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Religion Should Promote Peace, Not Violence

October 5, 2009

The recent attacks in Pakistan on Christian communities in the village of Korian in the Toba Tek Singh District of the state of Punjab on July 30 and in nearby Gojra on August 1 are of grave concern as they once again reflect the use of religion as a means to divide people and to incite hate and violence against others—the antithesis of both Islam and Christianity.

Although the incident that purportedly sparked the violence—accusations by Muslims at a wedding on July 24 in Korian that three Christians had torn paper with verses from the Qur'an—had been resolved through the intervention of Muslim and Christian leaders who asked the three Christians to apologize, this attempt to defuse the tension was unsuccessful. Mosques in Korian and nearby villages spread the allegations that Christians had desecrated the Qur'an, and, thus incited, a mob of angry Muslims called for the accused to be handed over to them for blasphemy. After the Christians fled, the mob looted and burned the homes of Christians. Barricades were erected to obstruct fire engines from extinguishing the fires.

Unfortunately, the violence did not stop here but, indeed, escalated and became more deadly. A procession against the alleged desecration led by the local ulema (Islamic legal scholars) on the morning of August 1 approached the Christian colony of Gojra; and in the afternoon, a mob once again began attacking the Christian community. This time the mob, which was led by some armed and masked men allegedly belonging to the banned organization Sipah-i-Sahaba, set at least 68 houses on fire, resulting in the death of at least six people who were burned alive, including four women and a child. Scores more were injured. Moreover, Hameed Masih, one of the men accused of desecrating the Qur'an, was shot. Like the earlier violent incident in Korian, the police were ineffective in averting the violence, curbing the destruction and preventing the loss of life.

This deadly and destructive incident—sadly, not the first one in Pakistan—has once again illustrated the need for the country's political leaders to defuse religious animosities in the country, for the police to protect the lives and property of religious minorities and for religious leaders of all faiths to promptly engage in dialogue to ensure that tensions do not produce fatalities.

In the wake of the violence in Korian and Gojra, the authorities must immediately respond to the physical and psychological needs of these traumatized communities. Compensation must be quickly provided to those who lost loved ones, homes and businesses; adequate medical care must be extended to the injured.

A step toward preventing future incidents is repeal of the country's blasphemy laws. While one must respect the religious sensitivities of Pakistan's Muslims, it is believed that these laws over the years have been used, abused and manipulated to achieve personal, political and/or socio-economic benefits for those who wield power or influence. Moreover, these laws have been a source of friction between the country's majority and minority religious communities. It has been reported, for instance, that between 1988 and 2005 the authorities in Pakistan charged 647 people under the blasphemy laws. Of those charged, 50 percent were non-Muslims, and 20 of those charged were murdered soon after the charge was filed.

A better remedy than the blasphemy laws and the violence it has engendered is to remember the wisdom of the Qur'an and its respect for life: "[W]hoever slays a soul . . ., it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men." (5:32)

May this wisdom be heeded by those who have the power in Pakistan to prevent more tragedies like those in Korian and Gojra from reoccurring in the future.

Bruce Van Voorhis

(Bruce Van Voorhis works in Hong Kong for Interfaith Cooperation Forum, a regional network of young Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim activists working at the grassroots level in South and Southeast Asia.)

Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCA's in Hong Kong.  He serves as the Coordinator for Interfaith Programs.

 

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