Pakistan and the dark side of Islam

November 6th, 2014

Various news outlets are reporting two vigilante killings in the last couple of days over accusations of blasphemy, both in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The first was a triple murder on Tuesday (November 4) — a young Christian couple and their unborn child were burned alive in a brick furnace by a mob who first beat the couple and broke their legs to prevent them from trying to escape.

Their crime? Throwing out a dead relative’s Quran. The garbage collector found it and told the local cleric, who stirred up other clerics in nearby villages. After they all announced the couple’s “blasphemy” over their mosque loudspeakers, between 500 and 1,500 people showed up to attack the couple. 50 have been arrested so far.

The second incident was Wednesday (November 5) and involved a 50 year old Shiite Muslim man who was killed by a policeman with an ax after being arrested for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet Mohammed.

Pakistan has a history of such violence against people who have been accused of speaking against Islam or its prophet. Politicians who challenge the blasphemy laws have been harassed and even assassinated. Judges have been attacked for acquitting those charged with blasphemy, and many Pakistani lawyers are afraid to defend anyone accused of the crime.

And the vigilante persecution is only part of it. The government is in on it too.

You may have heard of the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. A Christian mother of five was found guilty in 2010 of making blasphemous comments about the prophet Mohammed during an argument and was sentenced to hang. That sentence was upheld by a higher court last month.

Her argument was with a group of Muslim women who didn’t want someone “unclean” drinking their water. After Asia Bibi and her family were severely beaten by a mob, she was arrested and told that the only way to avoid death would be to convert to Islam. 

There are other incidents I could reference, and likely many more that never even made the news.

So is this an Islam problem or a Pakistan problem?

Before you answer, consider that Pakistan isn’t alone. There are other countries where insulting Islam or the prophet Mohammed is punishable by death, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Many others allow for lesser forms of punishment, such as fines, beatings, or imprisonment.

Many majority Muslim countries also have apostasy laws, and a significant number of those allow the death penalty for those who convert from Islam to another religion.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey reported that 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims and 62 percent of Pakistani Muslims support the death penalty for Muslims who leave their religion. A majority of Muslims in Malaysia, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories hold the same view. In other Islamic countries, the percentages are lower, but the numbers are still significant.

These statistics seem to indicate that this goes beyond isolated extremism. And it’s probably one reason why the “religion of peace” descriptor affirmed by U.S. President George W. Bush in September 2001 is baffling to so many people.

In the last part of 2014, the Islamic faith finds itself at a crossroads. 

With more news outlets than ever, fewer of these kinds of stories are going unreported. This means that the pressure will likely build for Islam to confront its own demons.

Lines are going to be drawn.

More peace-loving Muslims are not only going to have to acknowledge that there’s a dark side to their religion, they’re also going to have to help do something about it.

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