Lahore: When a mob of hundreds of people broke into the Pakistan chipboard factory in Jehlum on January 20 and burned it down to ashes to avenge the alleged desecration of Koran by one of the factory’s security guards, it was only the most recent in a long chain of violence carried out against Pakistan minorities in the name of blasphemy.
According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987.
Pakistan’s history is replete with the incidents of sectarian violence. Shias, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have at times been targeted brutally to avenge their faith.
Dr Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Director, Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG), Forman Christian University, believes that the hardline Mullahs have self-legitimized the destruction of the properties, places of worships and lives of the minorities.
He says that on many occasions, religious sentiments are deliberately incited against them.
“The blasphemy law, ever since it legal domain was stretched during Ziaul Haq’s and later Nawaz Sharif’s regime to include life imprisonment and death penalty respectively, has become a tool for settling personal scores,” says Saeed.
The Ahmadis believe that the Jehlum incident was a deliberate attempt to incite hatred against them. In his tweets after the attack, Imran Jattala, Chief Editor of Ahmadiyya Times, blamed Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council, and his cleric brother Hassan Muawia’s hate speeches behind every incident against the Ahmadis in the name of blasphemy. In his 23 November tweet, Jattala writes, “The Jehlum incident is the result of Tahir Ashrafi’s provocative statements he has been giving against the Ahmadiyya community for long.”
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, Tahir Ashrafi blames the Ahmadis to have come to this pass. He says there is no reason the Ahmadis should be calling themselves Muslims once their religious status has been settled constitutionally. He accused Ahmadis of spreading hate material against Islam.
Jattala, says: “It is important to note that none of the notable scholars and intellectuals such as Syed Ahmad Shaheed Barelvi, Allama Iqbal, Moulana Moudoodi etc ever found Ahmadis to be in contempt of the prophets of God. It is the ‘Ulema-e-Karam’ of later years such as Tahir Ashrafi, who cherry pick words from context that have no relevance to these absurd claims and allegations.”
The mayhem in Jehlum did not end with the ransacking of the factory. In fact, two places of worship of the Ahmadiyya community were occupied by the Sunni clerics of the area and transformed so to say into mosques. One of the mosques renamed ‘Allah Wali,’ displays the slogan “Khatme-e-Nabuwat Zindabad.”
When News Lens Pakistan contacted District Police Officer (DPO) Jehlum Mujahid Akbar, he strongly refuted that any mosque had been captured by the Sunni clerics. He added that since blasphemy was a sensitive issue therefore without wasting time police arranged for the Magistrate and got the accused, Qamar Ahmed Tahir, the security guard of the factory, arrested in order to save his life.
The DPO also refused to accept the allegation that it was once again the mishandling by the police that resulted in the mayhem. He said he was short of staff the day the incident happened.
“A considerable part of my police force were deployed on special duty related to elections in Chakwal,” said Akbar
Ahmadiyya business community has another version to quote. One of the leading businessmen running a plastic company in Karachi and Lahore, Tipu (fake name for his secuirty), is scared if tomorrow it is going to be his turn. He says that the owner of the Jehlum Chipboard Factory had been receiving threats from the country’s biggest real estate tycoon to sell him the factory and the land adjacent to it, so as to build a housing society on it.
“How is it possible that in no time such a big crowd gathers and sets the factory on fire? The whole thing worked out according to the script written in collaboration of the so-called religious scholars, the local government and the real estate tycoon,” says Tipu
Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer associated with Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says this is not the first time that the blasphemy law has been used to endanger the property or lives of the non-Muslims. Neither is it the first time that a cleric has become the source of instigation in the name of religion.
He further adds that when state provides an enabling environment where anyone could instigate others to set building or factories on fire, hate mongering becomes an easy job. The flaw, he says, lies with the state and its laws. Pakistan Penal Code discriminates against minorities, especially against Ahmadis.
“We find a very few parallels of such state of affairs in the modern world, where the state takes the position against a group of people.
“Mostly it is about power. People belonging to religious organizations could rally a mob easily because the state has ceded power to them resulting in more accusations of blasphemy against minorities. Our state is providing the instrument of hate to the powerful religious organizations,” says Saroop.
About the accusation, by the Sunni cleric, on the Ahmadis for publishing hate material, Saroop says that if it is true then evidence should be provided about it in the court, especially now when under the National Action Plan many people are being convicted on spreading hate material. Waging a war on religious belief on an individual basis will only increase intolerance in the name of religion in the society, he said.
In its order, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered the state “to ensure that no innocent person is compelled or constrained to face an investigation or a trial on the basis of false or trumped-up allegations regarding commission of such an offence.”
The state, says Saroop, has an opportunity in the wake of these rulings to make serious amendments to the blasphemy law.