Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy’

Statue of Chinese god stokes tension in Muslim-majority Indonesia

August 11, 2017

Reuters

TUBAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia has urged officials to stand up to mob pressure after Muslim and nationalist protesters called for a 30-metre-tall (100-ft-) statue of a Chinese deity erected in a temple complex in an East Java town to be torn down.

The brightly-painted statue of Guan Yu, a former general who is worshipped by some Chinese, was inaugurated in July in a temple complex in the fishing town of Tuban and is claimed to be Southeast Asia’s tallest such representation of the deity.

The statue in Tuban, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the city of Surabaya, has been partially covered up after the protests, provoking both praise and ridicule on social media in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

“If they ask for the statue to be torn down, authorities cannot bow to such pressure,” Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, told reporters.

Protesters demonstrated this week outside Surabaya’s parliament against the statue, some wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving placards that read “Demolish It” and “We are not worshippers of idols”.

Allowing a depiction of a foreign general was “a symbol of treason to this nation,” an unnamed protester said in a video of the rally on news portal Kompas.com.

Officials of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple in Tuban declined to comment, but media have quoted residents as saying the statue was good for tourism.

Indonesia is a secular state whose constitution enshrines religious freedom and diversity, but there are concerns that rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.

Muslims form about 85 percent of the population, but there are also substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.

Religious tension has soared this year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta’s incumbent governor, a member of a so-called double minority who is ethnic Chinese and Christian, put on trial during city elections over Koran insult allegations.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was later jailed for two years for blasphemy, a sentence rights groups and international bodies condemned as unfair and politicized.

The protests against the statue were primarily about nationalism, said Suli Da’im, a lawmaker in East Java.

“What they were protesting about is that the statue did not represent their general or commander,” he said, adding that a permit for the statue had also not yet been approved.

The fate of the statue, reported to have cost 2.5 billion rupiah ($190,000) to build, has sparked sparring on social media.

“Praise be to God, the noisy fighting in social media succeeded in ensuring the idolatrous statue has been covered. I hope it will soon be taken down,” Muhammad Syahrir, using the handle @Muhamma37029013, said on social network Twitter.

Another Twitter user ridiculed the protesters.

“Like they have nothing else to do but to protest against a statue,” said Paring Waluyo, under the handle @paringwaluyo. “Instead they should be protesting about Tuban being among the poor regencies of East Java.”

($1=13,368.0000 rupiah)

Additional reporting by Stefanno Reinard and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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In Indonesia, Chinese Deity Is Covered in Sheet After Muslims Protest

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Pakistani journalist arrested under cyber crime law — “Law being used to eliminate political opposition, stifle free press and free speech.”

June 30, 2017

Reuters

By Gul Yousafzai | QUETTA, PAKISTAN
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Pakistan authorities have arrested a journalist under a new electronic crime law aimed at combating terrorism and preventing blasphemy but which critics say is used to suppress political dissent.

The journalist, Zafarullah Achakzai a reporter for the Daily Qudrat newspaper, in Quetta city was produced before a magistrate on Wednesday and remanded in police custody under the cyber law, an official from the police’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said.

Pakistani policemen and frontier corps investigate the area after a bomb explosion in Quetta on December 12 2015 A frontier corps member was killed...

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Pakistani paramedics shift an injured Frontier Corps member into a hospital after a bomb explosion in Quetta on December 12 2015 A frontier corps...

Frontier Corps photos

Pakistani Frontier Corps soldier patrols the streets via a truck during a media visit to the area June 23 2009 in Buner district Pakistan Over 19...

He is one of the first reporters to be charged under the electronic crime law, which was introduced in August to the objections of media freedom and human rights activists.

Achakzai’s father, Naimatullah Achakzai, said his son was detained on Sunday by officers from the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force in overall charge of security in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital.

“Some 50 people came to our home at 6 a.m. and kicked down the door,” Achakzai said, adding that police filed a case against his son under the cyber crime law on Wednesday.

Police had shown him the filing, he said.

“We weren’t allowed to talk to him or meet him,” he said, adding he believed is son was arrested over social media posts.

The elder Achakzai said he believed his son was in trouble because his social media activity.

The son posted a comment on Facebook after a suicide bombing killed 13 in Quetta this month, in which he questioned why the Frontier Corps had responsibility for policing the city.

Reuters was unable to reach officials at the Frontier Corps for comment.

The FIA official, who declined to be identified, confirmed that the journalist had been arrested by the Frontier Corps, and then handed over to the FIA on Wednesday.

The Pakistani media watchdog Freedom Network said it was concerned about what it saw as “the authorities’ zero-tolerance for critics on social media”.

“The arrest of journalist Zafarullah Achakzai is a grim reminder that more arrests will follow for the same reason in the near future,” the group said.

Authorities began cracking down on social media in May, with security officials saying that more than 200 accounts were under investigation.

(Additional reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Pakistan — Taliban faction claims attack that killed 13 in Quetta — June 23, 2017

Taliban faction claims attack that killed 13 in Quetta

Explosion near Inspector General of Police Ehsan Mehboob’s office in Quetta has killed 13 people, including 4 policeman, and over a dozen have been injured. Four are said to be in critical condition, including a girl around 10 years of age.

According to confirmed reports on Waqt News, “It was a suicide bombing and about 75 kgs of explosives were in the car.” The car is said to have been destroyed and windows of nearby buildings smashed due to the intensity of the blast.

According to Police surgeon Ali Mardan nine people, including three police officers and one traffic warden, were killed in the blast. While Civil Hospital spokesperson Waseem Baig said, 11 people were killed in the blast.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack in a message sent to Reuters by spokesman Asad Mansur.

