Some recent events hint at a possible subtle change in the implementation of the legal system against those who impinge on people’s religious rights. A prayer leader was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for indulging in hate speech during Friday sermons. This is a welcome development where a person in a position of religious authority was charged with delivering divisive language. This follows a case in which a cleric was jailed for five years under similar charges in May. In another recent event indicating a positive change in how the law is being implemented, police officers in Sheikhupura were able to save a Christian couple from being attacked after it was accused of committing blasphemy. Furthermore, the police arrested the imam who had attempted to incite a mob to attack the couple. Too often, policemen are quiet bystanders in such cases. However, effective action in this instance prevented a Kot Radha Kishan-like tragedy from occurring.
The hope going forward is that these cases do not become unique examples of how our law-enforcement apparatus should be operating. It is important that clerics in mosques are monitored and charged, if found to be making inappropriate proclamations to a public that is largely uneducated and looks to such leaders for guidance. Inciting hatred and violence against particular communities should be considered akin to being an act against the state, as such practice creates division and disharmony amongst people. In these times of disunity and sectarian violence, the role of religious leaders should be to deliver sermons on peace and the inclusion of all groups in society. Apart from the strict enforcement of law, what is also needed is a change in mindset to one that does not consider a difference in faith or sect reason enough to engage in violence. Only when this happens, we may perhaps see a very different Pakistan, one in which people of all sects and religions are able to live in harmony, where people are seen as humans first, and other aspects, such as faith and origin, secondary characteristics.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2015.
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