and Asia Bibi and offer protection for members of their religious community. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan must be repealed.
The international community can also help. France has taken up Rimshah’s cause. Canada must also put pressure on the Pakistani government to release these victims of religious bigotry.
The legal framework of Pakistan requires an overhaul. More fundamentally, the masses need to be educated to respect human rights and freedom of expression, even in religion. Only when its citizens can be persuaded that civic responsibility begins with tolerance will Pakistan step out of the dark ages and strive for the dignity all of its diverse people deserve.