Abdul Razzaq Cheema, director general of police in Baluchistan province, told Reuters it appeared the bomber had detonated a car packed with explosives. He said 15 people had been wounded.

An eyewitness told The Nation, “I was two minutes away from the scene when a loud explosion was heard. The intensity of the explosion was so severe that when the dust settled, a leg of a policeman was lying near me.”

It was a blessing that the car did not enter the Cantonment area as the Hazara community was to take out a procession today regarding Quds day, he added.

Security teams have cordoned off the area and started an investigation.

The bomb disposal squad has been called to the site and investigations are under way, a police spokesperson said.

Balochistan government spokesman Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar said that the explosion took place at around 9:00 am when the police officers were checking the suspected car. He also said, “There were already intelligence reports that an attack would take place near Eid, we had increased security. It’s possible the IG office was the target, or the assailants were trying to enter the (army) cantonment which is close by,” he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the act in Quetta. He directed the authorities at federal and provincial
levels to hunt down the perpetrators of this heinous act and bring them to justice. The provincial government should provide best medical treatment to the injured. “These cowardly attacks are a sign of growing frustration of terrorists
and extremists who have even targeted innocent civilians during the Holy month of Ramazan,” the PM said. He also said, “Such elements deserved no mercy and would meet their fate soon in view of the unflinching and united resolve of the entire nation against terrorism and extremism.”

Minister of Interior Chauday Nisar

Minister of Interior Chaudary Nisar has condemned the incident and asked the authorities to submit a report. Expressing grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives in the incident, he prayed for the early recovery of the injured.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri have strongly condemned the bomb blast in Quetta.

In their messages, they expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives in the bomb blast.

Balochistan Chief Minister directed the concerned authorities to provide better medical facilities to the injured people.

According to police, extra security measures had being taken for ‘Juma tul wida’ (the last friday in ramzan) and Eid ul Fitr.

This ramzan a number of terrorist attacks have taken place globally but Afghanistan has been the worst hit.

Quetta is about 100 km (60 miles) east of the border with Afghanistan and is the capital of Baluchistan, which has been plagued by militant violence. The province is the base of a separatist movement as well as home to the Taliban and other militant Islamist groups.

It is also at the center of Chinese-backed “Belt and Road” development projects worth $57 billion that first focused on Chinese firms building roads and power stations but is now expanding to include setting up industries.

Militants from the Islamic State group abducted and killed two Chinese nationals in Quetta last month.

That attack prompted Pakistan to boost security around Chinese nationals and other foreigners in the province, which is already one of the most militarised regions in the country.

http://nation.com.pk/national/23-Jun-2017/explosion-near-ig-office-in-quetta-leave-2-dead-10-injured

What You Put on Facebook Could Get You Killed — Pakistani Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy on Social Media

June 10, 2017

MULTAN, Pakistan — A government prosecutor says a judge has sentenced a minority Shiite Muslim to death for sharing blasphemous content about Islam on social media.

Shafiq Chaudhry says Judge Shabir Ahmed announced the sentence for 30-year-old Taimore Raza on Saturday in Bahawalpur, a city in eastern Punjab province. Raza was arrested last year for allegedly posted derogatory content about Sunni Muslim religious leaders and wives of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.

Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country and the rivalry between Shiite and Sunni Muslims dates back to the seventh century when they had a falling out over who should be the heir to Islam’s prophet Mohammed.

Under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting God, Islam or other religious personalities can be sentenced to death.

Indonesia faces calls to repeal blasphemy laws after jailing of Jakarta governor Ahok

May 10, 2017

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Supporters of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, gather at city hall in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia is facing renewed calls to repeal its controversial blasphemy law after the jailing of Jakarta’s Christian governor, with critics pointing to a sharp increase in its use to target minorities.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – known by his nickname Ahok – was jailed for two years on Tuesday (May 9) for blasphemy over comments he made about Islam while campaigning for re-election to the capital of the Muslim-majority nation, a far harsher sentence than had been expected.

Critics viewed the case as unfair and politically motivated. The allegations were pushed by hardliners who opposed a non-Muslim as governor, and sparked a series of mass protests that dented Basuki’s popularity and contributed to him losing the race for the Jakarta governorship to a Muslim rival last month.

The allegations against Basuki centred on a lighthearted remark he made about his rivals using a verse from the Quran to trick people into voting against him, which judges ruled amounted to blasphemy against Islam.

The blasphemy legislation has been on the statute books since 1965 but was rarely used before 1998, when three decades of authoritarian rule under brutal dictator Suharto – who sought to run the country along largely secular lines – came to an end.

His downfall brought with it new democratic freedoms and increased interest in more conservative forms of Islam. But it also gave space for the growth of hardline Muslim groups and an increase in attacks on religious minorities, fuelling concerns that the country’s inclusive brand of Islam was under threat.

Activists say the growing use of the blasphemy law curbs free speech and is one example of minorities coming under increased pressure. Local rights group the Setara Institute said of the 97 blasphemy cases brought to court since the law was enacted, 89 of them were since 1998.

‘INHERENT INJUSTICE’

Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said Basuki’s conviction made him “exhibit A of the law’s danger and the urgent need for its repeal”.

“The blasphemy law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and traditional religions,” he said.

Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s director for South-east Asia and the Pacific, criticised the “inherent injustice of Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which should be repealed immediately”, while the United Nations urged a review of the legislation.

A recent case was the jailing in March of three leaders of a banned sect called Gafatar under the blasphemy law, with the men accused of luring followers to practise a deviant brand of Islam.

Another example was in 2012 when Tajul Muluk, a cleric from the Shi’ite Muslim minority, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy, with judges saying that his teachings deviated from mainstream Islam.

