American Muslim Organizations’ Issue Statements on Pakistani Blasphemy Arrest
collected by Sheila Musaji
Yesterday, we posted an article American Muslims Must Protest “Blasphemy” Laws discussing the arrest in Pakistan of an 11 year-old child with Down’s Syndrome, Rimsha Masih. She was arrested under the Pakistani Blasphemy laws for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an. [See that article for a complete background on the case as well as a list of articles]
Today, the President of ISNA, as well as MPAC and CAIR have all made statements about this case, and the issue of minority rights. In the order they were received:
Imam Mohamed Magid, the President of ISNA has posted an article on the Huffington Post The Future of Religious Minorities in the Muslim World dealing with the issue of protection of minorities. Within that article, he said:
... In these environments, the role of religious leaders, scholars and institutions becomes critical to address these issues. First, we must examine our religious texts and develop a theological framework for the contemporary application of equal rights and mutual respect. Such an exploration leads to the development of documents like Al-Azhar University’s proposed Bill of Rights for the new Egyptian government. As one of the most prominent and well-recognized Islamic institutions in the world, it is only fitting that its Bill of Rights justly calls for “One Home for All Egyptians” and has subsequently been fully endorsed by His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious, the Pope of the Coptic Church.
The Islamic Society of North America has been actively engaged in an effort to share the important work that is being done on the critical issue of religious minorities’ rights throughout the global Muslim community. We hope to engage prominent Islamic scholars from all over the world, including Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyib of Al-Azhar, in a united effort to develop a mechanism for establishing standards and protocols of religious freedom and minorities’ rights. To further this goal, I myself have traveled around the world, from Mauritania to Morocco to Jordan, where I have garnered overwhelming support for our initiative. As Muslims living as a minority in America, we understand the importance of religious freedom, and feel strongly that Muslims all over the world have a moral and spiritual obligation to lead this effort.
Second, religious leaders must be responsible educators for their community, serving only as positive forces for the common good. When a Friday sermon becomes the only source of religious knowledge for many people each week, an imam’s words must be chosen very carefully. He must be sure to be clear in calling his community toward what is good and in expelling any divisive or hateful ideas they might hear throughout the week. Religious leaders must also work to educate the broader public about the importance of religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The voices of good will must always be louder than those of hate.
Lastly, religious leaders and institutions must partner with civil society groups to better address issues of religious freedom. Human rights groups, for example, often do not engage with religious institutions because they are secular in nature. Similarly, religious institutions often do not engage with human rights groups because they do not feel that their role is to work with civil society. As a result, both lack the resources to accomplish this important work. Both are committed to preserving dignity and freedom for all people, and should work together to serve that common purpose.
As American Muslims, we continue to work together with people of all faiths to build a better tomorrow. Just this past Thursday, I joined other religious leaders from Shoulder-to-Shoulder for a press conference call to mourn the tragic incidents in Oak Creek, Wis., and Joplin, Mo., and to call for further interfaith dialogue and reconciliation. And earlier in the week, I returned from a trip to Cairo with Fr. Moises Bogdady, Senior Priest and Hegomen at the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, to voice our support for Egypt’s great strides toward the free exercise of religion. There we met with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyib of Al-Azhar and His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious of the Coptic Church.
His Eminence expressed his appreciation for our delegation and the importance of the work that ISNA is doing worldwide. He also expressed his solidarity with the American Muslim community and I shared my deep concern for religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries across the world. We were joined by Ambassador Rashad Hussain, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who also shared our concern for religious minorities abroad and hoped that the American Muslim community’s positive experiences could serve as examples for others.
Much more work is needed to make this world safe for all people of faith, and it is my hope and prayer that religious leaders worldwide can take the lead in getting it done.
MPAC Calls Upon All Concerned People to Voice Concern for Arrest of Young Girl in Pakistan
Last week, Pakistani authorities arrested a young Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, and her mother based on accusations that the young girl burned pages of the Quran. And this week, humanity mourns the death of mercy, common sense and understanding.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council urges all people of conscience to call the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and voice their outrage and concern for Rimsha’s imprisonment and the misuse of a law that only serves to set back the country, its people and Islam.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of defaming Islam, the Quran or Prophet Muhammad is subject to punishment by death. For a little girl to be taken away from her family, home and community based on allegations of burning pages from the Quran is merciless and antithetical to all Islamic principles. This is not only an ugly and outrageous incident; it is an affront to justice. No child should be imprisoned and separated from their family for an accusation that has yet to be proven.
