Rufin Anthony, the bishop of Islamabad, has denounced the culpable silence of Muslim leaders who have failed to forcefully condemn what is being called “the worst religiously motivated hate crime in Pakistan’s history”—the recent murder of a Christian couple in Pakistan.
Summary executions of religious minorities accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has met with complacency and even approval, says Anthony. “In the past,” he said, when vigilantes have taken the law into their own hands, “religious leaders have carefully refrained from expressing words of condemnation. In fact, they have practically encouraged personal vendettas.”
Anthony said that the blame for current problems falls to those who have countenanced it earlier. “If appropriate measures had been taken in the past,” he said, “this barbarism could have been averted.”
On November 4, Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibia, the parents of four children, were stoned and then burned alive at a brick kiln in Pakistan. The two victims were killed by an angry mob of hundreds of people stirred up by a local religious leader for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an.
Many have begun asking how a blasphemy law that justifies killing in the name of religion can exist in today’s world.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he was “shocked and speechless” by the recent execution. The worst thing about it, he said, “is that it was carried out in the name of religion. Religion cannot justify a crime like this.”
“There is this law against blasphemy,” he went on “which represents a problem: shouldn’t the international community intervene? I ask you: can we remain passive before crimes that are legitimized by religion?”
Tauran said that the first victims of this outrage are the Muslims themselves, “because these crimes give Islam a terrible, very negative image. They should be the first to denounce them forcefully,” he said.
Despite the horror of these crimes, Muslim officials continue to look for scapegoats and place blame elsewhere.
The president of the Ulema (Council of Muslim scholars) of Pakistan, Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi, blamed local police for the crime. In a statement, Ashrafi condemned the violence but said it “would not have happened if the local police had not shown negligence.”
Since its inception, the blasphemy law has been applied brutally against religious minorities. In 2012, a teenaged Christian girl with Down Syndrome, Rimsha Masih, was arrested under the blasphemy laws, and released on bail. She and her family had to be relocated because of threats against them.
In 2011, two politicians – Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic – were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws.
Yet Ashrafi has refused to question the blasphemy law that has encouraged these brutalities, preferring instead to blame the local police.
If the couple was really guilty, Ashrafi’s statement asks, “why did the police not arrest them after complaints from local residents?” And if they were not guilty, “why were they not given immediate protection, in view of the enraged reaction of the people?”
So far the police have stopped some forty people for questioning but there have been no official charges.
A recent Pew poll showed that 75 percent of Pakistanis believe: “Blasphemy laws are necessary to protect Islam in our country.” Pakistan’s blasphemy laws entail that insulting the prophet is punishable by death.