The blasphemy law states that anyone found guilty of “expressing feelings of hostility” towards religion can be jailed for up to five years. It applies to any of the six officially recognised religions in Indonesia but in reality most prosecutions are brought against people accused of blaspheming Islam.

About 90 per cent of Indonesia’s 255 million people are Muslim but most practise a moderate form of Islam and the country is also home to substantial minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

Despite growing pressure to repeal the law, this seems unlikely to be any time soon.

Religious affairs ministry spokesman Matsuki, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, conceded there were concerns of misuse but said the government wanted to improve the legislation rather than axe it.

“If we abolished it, more problems would arise,” he told AFP. “If blasphemy happens and we have no guidelines, there will be chaos.”

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Pakistan: Mob Attacks, Kills Man Accused of Blasphemy — Third blasphemy-related killing this month

April 22, 2017

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Policemen injured in third such incident this month following a student’s killing by a mob and shooting of faith healer.

 The killing of Mashal Khan has left Pakistan in state of shock [Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]
The killing of Mashal Khan has left Pakistan in state of shock [Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]

A mob attacked a man accused of blasphemy during Friday prayers in a northern Pakistani town and injured six police officers after they intervened to rescue him.

It was the third blasphemy-related incident in the country this month after a student was beaten to death by a lynch mob and a faith healer was shot dead.

Security officials in Chitral fired tear gas and live rounds on the mob, injuring eight protesters, after they attacked the local police headquarters and demanded that alleged blasphemer Rashid Ahmed be made available for mob justice.

“We told them that Ahmed will be examined medically and if he was found mentally fit then he will be tried under the blasphemy law, but the mob was not satisfied,” Akbar Ali Shah, the local police chief, said.

Shah said he had asked for army assistance to help control the crowds, but a Reuters news agency correspondent at the scene said soldiers had yet to arrive.

Witnesses said Ahmed entered the local mosque asking to make an important announcement, then declared himself a messiah and said he would lead his followers to paradise.

An angry congregation then turned violent and attacked Ahmed, who Shah said appeared to be suffering from mental illness. He suffered a beating, but police said his injuries were not life-threatening.

Women’s confession

In a separate development on Friday, police in the capital Islamabad said three female friends in a rare incident had confessed to killing a man for alleged blasphemy, just days after he returned from living in hiding abroad for 13 years.

Police Inspector Nadeem Ashraf, who is investigating the case, told the Associated Press news agency that the women were arrested this week for killing Fazal Abbas, who fled Pakistan in 2004 following accusations of blasphemy.

Ashraf said the women went to the man’s home and shot him to death on Wednesday.

Ashraf identified the women by their names and quoted them as saying that they would have killed Abbas earlier had he not fled the country.

Ashraf said Abbas was being sought by Pakistani police in connection with a blasphemy case dating back to 2004.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Insulting Prophet Muhammad carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by vigilantes.

Nearly 70 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to a tally maintained by Al Jazeera.

Pakistan’s government has been vocal on the issue of blasphemy, with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, issuing an order last month for the removal of blasphemous content online and saying anyone who posted it should face “strict punishment under the law”.

Police are investigating more than 20 students and some faculty members in connection with the killing of Mashal Khan, a student who was beaten to death on April 13 in an attack that shocked the country.

Since then, parliament has discussed adding safeguards to the blasphemy laws, a move seen as groundbreaking in Pakistan where political leaders have been assassinated for even discussing changes.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/mob-attacks-man-accused-blasphemy-north-pakistan-170421205005634.html

Jakarta’s Christian governor set for defeat in tense election, polls show

April 19, 2017

A Muslim ex-education minister has taken the lead against Jakarta’s Christian governor in a vote that raised concerns of sectarian violence. The president has called for calm, saying it “shouldn’t break our unity.”

Indenosien Wahlen Anies Baswedan (picture alliance/Zumapress/D. Pohan)

Former Education Minister Anies Baswedan garnered a considerable lead on Wednesday in a run-off gubernatorial election in Jakarta. Early results released by an unofficial private pollster on Wednesday showed the Muslim politician received 58 percent of the vote.

The run-off placed Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and ethnic-Chinese leader nicknamed “Ahok,” against Baswedan, a Muslim politician with a background in academia, in an electoral process which has stoked religious tensions in the nation’s capital.

“Our focus is social justice, ending inequality and our commitment is to safeguard diversity and unity,” Baswedan said at a news conference after vote counting began.

Official results are expected to be announced in early May.

Blasphemy case

Despite the role of moderate Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim country, the election raised tensions between Muslim and Christian communities in the capital, in part due to Purnama’s blasphemy trial.

Hardliners accused Jakarta’s governor of insulting the Quran after he lightheartedly said his rivals were tricking people into voting against him by using a verse from Islam’s holiest text.

Some hard-line groups, including Salafists, interpreted the verse in question to mean that Muslims should only choose leaders from their religious community.

Purnama’s remarks prompted mass protests led by an Islamist group in Jakarta, which left at least one person dead and more than 100 injured. The governor was consequently placed on trial for blasphemy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has called for calm during the vote, saying citizens should be unified despite the outcome of the electionIndonesia’s President Joko Widodo has called for calm, saying citizens should be unified despite the outcome of the election

‘Not break our unity’

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose party backed Purnama, called for unity in the capital of the world’s third-largest democracy in a bid to stem an outbreak of violence.

“Political differences should not break our unity,” said Widodo after casting his vote at a central polling station. “We are all brothers and sisters. Whoever is elected, we must accept.”

Police deployed more than 60,000 law enforcement agents for the vote to prevent any escalation of violence.

