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VIEWS & OPINIONS
Terrorist attacks on Lahore mosques
Pakistan is such a country where things are moving from bad to worse. Terrors have engulfed the entire nation. At present it is suffering from social, political and economic conflicts. The ordinary Pakistanis, the middle and the lower class in particular, are facing a long list of serious crises.
On 28th May 2010, terrorist attacks took place on Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore by gunmen armed with grenades and automatic weapons killing around 86 people. It was a Friday, a day regarded as holy and sacred by all Muslims. The terrorists opened fire on the worshipers when the latter gathered at Baitul Noor Mosque in Model Town and Darul Zikr Mosque in Garhi Shahu. More than 2500 worshipers were attending the Friday prayers in these two mosques when the terrible attack occurred. It was the cruellest and the most barbaric attack on Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan where more than 109 have been killed since 1984. Luqman Ahmad, a survivor describes the attack situation: ‘It was like a war going on around me. The cries I heard sent chill down my spine’. The Ahmadiyya security guards, who were discharging their duties voluntarily in front of these two mosques, were first to have been killed.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that it had been warned of threats against the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore for more than a year and demanded ‘foolproof security and protection’ from the government. Ahmadiyya leaders had approached the police to register the threats which had been published in a local newspaper against the community, but no action was taken by the police.
The United States condemned what it called ‘brutal violence against innocent people’. ‘We also condemn the targeting and violence against any religious group, in this case the Ahmadiyya Community,’ State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told the reporters in Washington.
The Canadians and the international community condemned these unprovoked attacks on people, who assembled to practise their faith. The people responsible for these grievous acts must be brought to justice. People should be allowed to worship freely and in peace so the extremists, who perpetrate these terrible acts, do not win.
A legislation declaring Ahmadiyya Muslims to be ‘non-Muslim’ was passed in 1974 and further legislation prohibiting Ahmadiyya Muslims to practise their faith was passed in 1984. With this law in Pakistan the innocent members of the Ahmadiyya community are experiencing constant threats, discrimination and violent attacks. Despite their claim to be Muslim, the Ahmadiyya community members have been subjected to perennial persecution, especially since the passing of an Ordinance in 1984 by General Ziaul Haque which said no member of the community could declare himself or herself as a Muslim (Section 298C, Act XLV of 1860). This meant that the community members could not recite the holy Quran, or call the Azan before prayer times. They could not display the Kalima Tayyaba or offer the Islamic greeting ‘Assalamo Alaikum’ to any one. The contravention of these regulations carried heavy fines, or imprisonment or both. Thousands of the community members were thrown behind bars under these draconian laws, and some are still incarcerated in the Pakistani jails.
Islam recognises the rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief and as far as one’s religious belief is concerned, one is answerable to God alone. No man has the right to punish another for his choice of belief. There is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever in Islam and no punishment of any kind permitted in the Holy Quran for apostasy.
There is no mention in the Holy Quran or anywhere else of any punishment for an apostate. Allah says in the Holy Quran : ‘There is no compulsion in religion (2:257).
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) of Islam was the ‘Champion of Human Rights’. Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) not only emphasised the desirability of tolerance in religious matters but set a very high standard in this respect. A deputation from the Christian tribe of Najran visited him in Medina to exchange views on religious matters which included several Church dignitaries. The conversation took place in the mosque and it extended over several hours. At one stage the leaders of the deputation asked permission to depart from the mosque and to hold their religious service at some convenient spot. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘There is no need for you to go out of the mosque, because the mosque is the place to worship one God, if you want to do so, you have every freedom of worship, and holding the services in it. (Zurqani)‘.
According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19): ‘ Every one has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’.
The Father of the Nation of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had the foresight to see the problems a State would face if it moves away from a secular state. The vision of Pakistan that Mohammad Ali Jinnah saw was summarised by him in a speech delivered on 11th August 1947: ‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with business of State… We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between the community and another… with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.
‘Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’
The present democratic government in Pakistan came to power in 2008. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani declared ‘Pakistan believes in religious freedom. In a high-level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by the chief of the Army Staff among others, ‘the participants were unanimous in concluding that terrorism and extremism are the greatest challenge to Pakistan’s national security’ (The Daily Dawn, Lahore, June 28, 2008). Despite this awareness, the actions of the government have totally failed to match the words.
Pakistan cannot become a modern, progressive, prosperous state while these laws remain in the statute book and continue to nourish dubious and deeply flawed policies. Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments should take immediate legal action against Islamist extremist groups responsible for threats and violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In order to save Pakistan and free its people from the stain of terrorism and extremism, the Government of Pakistan must immediately repeal the laws against the Ahamadiyya community so that the extremists have no backing of the State while discriminating against the community and attacking the members of the community.
The writer can be reached at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org