Pakistan and The Protection of Different Religious Minority Groups – International Peace Day

In the 2018 Pakistani election, Imran Khan, the now 22 Prime Minister of Pakistan from the Tehreek-e-Insaf ( PTI) political party, vowed to protect ”the civil, social and religious rights of minorities; their places of worship, property and institutions as laid down in the Constitution.” This was an effort from the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party goal, to create the “Naya” (new) Pakistan, providing justice to all, especially the different religious minority groups in Pakistan who live in constant fear from Blasphemy laws, violence, hate speech and discrimination. However, according to several reports in 2019 by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and watchdogs groups, not only is Pakistan a dangerous place for a great number of their Muslim citizens but increasingly dangerous for different religious minorities making them susceptible to many types of abuses and less support set in place such as legislation for protection. An article by the Diplomat noted that in 2019 although Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party promised a change, when it comes to truly protecting different religious minorities groups nothing much has actually changed.

Although 96.28 percent of the country consists of individuals who follow the Muslim faith, Pakistan is religiously, ethically, and linguistically diverse. Minority groups make 4% of the population, with Christians making up 1.59%, Hindus 1.60% and different sects of Muslim groups such as the Shia Muslim community making an estimated 20% percent of the Muslim population. Ismail  Muslim and Ahmadiyya Muslims make 0.22 %, which has been contested as false as most Ahmadiyya Muslim followers do not publicly identify themselves due to the fear of persecution that the Ahmadiyya community continuously faces.  

The Shia Muslims, according to the Pakistani Constitution, are not considered minorities, the Shia community, specifically the Hazar Shia community, has been experiencing the same or even more amount of violence as the other religious minority groups. As Saqib Nisar, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, has put it the violence the Hazar community faces is “wiping out of an entire generation” of Shia Muslims.

In an email to the Organization of World peace (OWP) from the British Asian Christian Association (BACA) –  an organization actively highlighting the ongoing abuse that Christian Pakistani believers face and working to help create legislation to protect Christians –  listed out many cases of abuse, including young girls being kidnapped and forced into marriages by Muslims. In fact, Movement and Solidarity, a Muslim NGO, found that 700 Christian women and girls were kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriages every year. But the most common type of abuse that Christians face living in Pakistan is blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws are also an issue that a lot of different religious minority groups as well as the different Muslim sects face. Christians only make 1.59% of the population yet make up 15% of those accused of blasphemy.

Blasphemy laws have a long history in Pakistan all the way back, from form the British Colonial rule. According to section 295-C of the blasphemy penal code, the code charges anyone who makes derogatory terms against the prophet’s name or Quran. Most religious minority groups are continuously accused of blasphemy without any proof and face mob violence like Mashal Kahn, a student who was killed by a mob at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan because a peer he knew had alleged he had committed blasphemy without any proof whatsoever. The mob ended up taking “justice” into their own hands, which is very common with many cases of an individual being accused of blasphemy.

 In fact, it is noted that many blasphemy cases and individuals accused of blasphemy come from vendettas, personal disputes, and even full discrimination and intolerance. For example, with the case of Yaqub Maish, an 11-year-old girl with several mental conditions who lived in informal slums in a Muslim community as a Christian immigrant who was accused by a Muslim cleric living in the neighbourhood of shredding the Quran. This accusation was proven to be false as the Muslim cleric just wanted to get rid of Christian immigrants in the community. According to reports from the Centre for Social Justice, it was found that 1855 people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, with a significant spike in 2021. The European Parliament, United Nations, and Amnesty International have called out for Pakistan to reform blasphemy laws; however, with the long history of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and extremist Islamic groups, push back to see any reforms seems impossible.

According to Cornell’s Policy review on Blasphemy laws, Radicalization and Discrimination in Pakistan, the most realistic way to protect minorities from violence and discrimination is not through reforming Blasphemy laws but working towards de-radicalization. As BACA has pointed out “the only way to change the social malaise is to bring up a new generation of Pakistani citizens who have a broader understanding of other faiths, have been taught that the Quran itself does not endorse blasphemy laws and that Muhammed himself had often forgiven perpetrators of a blasphemy”. The popularity of the religious rights of Islamic extremists has prompted blasphemy laws to gain votes to not work towards any type of peace or co-existence with different religious minority groups and has created intolerance.

Muhammad Ali Ilahi on creating de-radicalization from Cornell’s Policy Review points out that to create peaceful coexistence and harmony, there needs to be reform at the most basic level of education – especially for the next generation. The Ministry of education can play a huge role in celebrating diversity and bridging differences in Pakistani history classes, creating less hate. In addition, religious and Muslim clerics with a lot of social power in Pakistan can promote progressive interpretations of Islam to counter the hardline extremist narratives. In fact, it has also been noted that Pakistan’s education plays a significant role in the discrimination that different religious minority groups face. An article by The Diplomat on the Pakistani public education system found that textbooks circulated around public schools to at least 41 million children contained derogatory references when it came to different religious minority groups fostering intolerance and creating radicalization. In an email with BACA on how peace and harmony can be created in Pakistan, BACA also noted the importance of creating a change in education systems stating “a new national curriculum should include the great contribution made by minorities to the development of Pakistan, in the fields of science, law, sports, business, our contribution to war efforts and much more”.

International Day of Peace is celebrated on September 21 to cease all hostilities worldwide and promote peace and harmony. It is to ensure each individual of the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and religion lives in the world from fear of abuse and neglect. It is to make sure that there is the protection of people and all communities. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what can be done realistically for change to create peace, harmony, and co-existence. In Pakistan. the 2016 International Peace day was celebrated with 125 guests of Muslims, Christians, and Hindus to declare a day of peace and work towards harmony and co-existence.

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Muzna Erum


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