Authorities established checkpoints in neighboring provinces to ensure there was “no movement of masses toward the capital,” said Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

http://www.dw.com/en/jakartas-christian-governor-set-for-defeat-in-tense-election-polls-show/a-38481377

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Pakistan teacher describes facing mob that lynched student — He was called a non-believer and blasphemer then beaten to death — “If you commit blasphemy we will kill you.”

April 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Activists shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on April 14, 2017 against the killing of student Mashal Khan by his classmates

PESHAWAR (PAKISTAN) (AFP) – A teacher has described the moment he was turned on by a Pakistani mob as it lynched a liberal student in a deadly attack which has triggered shock, outrage and fear across the country.

Hundreds of men attacked journalism student Mashal Khan last Thursday, stripping, beating and shooting him before throwing him from the second floor of his hostel at the Abdul Wali Khan university in the northwestern town of Mardan.

Khan had been known for his liberal views, especially on Facebook, sparking blasphemy allegations against him.

Twenty-two people have been arrested so far over the killing, which came as the government ramped up its anti-blasphemy rhetoric in recent weeks.

On Tuesday one of Khan’s teachers, Ziaullah Hamdard, told the private Geo TV channel that he had been called to the scene at the university’s journalism department where students were shouting slogans against Khan and another student, Abdullah.

One university employee threatened to kill Khan and cut him into pieces, Hamdard said. Then the mob began kicking in the door to a washroom where Abdullah had taken refuge.

“All this happened in seconds, they broke the door, some of them had batons, they were furious — suddenly they entered inside… They were not listening to any one,” Hamdard said.

Police had arrived and managed to yank a wounded Abdullah to safety, he told Geo. At the sight of blood and the crowd, he added, “I lost my courage”.

He rushed to the staff hostel, but around 20 students were already there, and they accused him of hiding Khan.

“They said, ‘You are a non-believer, you have hidden a blasphemer’… They were crazy, they were not listening to me.

“Two of them kicked me and snatched my mobile and locked me in my room.”

Hamdard was rescued by another teacher, he said, and spirited away by police — but by then Khan, who had been hiding in his own room at a nearby student hostel, was dead.

“Mashal was a Diya (lamp). They have turned off a lamp,” Hamdard told Geo.

He apologised to Khan’s parents for failing to protect their son, and said his guilt had driven him to resign.

The brutality of the attack, partly recorded on a mobile phone, provoked widespread condemnation, with protests in several cities over the weekend — although it took two days for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to speak out.

The lynching came in the wake of a government push to root out blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge in conservative Muslim Pakistan with even unproven allegations leading to dozens of mob lynchings and murders since 1990.

Last month Sharif swore blasphemers on social media would be prosecuted. The Interior Ministry also threatened to block social media websites with blasphemous content.

“The state itself has said, there are blasphemers hiding among you, the people; find them! So now the people are finding them,” wrote prominent columnist Cyril Almeida in Dawn newspaper over the weekend.

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Pakistan journalism student latest victim of blasphemy vigilantes — Fellow students beat him to death — Christians living in fear in Pakistan

April 15, 2017

A 23-year-old journalism student in Pakistan has been killed by a vigilante mob over allegations of blasphemy. The brutal murder shocked many liberals who believe that state policies are emboldening religious fanatics.

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Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan, has become the latest victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy vigilantes. Khan was murdered in broad daylight by a mob at the university campus on Thursday. He was accused of insulting Islam by fellow students after a debate over religion the day before.

But the manner in which Khan was killed shocked liberal and secular Pakistanis, who expressed their anger and revulsion on social media. The videos of the gruesome murder circulating on Twitter and Facebook show a similar style of lynching and “mob justice” that is often associated with militant Islamist groups like the Taliban and the so-called “Islamic State.”

Khan was dragged out of his dorm by fellow students, who then shot and beat him to death. Pakistani media quoted eyewitnesses as saying that Khan was forced to recite verses from the Koran before his death. Khan’s friend, Abdullah, was injured in the attack.

http://www.dw.com/en/pakistan-journalism-student-latest-victim-of-blasphemy-vigilantes/a-38433834

It wasn’t a mob of bearded fundamentalists from some backward madrassa…these were university students

Khan’s friends and teachers described him as an inquiring student who often debated political and religious issues.

“Whatever he had to say, he would say it openly, but he didn’t understand the environment he was living in,” one of Khan’s teachers told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Police have arrested 20 suspects involved in Khan’s murder and have found no evidence to substantiate blasphemy allegations.

 

Members of the civil society protest against the brutal murder of outside Press Club

Neither Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nor any other prominent government official has so far condemned the lynching.

Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists have said the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas.

But if you asked people on the streets whether they were in favor of the repeal of the controversial blasphemy law, their answer would probably be a “no.”

“It is not about amending or repealing the law (blasphemy law), or making new laws; those who insult our religion should not go unpunished,” Ali Asghar, a student in Lahore, told DW.

In der Großstadt Lahore im Osten Pakistans hat eine aufgebrachte Menschenmenge dutzende Häuser von Christen in Brand gesetzt (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)Pakistani activists say that religious extremism and intolerance are no longer isolated phenomena in the Islamic country

State support for fanatics

The Islamic country’s human rights groups have expressed concern about mob vigilantism over blasphemy accusations. Activists say that in Pakistan it is easy to accuse anyone of committing blasphemy, which, according to the law, is punishable by death. Witnesses are usually not required to file a police case against the alleged blasphemer. In many cases in the past, those accused of insulting Islam or its prophet Muhammad have been killed by angry crowds.

Rights groups say the government’s recent crackdown on alleged blasphemers is a major reason behind Mashal Khan’s murder as such measures are emboldening religious fanatics in the South Asian country.

