VIEW: Religious intolerance: Pakistan vs the US —Nizamuddin Nizamani - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Source :\03\08\story_8-3-2011_pg3_6

There is a popular understanding in Pakistan that Muslims are victimised in the US. However, many Muslims in the US would appreciate the moral and other support from individuals with Jewish and Christian backgrounds

The brutal killing of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, on March 2, 2011, in Islamabad in a terror attack reminds us of a similar incident that took the life of late Salmaan Taseer, the vocal and bold governor of Punjab, both preaching tolerance and coexistence among the followers of different faiths in Pakistan. This incident illustrates the level of intolerance prevailing in the frustrated but lethally equipped extremist groups in our unfortunate country.

Pakistan’s constitution includes Islam as state religion and also provides for anti-blasphemy laws, prone to misinterpretation and misuse by the misguided elements that legitimise their heinous and violent activities, mostly aimed at settling their personal scores, in the name of sanctity of the faith.

Interestingly therefore, most of the victims blamed for blasphemy have been Muslims, among them young women, accused by their revengeful opponents. In addition, the religious parties and groups combine the notion of guarding the sanctity of shariah with anti-western, mainly anti-American, rhetoric. We regularly hear the anti-American and anti-Jewish speeches on the streets.

In fact, the American constitution provides religion as individual choice and a private affair and de-linked from the state. European states and countries, after bitter experience of centuries, did away with theocracy. The Europeans suffered a lot at the hands of extremists controlling the church from 13th-15th century.

Rigid Muslim elements in Pakistan today are following the footprints of their Christian counterparts from the Middle Ages. However, during those days, enlightened Muslim mystics and Sufi saints preached and disseminated Islam through the message of love, peace, tolerance and coexistence. In the west, during the Middle Ages, innocent people, particularly women, were accused of being witches who worked for the devil. They were punished by being burnt alive. Protestants were also victimised and persecuted through such provisions. Heinrich Krammer and James Sprenger were empowered by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 to prosecute witches throughout northern Germany. They wrote a book as witch-hunter’s manual titled Malleus Maleficarum (the Witches’ Hammer). It was written at the height of the witch-hunt mania during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It contained complete instructions on the prosecution of witches. Based on the proposed diagnostic symptoms in that manual, thousands of innocent people were burnt and killed in the name of upholding the sanctity of the religion.

Today Europe is different and so is the US, but we are still living in the Middle Ages. It is not that the west was always tolerant, but they learnt in the process that the narrow-mindedness and persecution was disastrous not only for their religion but also for mankind.

Muslim religious groups apparently play defensive and they think that the west, particularly the US, is bent upon destroying Islam and the Muslim world. They cite examples of military operations against many Muslim countries. There is no doubt that extremist and anti-Muslim elements still exist in the west and some Christian groups dominated by xenophobic whites would continue their hatred campaigns but their size and influence is limited. They are not mainstream and do not have much support from within their own communities. Vestiges of the Ku Klux Klan and its splinter groups are generally white racists and dislike everyone who is not white; they are not particularly anti-Muslim

A new maligning trend of presenting converts from Islam may be an artful attempt to poison the people against Islam and Muslims. Such activities are, however, exceptions, not the rule. Generally, people in the US are highly tolerant of each other and would not poke their nose in others’ affairs, come what may. Officially, the US constitution provides for the right to congregate and preservation of the religio-cultural practices to all the groups, provided those are not harmful or threatening to any other groups.

There is a popular understanding in Pakistan that Muslims are victimised in the US. However, many Muslims in the US would appreciate the moral and other support from individuals with Jewish and Christian backgrounds. In addition, many Jewish people would not support Israeli state policies.

Ironically, in our social fabric we have witnessed the breeding of fanaticism and extremism due to integration of religious conventions with backward tribal values that would otherwise be unacceptable in Islam. In ordinary seminaries, it is reported that in addition to religious, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish and anti-Hindu teachings are imparted through oral syllabi. In addition, indoctrination against different sects within Islam has brought us to this sorry state of affairs.

Islam is the second largest religion in the US and reports show that through sheer merit and struggle, a large number of Muslims of Pakistani, Indian, Arab and African origin have reached higher places in education, health, science and technology. Therefore, as a result of tolerance, coexistence and acceptability, all the American nationals, regardless of their ethnic or religious background, are loyal to the US. On the contrary, most Pakistanis would be loyal to their ethnic and sectarian origins but not to the state.

Many think-tanks in the US have a considerable presence of experts with Muslim backgrounds. Although some of the Muslims question the aims and implications of controversial missionary campaigns like the Joshua Project aimed at converting Muslim ethnic minorities to Christianity, as a whole Muslim families, particularly Pakistanis, in the US feel more secure than any neighbourhood towns or cities in Pakistan.

We need to learn coexistence, respect and tolerance for the others’ opinion, norms and beliefs. This way we can make this country worth living. Otherwise, the prevailing circumstances would lead to unprecedented exodus and can result in a catastrophe impossible to manage.

The writer holds a master’s degree in social sciences and is a professional trainer, researcher and peace activist. He may be contacted at

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