29 August 2012

Muslim clerics rally to protect Christian girl

Pakistan is so saturated with Muslim fanaticism that hearing about a host of clerics joining hands with leaders of other faiths to strike a blow for justice is refreshing indeed.

News from Pakistan is replete with stories of religious barbarism, including the appalling law that provides the death penalty for blasphemy, the assassination of politicians who counsel toleration, the murder of Christians by zealous mobs, and so on—a depressing litany. The latest incident of religious mischief to grab the news is the tragic case of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Koran. Apparently she is a minor and of diminished mental capacity. In any case, she is being held in prison, and the Christian community in her village has fled in fear.

But there is light in the darkness. The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, which includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, has joined with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and other religions, to call for justice for Rimsha. The chairman of the council, Tahir Ashrafi, declared, "We see this as a test case for Pakistan's Muslims, Pakistan's minorities and for the government. We don't want to see injustice done with anyone. We will work to end this climate of fear." Strong words, long overdue.

Giving the initiative special significance is the presence among its supporters of fundamentalist and militant groups. Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, pointed out, "This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that the Muslim community and scholars have stood up for non-Muslims."

Pakistan has a long way to go to achieve religious tolerance, but it seems the clerics are at least beginning to recognize that religion should have some connection to justice.

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