A Creeping Inquisition

Citizens of the Islamic Republic are merely reaping what they collectively sowed decades ago by making it the business of the state to enforce, protect and promote religion. 

(Published in Daily Times, 2 May 2012)

 An 80-year old man, Iqbal Butt, who had been accused of blasphemy but released from jail after being found “not guilty”, has been shot dead allegedly by the very mosque imam who had falsely accused him of blasphemy.

In Iran, Yusuf Naderkhani was recently sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.  A few years ago, in Afghanistan, Abdur Rehman was sentenced to death for the same offence, but was put on a plane for Germany under Western pressure after being declared “insane”.  Indeed, in any Muslim country, a Muslim would have to be totally insane to convert to another religion.  Likewise, anyone would be mad to intentionally commit blasphemy in a Muslim country.

The Saudi constitution defines every Saudi citizen to be a Muslim and Malaysia makes it compulsory for all ethnic Malays to be Muslims. Muslim Malays can convert non-Muslims to Islam, but are forbidden to convert to any other religion themselves. There was the comical case of a Malaysian-Chinese woman who had converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim (a legal requirement), but when she wanted to revert back to Christianity after the breakdown of her marriage, she was prevented by the court from doing so.

In Pakistan, one Rana Asif Mahmood is on the verge of being forced to become an accidental Muslim, thanks to a clerical error which must stand, because correcting it will be sacrilegious. Mr Mehmood swears that he is a Christian and he recently got elected to the National Assembly as such from a reserved minority seat.  But he may now lose his seat because the National Registration Authority (NADRA) erroneously registered him as a Muslim since he has a “Muslim name” (like most Pakistani Christians). 

And should he want to keep his parliamentary seat by insisting that he is a Christian, Mr Mehmood may be liable to lose his neck, for that might invite the charge of apostasy.  Apparently, he can’t keep both his seat and his neck! The conundrum is the result of NADRA rules which prohibit it from changing, on its records, anyone’s religion from Islam to any other, though it is fine in the opposite direction. 

In countries where they are in a minority, Muslims work ceaselessly to convert followers of other faiths to Islam.  They claim that a quarter of the six million Muslims in the US are converts from other religions. The number of Muslim converts in Britain is reported to have passed 100,000.  Allah he praised for this one-way traffic!

A spelling error (actually a misplaced dot) in an Urdu exam by a Christian eighth-grader named Faryal recently provoked a public reaction suggesting that a major conspiracy to shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic had been crushed.

Faryal and her family should consider themselves lucky, for she was merely expelled from the school and her mother, a nurse, transferred to another hospital in a nearby town to placate the sensitivities of true believers.  A Muslim doctor in Hyderabad went to jail for throwing into a dustbin the business card of a medical salesman.  He was accused of sacrilege because a part of the salesman’s name was “Muhammad”.

While Christians and Hindus live in Pakistan as third class citizens and Ahmadis are treated as condemned criminals, there is now an open season against Shi’as. Regarded as contemptible heretics, they are being shot in various parts of the country like beasts.

No one is safe, absolutely no one.  Half of the thousand or so persons now in jail on blasphemy charges are Sunni Muslims. We seem but a few steps away from instituting something resembling the 15th century Spanish Inquisition.  Here is one description randomly taken from the Internet:

“The accused woman lay naked on an escalera, a ladder tipped so that her head was lower than her feet. The torturer had stretched her out to her full length and bound her tightly. Iron prongs held her jaws open. Her nostrils were stopped, allowing breathing only through her mouth. She struggled, but her bounds permitted little movement, and days of relentless questioning had left her exhausted. Three other men stood over the woman in the torture chamber.

“A doctor observed her reactions and assessed her general condition. The mandates of the 15th century Spanish Inquisition required the presence of a physician to monitor the health of the accused. The purpose of torture would be nullified if the accused was physically unable to hear and understand the proceedings. A confession, if it came, had to be a pure act, not the half-conscious ramblings of a mortally wounded sinner.  A clerk sat at a crude wooden table, poised to write down the particulars of the session.

“Witnesses had previously testified that on several successive Saturdays, smoke did not emerge from the woman’s chimney, a strong indication that she was secretly a practicing Jew. During questioning the woman had insisted that although she was born a Jew, she was now a converse, a convert to Catholicism. But the telltale signs indicated that she was in fact a heretic, a practicing Jew pretending to be a Catholic and secretly subverting the Catholic faith.”

Pakistanis – Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Shi’as, even Sunnis – should thank Allah that they live in 21st century Pakistan and not in 15th century Spain. But that is small consolation for the families of those killed for their faith or lack of it; or those who languish in jails, accused of blasphemy or apostasy; or those who live in fear, because of their religious belief.

Iqbal Butt’s fate is totally insignificant in a country where the governor of the largest province can be shot dead by his own bodyguard for merely suggesting that the blasphemy laws need to be revised and where the federal minister for minority affairs is murdered merely for speaking out for his fellow-Christians. 

Call it a fundamentalist Frankenstein, the religious juggernaut, or what you will, but two things are beyond doubt.  Firstly, it is now out of control.  Secondly, citizens of the Islamic Republic are merely reaping what they collectively sowed decades ago by making it the business of the state to enforce, protect and promote religion.

by Razi Azmi

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