“The state’s abject failure to protect Mashal Khan’s right to life has created great panic and horror among students and academia. Unless all those who played any part in Khan’s brutal murder are brought to justice, such barbarity will only spread,” the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement on Friday.

“The malaise that manifested itself in Mardan will not vanish with brief shuttering of the university. All those who believe in positive human values must speak out and suggest ways to prevent vigilantes causing mayhem by using the name of religion. Staying quiet in the face of such barbarism will condemn us all as accomplices,” said HRCP.

Online blasphemy

In March, PM Sharif issued an order for the removal of online “blasphemous content” and said anyone who posted such content should face “strict punishment under the law”.

Rights groups say the authorities want to stifle dissenting voices as an increasing number of people are criticizing government policies and actions through social media and other cyber platforms. That is also the reason why the Pakistani government has introduced stricter measures to control social media and the internet, rights groups allege.

Screenshot Twitter #RecoverSalmanHaider (twitter.com)Pakistani civil society has become alarmed over blasphemy accusations against liberal activists

In January, renowned rights activist and university professor Salman Haider disappeared from the capital Islamabad. Three other secular activists – Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza – also went missing. After several weeks, all these bloggers returned to their homes, with Goraya claiming that he was “abducted” by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies.

Many commentators in the Pakistani media later accused the bloggers of running anti-Islam Facebook pages. An Islamabad resident also filed a complaint with the police accusing the activists of committing blasphemy.

“This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties. All this culminated in the brutal murder of Mashal Khan,” Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based rights activist and communication strategist with a media development organization, told DW.

Collective intolerance

Pakistan has witnessed an unprecedented surge in Islamic extremism and religious fanaticism in the past decade. Islamist groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted religious minorities in the country in order to impose their strict Shariah law on people.

According to the HRCP, 2013 was one of the worst years for religious minorities in the country. Several people were charged with blasphemy, many places of worship were burned down and houses were looted all over the country.

Asad Butt of the HRCP told DW that intolerance was definitely growing in Pakistan, and that many Pakistanis considered blasphemy an “unpardonable crime.”

But how and when did Pakistanis become so intolerant towards other religions and their followers?

“The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes,” Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW. “Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society,” he added.

The lynching of by a group of students scares me 100x more than attacks by tiny minority of jihadis. Mainstream fundamentalism.

Activist Afzal says that blasphemy violence will not stop in Pakistan until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and those who wrongly accuse people of blasphemy.

“It can be a defining moment in Pakistan’s war against religious extremism. But I am afraid the political parties will not act. They are only interested in securing their vote bank,” Afzal told DW, adding that Pakistani civil society will continue to build pressure on the government to reform blasphemy laws.

http://www.dw.com/en/pakistan-journalism-student-latest-victim-of-blasphemy-vigilantes/a-38433834

Jakarta’s Christian governor, Muslim rival in tight election race: Poll shows

April 12, 2017

JAKARTA: The Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and his Muslim opponent are neck and neck in the race to lead Indonesia’s capital, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday, a week ahead of the hard fought vote.

The election campaign – which has been among the most divisive in the city’s history – has been marred by religious and ethnic tension over the blasphemy trial of the incumbent Purnama, who is accused of insulting Islam.

Purnama was on 46.9 percent of the sample vote, trailing his rival Anies Baswedan by 1 percentage point in one of the first opinion polls published since the two candidates made it through a first round election in mid-February.

A candidate needs a simple majority to win.

Pollster Saiful Mujani Research Center (SMRC) said the survey of 800 respondents showed Baswedan enjoyed support primarily because of his Islamic faith, while Purnama was popular due to his record in office.

Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million population is Muslim, but the country recognizes six religions and is home to sizeable communities of Christians, Hindus and those adhering to traditional beliefs.

The state ideology, Pancasila, enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system.

Purnama, who is Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese and Christian governor, offended Muslim groups when he made comments last year about his opponents’ use of the Islamic holy book, the Koran, in political campaigning.

Since then, Muslims, led by hardline groups, have held mass rallies to call for Purnama to be sacked, and to urge voters not to elect a non-Muslim. The rallies have raised concerns about growing religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Purnama has apologised for his comments and denied any wrongdoing. He faces up to four years in prison if found guilty.

Judges hearing the case decided this week to adjourn the trial until after voting day, after police and prosecutors asked for a delay because of security concerns.

(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, Apil 7, 2017 — In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.

April 6, 2017

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 255

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Reading 1 JER 20:10-13

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!

Responsorial Psalm  PS 18:2-3A, 3BC-4, 5-6, 7

R. (see 7) In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
The breakers of death surged round about me,
the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
the snares of death overtook me.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.

Verse Before The GospelSEE JN 6:63C, 68C

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

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Rembrandt’s Images of Jesus

Gospel JN 10:31-42

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.

He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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07 APRIL, 2017, Friday, 5th Week of Lent
DEALING WITH REJECTION AND OPPOSITION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 20:10-13; JN 10:31-42]Like Jeremiah, we often feel grossly misunderstood, especially when we seek the good of others.  We feel unappreciated and at times persecuted for doing what is right.  Quite often, we feel that we have been taken for granted.  Like Jeremiah, we have people, even our friends disparaging us.  “’Terror from every side!’ Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall!”  Jesus in the gospel too felt the same way.  For the good works He did, they tried to stone Him.  We feel so wronged for suffering such injustices.   So what do we do?

