WHERE ARE SPIRITUAL LEADERS
IN THE FACE OF LAHORE?
The question that must be asked in the aftermath of the latest incident revolving around Pakistan’s blasphemy law is: Why are no Muslim spiritual leaders speaking out against the violence that Muslim mobs perpetrate under cover of the law?
Indeed, why are no Muslim spiritual leaders speaking out against the law itself?
Another question that must be asked: How can merely an accusation of speaking in disrespect of the Prophet Muhammad or of Islam be enough for police to place official charges against a person?
The filing of such charges requires police to then arrest the accused, who must await trial in jail. Some people so accused have been killed in jail by religious zealots who have somehow reached them, or in the premises of the court, according to reports coming out of Pakistan.
The present situation again got out of hand March 9 when 3,000 rioters burned out virtually the entire Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony in Lahore, Pakistan. The small enclave contained about 200 homes, 178 of which were destroyed by fire, according to a report in the New York Times.
The Times story said that the incident grew out of a simple allegation by a local Muslim barber that his friend, a Christian sanitation worker, had spoken disrespectfully about the Prophet Muhammad. Yet such an allegation is anything but simple in Pakistan.
There are those who reportedly observed the two men who say that they were indeed friends, that they had become inebriated together a few evenings before the charges were filed, during which time of drinking they had argued. The next day, the Muslim made the accusation.
According to press reports, there are those who say that the accusation is false, and has simply been used as a form of pay back for the argument. People in Pakistan know that accusations of violating the country’s blasphemy law can spell big trouble, ruining the accused’s life, if not ending it. (In Pakistan, insulting the Prophet Muhammad or the religion of Islam is a capital offense. There are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences, the organization Human Rights Watch says.)
After making the blasphemy accusation, the barber then reportedly called friends and members of his community and told them about the alleged disrespectful comments, and those people, in turn, became agitated and went to the local police, demanding action.
According to media reports originating in Lahore, the police felt pressured to file a case against the sanitation worker, who was immediately arrested. As word spread of the arrest and the filing of charges, 3,000 rioters on March 9 descended upon the Christian community of Joseph Colony where the sanitation worker lived, burned his house, and set fire to nearly every other home in the village as well.
At this writing, not a single major Muslim spiritual leader — in Pakistan or anywhere else — has openly condemned the violence, much less the law under which the sanitation worker was charged. It is perhaps understandable why.
“Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals,” a report by the Associated Press authored by Zaheer Babar and Rebecca Santana on March 9 said.
Still, if the role of the clergy of any religion is to lead the way to righteous action, moral thinking, and appropriate behavior, how can the increasingly vitriolic responses of thousands to a law that itself would seem by most standards to violate every norm of human rights be ignored, with Islam’s spiritual leadership utterly silent?
Even more to the point, how can any people, using their spirituality as their reasoning, justify perpetrations of violence? People have done so, of course, for centuries—as the Christian crusades evidenced, and as other religious brutality, savagery, and barbarity by people of many varying beliefs in a loving God has sadly demonstrated.
Now, for the record, I think Islam is a great and wonderful religion. It brings humanity magnificent wisdom and insight, as does Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and the world’s other great religions. So the observation above is not a commentary on the religion of Islam itself, but on some of the clergy and people who practice it. And saying that the same can be said of the people and clergy of other religions does not invalidate the points made here.
I would absolutely agree if someone said, “What about the spiritual leadership of other countries and other religions?” Indeed, where is it? What the world needs now is a massive revival of spiritual leadership. And, indeed, a whole new Spiritual Story to tell humanity. A story of a God who would knows only love, and never punishes or condemns anyone.
It has been said that no one does anything inappropriate, given their model of the world. Is it time to change humanity’s model of the world? Have we had enough now of our ideas of a God who demands and commands violence and killing in the name of religious “honor”?