Pakistan: Land of the Pure or the Intolerant?

Pakistan has been in the forefront of the news for quite some time, and very rarely is it for a good reason. The country has become a breeding ground for terrorists and religious-based persecution.
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Pakistan has been in the forefront of the news for quite some time, and very rarely is it for a good reason. The name Pakistan means "land of the pure," but one would have a hard time believing that considering how it has become a veritable breeding ground for terrorists and religious-based persecution. Its government has succumbed to hard-line clerics who exploit their faith for power and control and exert this power through incredibly violent and un-Islamic means.

On Sunday, April 3, the latest in a long history of violence and intolerance occurred in Pakistan. Two suicide bombers attacked hundreds of worshipers gathered at a Sufi shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Pakistan's Punjab province. It is being reported that 49 people were killed and at least 90 more were injured. The explosions struck near the Sakhi Sarwar shrine as Sufi devotees gathered for an annual three-day festival. This is the third such attack on Sufi shrines in the past year.

Pakistan has become notorious for sectarian terror attacks against religious communities, including the Sufis, Shiite Muslims, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Christians. The Shiite Muslim community has faced several targeted attacks: at least 43 were killed in the South-Western city of Quetta during a Shia procession in September of 2010.

In May of 2010, a coordinated attack against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Lahore resulted in 86 dead. Armed militants simultaneously stormed into two Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosques with automatic weapons, grenades and other explosives and opened fire on innocent worshippers during their weekly Friday Prayer service. No arrests have been made.

Christians in Pakistan have often been accused of blasphemy and face intense persecution. Through Pakistan's infamous anti-blasphemy laws, extremist clerics persecute Christians by accusing them of saying or doing something that insults Islam. More than 650 Christians have been prosecuted in Pakistan for blasphemy.

Pakistan and Indonesia are among the only countries in the world that prosecute and persecute their own citizens for what they call "blasphemy." Under the Pakistani Penal Code, any person found guilty of blasphemy is subject to either the death penalty or life imprisonment. The actual law states, "Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law is fodder for extremist and terrorist organizations to target religious communities. This is a political abuse of religion, and when voices of reason arise in Pakistan, they are quickly shot down. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, outspoken critic of religious extremism, had the decency and courage to speak against the barbaric blasphemy laws, and he was shot dead by his own bodyguard for doing so. Sadly, instead of seeing public condemnation and uproar over the Governor's assassination, we saw thousands of Pakistanis shower rose petals on his assassin. What an incredibly sad display.

Less than two months later, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was shot dead in broad daylight. As the nation's only Christian Minister, Bhatti publicly challenged the anti-blasphemy laws and sought more rights for the minority Christians.

As members of an Islamic state, do the perpetrators of all this violence not see they are breaking the commandments of the Holy Quran? Chapter five of the Quran clearly instructs Muslims that whoever kills a person, it shall be as if they had killed all of mankind. Reverence for life is an essential tenet of Islam, regardless of that life's religion.

As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I openly condemn all such acts of violence. Islam does not support people who turn to violence to censor free speech or protect their faith. The Quran guarantees freedom of speech on at least four occasions, teaching Muslims to respond to people who criticize their faith by simply asking for proof of their claim. The Quran forbids compulsion in thought and forbids retaliation in any form if one insults our faith, explaining that a Muslim's only option is to simply "turn away from them" or "sit not with them." No violence, anger or aggression is tolerated.

It is time for the government and people of Pakistan to stop relying on violence to achieve their goals. If Pakistan insists on calling itself an Islamic Republic, perhaps it is time for it to finally live up to the ideals of Islam. If it wants to earn its name as the "land of the pure," it must begin by ridding itself of the contaminated element of its society. Terrorists and violent extremists must be brought to justice, and their power must be removed. It is time to become a government of the people, for the people.

This Op-Ed originally appeared on Aslan Media on April 14.

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