The Bible is the latest target of Islamists in Pakistan, where Christian and other minorities routinely face blasphemy charges followed by “religious” lynching. An influential political party has asked the Islamic country’s apex court to ban the Christian holy book alleging it denigrates prophets.
A leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Samiul Haq) or JUI-S party on Tuesday demanded that the Supreme Court of Pakistan ban the Bible, saying “blasphemous” portions had been “added to the Bible,” Pakistan’s newspaper The News International reported.
Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, a party leader, made the appeal at a press conference at a mosque, the Masjid-e-Khizra, in Lahore. He said if the court did not ban the Bible on its own, Islamic clerics would formally petition the court. A panel of lawyers is working on it, he added.
Farooqi and his associates alleged that several portions had been inserted into the Bible to charge some prophets with “a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures.”
“Farooqi cited a number of scriptures from the Bible, saying such ‘insertions’ strongly offend the Muslims, who hold all prophets and holy books in high esteem, as part of religious belief and never even think of committing any blasphemy against them,” according to the daily.
While Muslims also believe in the torah or the first five books of the Old Testament, the writings of David, the Psalms and the Gospel, they believe the Christian Bible is the “corruption” of the original text.
Farooqi added that his colleagues wanted to avenge the desecration of the Quran by Florida Pastor Terry Jones but they wouldn’t burn the Bible. But to prevent any such act of desecration in the future, he went on to say, at least some punishment was needed and that they would find a way to do so.
Lahore’s Anglican bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Alexander John Malik, said in a statement Wednesday that the call to ban the Bible was interference in the religious matters of the Christian community and violation of religious freedom guaranteed under the Pakistan’s constitution.
The bishop added that the JUI-S party was “sowing seeds of discord” among the two communities and pointed out that Christians all over the world, including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, had condemned Pastor Terry Jones’ “heinous” act, the daily reported.
The JUI party, meaning an Assembly of Islamic Clergy, led by Samiul Haq is part of the lower House of Pakistan’s parliament. The party follows the “Deobandi” version of Islam taught by India’s Darul-Uloom Deoband seminary, which has a mass following among Muslims around the world.
Pakistan has a notorious blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which provide for penalties ranging from a fine to death. The law is often misused to target religious minorities, including Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus, as there is no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. It has been found that the law is used by some Muslims to falsely accuse members of minority communities to settle personal scores.
But extremists believe that killing a “blasphemous” person earns a heavenly reward and they have extra-judicially killed several Christians and persons from other minorities facing blasphemy charges.
Pakistan’s Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were assassinated by Islamist extremists in recent months for demanding the repeal of the blasphemy law.
Pakistan’s Islamists have apparently become even more extremists following the recent killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American troops in that country. Local Christians fear this may increase religious persecution, and the call for the banning of the Bible could be seen as a sign.
When Pakistan was formed in 1947, its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted the country to have the rule of law and a system to protect all religious communities. But the country’s sixth president, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, who captured power by a coup in 1977, Islamized the country.
An estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 17 million people are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. Around 97 percent of the Pakistanis are Muslim, predominantly Sunni.