To date, there has been no confirmation of the girl’s age (reports put her between 11 and 16), mental capacity (some reports claim she is illiterate while others say she has Down syndrome) or if any evidence shows her involvement in burning pages of the Quran.
Regardless of these unknowns, what is known is that as many as 600 Christian Pakistanis have fled their villages bordering Islamabad because of fear of backlash against their community. There is no justification for violence against any person or community because of differing beliefs. In our own backyard, we witnessed a horrific act of violence against the Sikh American community because they were deemed to be different. Today, First Lady Michelle Obama is showing true leadership as she visits the families and victims of the Gurdwara shooting. Her visit is a positive example to all leaders worldwide that religious freedom and pluralism are rooted in mutual universal ideals and should be respected and honored in each country. Supporting one another regardless of differing beliefs can only create a stronger nation. The Quran even tell us that there is “no compulsion in religion” [Quran 2:256].
Blasphemy laws prove that a certain level of intelligence is not always part of policy-making. This little girl’s imprisonment is incomprehensible, as the “crime” of a child has resulted in her family’s banishment and they can never safely return home.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. The reactions to Rimsha’s alleged Quran burning has set off people who have forgotten that the real crime is forgetting the message of the Quran, one of peace and understanding. Have people also forgotten that the only proper way to dispose of a Quran is by burning it? Whether or not Rimsha consciously and maliciously burned the Quran is not the issue — the reaction of the state police and Pakistanis against her and her family is the huge cause for concern.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws only serve as an instituted mechanism of governmental bullying against defenseless citizens and religious minorities. To date they have caused the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, and people have taken this law into their own hand as vigilantes persecuting others through bombings, shootings and assassinations. The laws are a setback to Islamic thought and religious freedom. The laws are a setback to the people of Pakistan, who 65 years ago became their own country under the guise of giving law and honor to Muslims to no longer be the minority and practice their faith freely.
CAIR Calls for Release of Pakistani Girl Held for ‘Blasphemy’
A national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today called on the government of Pakistan to release Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who is being held on blasphemy charges after she was accused of burning pages from a textbook that included verses from the Quran. Human rights organizations report that the girl, who is a minor, may have Down syndrome.
In a statement, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said:
“It is imperative that the government of Pakistan immediately release Rimsha Masih and ensure her safety and that of her family and their community. The arrest of such a young person, especially if she has a mental disability, is a serious violation of Islamic principles.
“Human rights violations like this must be condemned and challenged not only because of their great injustice against vulnerable people, but also because they are falsely committed in the name of Islam.
“It is reported that an angry mob played a role in inciting this arrest, and we ask Pakistani officials to investigate those circumstances. The reports of media and human rights organizations depict actions by local officials and extremist leaders that are unjust and contradictory to Islamic teachings.
“In this incident it is not the girl who violated Islam’s teachings but the extremists who seem to have fueled this unfounded anger.
“We recognize that President Zardari has ordered local officials to explain the arrest, but we urge more concrete actions to protect minorities and other vulnerable members of society.”
ISNA Calls for Release of Christian Girl in Pakistan
The Islamic Society of North America condemns the arrest of Ramsha Masih, a young Christian girl who was accused of burning pages from a book that included verses from the Qur’an. It is believed that the girl suffers from Down syndrome.
According to Islamic law, a person who is both a minor and has an intellectual disability cannot be held accountable for his/her actions. “I ask the Pakistani Muslim community to act with compassion and restraint,” said ISNA President Imam Mohamed Magid. “We call on the government of Pakistan to immediately release Ramsha to her family and ensure their safety.”
ISNA remains deeply concerned about the treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities and has been engaged in work to address this issue for the past several years. In 2011, following the assassination of Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, ISNA called on the Pakistani government to take every measure necessary to secure the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, as well as their safety and those of their places of worship. Within the past year, we have continued to work on these issues by consulting with Muslim scholars from around the world to create a mechanism for Islamic standards and protocols on the rights of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority communities.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has strongly condemned the charge of blasphemy against an 11-year-old Christian girl, residing in the village of Golra near Islamabad.
“The fact that the girl is a juvenile and suffers from Down’s syndrome only makes the charge more preposterous and barbaric. It is also extremely disturbing to note that the police allowed a mob to surround the police station and demand that she be handed over,” HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf said in the statement.
“The spread of extremism and the authorities’ preference for appeasing charged mobs, rather than taking the correct and lawful course, should make those in power as well as other political forces take serious note. It is deplorable that the country’s political leadership refrains from speaking out against extremism and the injustices towards non-Muslims.”