Firstly, we cannot take things into our own hands.  In other words, we do not retaliate.  That was not the way of Jeremiah or our Lord.  Instead of taking revenge, Jeremiah chose to surrender his cause to the Lord.  “Let me see the vengeance you will take on them, for I have committed my cause to you.”   Indeed, if we were to react to our enemies’ onslaught, we might lose objectivity because we are hurt. All of us have our own interests to protect, consciously or unconsciously.   We might not admit it, but more often than not, our ego is bruised.  That is why it is best to leave judgement to the Lord.  When God judges, He judges with total objectivity.  Jeremiah says, “But you, Lord of hosts, you who probe with justice, who scrutinize the loins and heart.”   God knows our hearts and our intentions, so His judgement is just and at the same time tampered with compassion.  Jesus too defended His actions by appealing to the Father to speak for Him.

Secondly, we must have confidence in God that He will deliver us.  Jeremiah said, “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.”  In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist prayed, “In my anguish I called to the Lord, and he heard my voice. I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour. My God is the rock where I take refuge; my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold. The Lord is worthy of all praise, when I call I am saved from my foes.”  Truly, God is our refuge and strength.   We can be sure that God will come to our rescue when we cry to Him.  At times, we might feel that He is not with us but we are called to surrender our lives to Him as Jesus did on the cross.  It was this total confidence in the justice of His Father that even at His last breath, He could forgive His enemies and commend everything into the hands of His Father.

Thirdly, when we have opposing forces, like Jeremiah, it calls for humility to search ourselves.  When Jeremiah was under intense opposition by the false prophets and leaders, he initially began to doubt whether he really heard the voice of God, and wondered if he could be a false prophet.  “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jer 20:7f) As a consequence, he began to contemplate stopping his prophesying.  But much as he wanted to stop being a nuisance to his countrymen, he could not, because “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer 20:9)  We too must, before we respond to those who disagree with us, search ourselves and purify our motives and thoughts.  Opposition does not always work against our interests, but they help to strengthen our position because we are forced to re-examine our beliefs and convictions.  So we should thank our enemies for helping us to sharpen our views and the things we want to do.   Whether we like it or not, our enemies are our best critics even if they are harsh and merciless towards us.

Fourthly, the most effective way to deal with our enemies and their criticisms is not through argument but by our good works.  This was what Jesus did when confronted by His enemies.  Jesus said to them, “I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?” Can we say with Jesus in all honesty that what we say and do are truly good works and not for our personal interests?  Can we vindicate ourselves by referring to the good works we do and the life we live?  If we have only words to show but not fruits, then we cannot withstand the criticisms of our enemies.  Jesus could say that His good works indeed come from the Father because He acted on behalf of the Father.   He said, “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am the Father.”   Furthermore, His works were confirmed by John the Baptist.  Indeed, we read that “Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.”   So Jesus had three witnesses, His good works, the Father and John the Baptist.

Fifthly, to defeat our opponents, we must always refer to the Word of God to substantiate our claims.  “Is it not written in your Law: ‘I said, you are gods?’ So the Law used the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected.”  Jesus exposed their fallacy when the Jews replied, “We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.”   In truth, the scriptures did say “You are “gods; you are all sons of the Most High.” (Ps 82:6)   “God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods” (Ps 82:1) In other words, in the bible, those who acted in the place of God included the rulers and the judges.  They were not gods in the absolute sense but in a derived meaning because they acted as representatives of God.  (cf Ex 21:6; 22:8f; Dt 1:17)  So Jesus said, “Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because he says, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  Of course Jesus knew that He was more than anyone else, one with God in mind, heart and in being.   He knew He was sent by the Father because He knew His Father intimately.

However, we must not be foolhardy when we deal with our enemies.  Jesus was very much aware that it was not yet the right time to go headlong with His enemies.  He still had work to do and the time was not yet opportune.  We too must know when to fight and when to withdraw.   We must not act rashly out of pride and anger.  We will only destroy ourselves and what we seek to do.  As it is said, we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.   So let us, in the face of opposition, tread carefully, and think through before we act.  This was the case of Jesus.  We read that when “they wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.”  Jesus withdrew not because of fear but rather He needed to rethink how best to accomplish the mission the Father gave to Him.   He was not reckless or reactive.

What is also enlightening is the comment of the evangelist that “He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising.”   To reassess His mission and to renew His passion for His Father, He went back to that place and time when He had His first experience of the Father’s love.  It was at His baptism in Jordan that He heard the voice of the Father affirming His true identity and His mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor.  The Father reaffirmed Him of His love and endorsed His mission again at the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor.  So too, when we have lost courage, confidence and steam in what we believe to be our calling, then we too must come to the Lord in prayer and find consolation and renewed strength.  We need to rediscover that moment when we felt the Lord calling us to do His work and to accomplish His plan.   We need to be recharged all the time and find new fervour and zeal in our mission.  Let us therefore follow Jesus during this time of Lent by drawing new energy from the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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Commentary on John 10:31-42 From Living Space

Once again Jesus’ enemies want to stone him because they continue to accuse him of blasphemy. “You, a man, are making yourself God.” It is clear they have no doubt about the meaning of his words. Jesus points to the Scriptures which has God saying of some people “You are gods”. Jesus is here referring to the people called ‘judges’ in Israel. Since they were judges of their people, taking on themselves something which belongs only to God, they were called “gods” (cf. Deut 1:17; Exod 21:6; Ps 82:6).

If people inspired by the word from God could be called ‘gods’ can Jesus whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blaspheme because he says, “I am the Son of God”? And, if they will not accept a verbal claim, Jesus appeals to what he has been doing. “Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do.” To anyone with an open mind it is clear that God is working in Jesus. “You will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again, they tried to seize him but he escaped from their power. His time had not yet come. That time would not be decided by them.

