Status of religious freedom in Pakistan
By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: On the third death anniversary of my mother, we arranged a prayer meeting in our house, where only our family member participated. As we were praying, somebody knocked at the door like he wants to break it up at once. I went outside and found that our landlord was there, at once, he started shouting, why are you people praying at home, it is not church etc, etc. I humbly clarify him that I know it is not church and we didn’t invited other people to pray, it’s our family prayer meeting as it is my mother’s death anniversary. So we gathered to tribute her. He strictly cautioned me not to do this again in the house. All the services should be performed in the Churches. This is just one example, there are many like this. Restriction on building new churches, registering new church based organization etc. even in Islamabad; there are only two properly constructed churches, while there thousands of the mosques and midrsas (seminary). Reportedly, it is mentioned in the map of Islamabad, there should one church in each sector of the capital. But CDA don’t allow you build church in the capital.
Despite the first democratic transfer of the power in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another the exceedingly poor religious freedom environment worsened. Recent and previous rulers engaged in and tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Despite democratic institutions, Pakistan’s legal environment is particularly repressive due to its blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation and constitutional provisions. Authorities failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from the sectarian and religiously –motivated violence and courts have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence. There are many examples to it; I will just quote one, two years past when hundreds of the Christian houses in Joseph Colony were burnt. During this particular case, only Sawan Masih was sentenced to death but rest of the perpetrators were set free to go for others.
Unfortunately Pakistani religious minorities are facing the worst situation in the world for religious freedom. In the past few years, conditions hit an all time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting not only Shia’s Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmdi laws are widely used to violate the religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity. During 2014, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) again recommends that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC).
Muslims not only from Pakistan but from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and everywhere else have done enough to deserve hatred. They have been killing innocent children, attacked schools, burnt Christian villages, torn down Hindu temples, mutilated journalists, shunned scientific laws and flogged enough bloggers for free thinking to deserve this acrimony all around the world. Many of them claim that version of Islam is peaceful, a version that promotes brotherhood and peace. Unfortunately, that version of Islam is only found in books now.
Pakistani Christians live under the fear of religion, our churches, our kids and our lives are not secure. Converting to another religion is out of the question. Honestly speaking, at this very moment, Pakistan is not fit for Shia Muslim or non-Muslims alike. We are not against Islam but against this Mullasim (Islamophobia).