On the other hand, while Jesus was being attacked by the leaders of the Jews, many of the ordinary people continued to seek him out. Jesus had gone back across the Jordan (a safer place) to the spot where John the Baptist had baptised and given such strong testimony to Jesus. Many people came looking for him there. They could see, as the Pharisees could not, a clear distinction between Jesus and John: “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true. And many there came to believe in him.” There are many who reject Christ and his message today but let us pray that we may have open minds to believe the many signs by which God reveals his love to us each day.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1056g/

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Christ with mocking soldier by Carl Bloch

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Commentary on Jer 20:10-13

Jeremiah, the prophet, God’s spokesman, is attacked and denounced on all sides by his own people.

“Terror on every side!” is the mocking call of Jeremiah’s critics, satirising his constantly gloomy predictions. “Let us denounce him!” – in the way that he constantly denounces the behaviour of others.

Even his friends abandon him. “All those who were on good terms with me watched for my downfall.” They are waiting for him to make some fatal mistake. “Perhaps he will be seduced into error. Then we shall get the better of him.” Jesus was treated in exactly the same way by Pharisees and Scribes constantly trying to catch him out in violation of the Law. They ‘plant’ a cripple in a synagogue on a Sabbath day to see if he will heal him. They ask him if it is right or not to give taxes to Caesar – where a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer will be equally incriminating.

But Jeremiah has confidence in his God and his attackers will not prevail. “The Lord is at my side… my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure…” For his God is a God of justice and truth. A God who is on the side of the needy. “Praise Yahweh, for he has delivered the soul of one in need.”

The needy one, ebion, or the poor, anaw, is used in a religious sense: ill-treated by people but confident in God, looking to Yahweh for support. By Jeremiah’s time, the term ‘poor/needy’ had become virtually synonymous with ‘righteous’, someone whose total trust and dependence is on God.

Ultimately, Jeremiah knows, Truth and Justice will prevail no matter what some people try to do. It is a belief that we need to remember ourselves. It is a belief we see realised in Jesus. They could kill his body but not his Spirit.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1056r/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

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• We are close to Holy Week, during which we commemorate and update the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Beginning with the fourth week of Lent, the texts of the Gospel of every day are texts taken almost exclusively from the Gospel of John, two chapters which stress the dramatic tension between the progressive revelation, on the one side, which Jesus makes of the mystery of the Father which fills him completely, and on the other side, the progressive closing up of the Jews who always become more impenetrable to the message of Jesus. The tragic aspect of this closing up is that they claim it is in fidelity to God. They refuse Jesus in the name of God.
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• This way in which John presents the conflict between Jesus and the religious authority is not only something which has taken place in the far past. It is also a mirror which reflects what happens today. In the name of God, some persons transform themselves into bombs and kill other persons. In the name of God, we, members of the three religions of the God of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims, mutually condemn one another, fight among ourselves, throughout history. Ecumenism is difficult among us, and at the same time it is necessary. In the name of God, many horrible things have been committed and we continue to commit them every day. Lent is an important period of time to stop and to ask ourselves: Which is the image of God which I have within me?
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• John 10, 31-33: The Jews want to stone Jesus. The Jews prepare stone to kill Jesus and Jesus asks: “I have shown you many good works from my Father, for which of these are you stoning me?” The answer: “We are stoning you, not for doing a good work, but for blasphemy; though you are only man, you claim to be God”. They want to kill Jesus because he blasphemes. The law ordered that such persons should be stoned.
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• John 10, 34-36: The Bible calls all sons of God. They want to kill Jesus because he says he is God. Jesus responds in the name of the law of God itself. “Is it not perhaps written in your Law: I said you are gods? Now, if the Law has called gods those to whom the Word of God was addressed (and Scripture cannot be set aside), to those whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, and you say: You blaspheme, because I have said: I am the Son of God?”
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• Strangely, Jesus says “your law”. He could have said: “our Law”. Why does he speak in this way? Here appears again the tragic division between Jews and Christians, brothers, sons of the same father Abraham, who became irreconcilable enemies to the point that the Christians say “your law”, as if it were not our law.
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• John 10, 37-38: At least believe in the works. Jesus again speaks of the works that he does and which are the revelation of the Father. If I do not do the works of the Father, there is no need to believe in me. But if I do them, even if you do not believe in me, at least believe in the works I do, so that you will believe that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. These are the same words that he said at the Last Supper (Jn 14, 10-11).
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• John 10, 39-42: Once again they want to kill him, but he flees from their clutches. There was no sign of conversion. They continue to say that Jesus blasphemes and insist in killing him. There is no future for Jesus. His death has been decided, but as yet his hour has not arrived. Jesus goes out and crosses the Jordan going toward the place where John had baptized. In this way he indicates the continuity of his mission with the mission of John. He helped people to become aware of how God acts in history. The people recognize in Jesus the one whom John had announced.
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Personal questions
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• The Jews condemn Jesus in the name of God, in the name of the image that they have of God. Sometimes, have I condemned someone in the name of God and then I have discovered that I was mistaken?
• Jesus calls himself “Son of God”. When in the Creed I say that Jesus is the Son of God, which is the content that I give to my profession of faith?
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Concluding Prayer
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Yahweh is my rock and my fortress,
my deliverer is my God.
I take refuge in him, my rock, my shield,
my saving strength, my stronghold,
my place of refuge. (Ps 18,2)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 MARCH 2016, Friday, 5th Week of Lent
SEARCHING FOR GOD’S WILL IN OUR MINISTRY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42

Doing God’s work is one of the most challenging tasks in life, especially when it is concerned with prophetic work.  This is because people are challenged by what we teach or do.  People are happy so long as what we do does not hinder what they are doing as well.  But if they see us as obstacles to their ambition, goals or success, whether in business or for power, they will seek to destroy us.  This was the case of Jeremiah who was a threat to the status quo of the king and his officials.  So too was the case of Jesus because His teaching too challenged the status quo of the Jewish leaders.

Consequently, it is a mistake to think that doing Church work or being involved in the work of evangelization is fun and always full of joy.   If we are seeking for fun and pleasure, then we are doing for ourselves, not for God.   Service to God and His people is a very demanding task which calls for much sacrifice, not just in terms of time and resources but even in personal freedom.  In truth, many Catholics are not ready to suffer for the ministry.  When they meet with trials and difficulties, they get disillusion and resign.  This clearly shows that they are not working for God but for themselves.  Service to God, whether voluntary or paid, is not a matter of whether we like our job or not, but it is a matter of doing God’s will.  So if God wills that we do a certain job, even if we do not like it, we are to obey His will.  And if God wants us to suffer for Him in doing good even when we are providing a free service, then we must accept such trials in the spirit of Christ.   We do not simply give up because the going is tough!  Did Jesus or Jeremiah give up their prophetic tasks simply because they were opposed on all sides?  Nay, they remained in their posts even when threatened with death.

In the face of challenges and opposition, what should we do?  How can we remain firm like the Lord?  Firstly, we need to discern and decipher exactly whether what we are doing is the Lord’s will.  When Jeremiah was opposed, he began to have self-doubt as to whether what others said of him could be true.  Jeremiah said: “I hear so many disparaging me, ‘Terror from every side!’ Denounce him! Let us denounce him! All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall, ‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error. Then we will master him and take our revenge!’”  Could he be deceived or misled?  Could he be a false prophet and heard God’s voice wrongly?  So Jeremiah took time to search the depths of his heart and the voice of God that He heard calling him so deeply to speak to His people the message that he received from God.

Secondly, we need to be clear of our identity and calling.  Jesus knew Himself, His identity, His relationship with God and what He had been called to do.  This explains why Jesus was able to remain firm when opposed by the Jews and refused to take back His claims when they threatened to stone Him to death as prescribed by the Law of Moses for those who blasphemed.  Jesus knew that He came from the Father and that He did everything in union with the Father.  He defended Himself saying, “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am the Father.”

Thirdly, Jesus vindicated Himself by His works.  When “the Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’” We can doubt a person’s words but we cannot doubt His works because every tree must be judged by its fruits.  So too with Jesus!  He did not ask that they believe in His words but what proved His message was from God was the works that He performed, the works of God which was mercy, compassion and love seen in the healing miracles and works of mercy, compassion and liberation.

Fourthly, Jesus justified Himself as one being sent.  He did not come from Himself but He was sent by the Father.  When the Jews accused Him of claiming to be God, He said, “’Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law used the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because he says, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  Indeed, Jesus knew that He was sent by the Father and was consecrated for a mission.  The mission of Jesus was to represent the Father’s love and mercy.   To be called the son of God was not exceptionally strange because quoting from Psalm 82:6, the Israelite leaders and judges were called gods. (cf Ex 4:16; 7:1).  They were seen as agents of God’s revelation and His divine will.  Following this scriptural basis, the claims of Jesus could not be considered blasphemy.  In fact, Jesus was claiming that He was one with His Father in mind and heart.

How many of us can stand firm with Jesus and when challenged refer to our opponents to the works we do?  Can we say that we always walk the talk?  Unless, we are true to ourselves and live blameless lives, we cannot speak with that confidence to others or tell them what to do.   In the final analysis, instead of taking things into our own hands, after all that is said and done, like Jeremiah, we must turn to the Lord for courage and strength.   Let us surrender judgement and justice to God.  Jeremiah said, “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.”   Instead of taking actions against our enemies, let the Lord who is our commander and fighter seek justice for us.  For as Jeremiah said, “But you, Lord of hosts, you who probe with justice, who scrutinise the loins and heart, let me see the vengeance you will take on them, for I have committed my cause to you.”

We must wait for the time to strike by seeking out God’s timing, not ours.  We read that when they wanted to arrest the Lord, “He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising.”   Jesus did not fight head-on with His enemies because He knew He still had much work to do.  “They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.”  He ran away not because He was a coward but because He needed time to finish what He had to do.  He went away in order to return another day to fight the battle that would bring ultimate victory.  Jesus did not allow His ego to take the better of Him.  Rather, His thought was always the accomplishment of the Father’s will and His divine plan. So there was an opportunity for that.

It will be good also for us to learn from Jesus, to return to our Galilee or Transfiguration experience.  We read that whilst withdrawing from the heat of the opposition, He went to renew and refresh Himself in the Father’s love by returning to that place where He was baptized.   It was necessary for Jesus to recall the Father’s promise of His love for Him when He was baptized and the mission given to Him at His baptism.  We too must always return to that moment of our calling, that event in which we experienced the love of Christ and how we heard Him calling us to serve Him.  Constant withdrawal and remembrance of His love for us will help us to stay focused, especially in times of doubt and trials.   Like the disciples of John, we must not forget our own God-experience.  We read that “Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.” So in our frustrations and in those moments we feel so tired, alone and disillusioned in our ministry, let us withdraw to that place and event when we felt the Lord so intimately.

Always in prayer and quiet reflection do we, like Jesus and Jeremiah, find strength to regain our energy and focus so that we can finish the job that the Lord has entrusted us.  With the psalmist, we pray, “          I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour. My God is the rock where I take refuge; my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold. The Lord is worthy of all praise, when I call I am saved from my foes.  In my anguish I called to the Lord, and he heard my voice.”  With praise and thanksgiving and trust, we should join Jeremiah in trusting Him.  “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the soul of the needy from the hands of evil men.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 
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