Posts Tagged ‘Insults Against Islam’

Who are the “anti-blasphemy” Islamists wielding new political influence in Pakistan?

December 3, 2017

The public perception after the crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year

Written by Umer Ali | Updated: December 1, 2017 10:43 am

pakistan, pakistan protests, pakistan blasphemy laws, pakistan protests blasphemy laws, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah, pakistan news, indian express, indian express news

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 10, 2017. Reuters

The last three weeks have laid bare Pakistan’s claims of countering extremist ideology, both militarily and ideologically. The state shut down social media websites and TV channels in order to counter protesting supporters of the newly-formed religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah around Islamabad, and ordered the deployment of troops to restore order. But as a clear sign of insubordination, the military instead objected to the way the protest was handled.

It is important to explore the genesis of TLYP – a group of Barelvi religious organizations behind these protests. For decades, the Deobandi-Salafist groups championed the cause of violent jihad in Pakistan, while the Barelvi groups mostly remained apolitical and non-violent. However, unlike the common belief that only Deobandi-Salafist groups apostatize other sects, Barelvi literature is also rich with fatwas against the followers of other Islamic sects. One reason why Barelvi groups weren’t radicalized during the Afghan jihad is because the Saudi funding to fight the Soviet Union was directed towards Deobandi and Salafist groups due to their ideological affinity. However, over the past few years, Barelvi groups have gained significant political influence and street power.

Barelvi (Urduبَریلوِی‎, BarēlwīUrdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a term used for the movement following the SunniHanafi school of jurisprudence, originating in Bareilly with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[1] The name derives from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of its founder and main leader Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921).[2][3][4][5][6] Although Barelvi is the commonly used term in the media and academia, the followers of the movement often prefer to be known by the title of Ahle Sunnat wa Jama’at, (Urduاہل سنت وجماعت‎) or as Sunnis, a reference to their perception as forming an international majority movement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barelvi

Since then, Qadri, a Barelvi himself, became the poster boy for Barelvi religious groups. They now champion the ishq-i-rasool (love for the prophet), and remain at the forefront of anti-blasphemy campaigning in Pakistan. The much-needed catalyst to bring their followers on the streets was the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri to death. TLYP was born out of the protests against Qadri’s death. The current leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi gained fame through his fiery speeches against the government.

Unlike the several militant outfits which turned on the military after Pakistan decided to aid the United States’ war on terror in Afghanistan, TLYP focuses its criticism on the civilian government, and not the military. Unlike the Deobandis and Salafis, experts say, Barelvi leaders pose as pro-army and pro-state, who want themselves affiliated with the army, thus giving an impression that everything they are doing is lawful.

This stands true in the current fiasco as well, when General Qamar Bajwa reportedly refused to deploy the military to disperse the protestors, saying “they are our people”. Now that a deal has been struck between the government and the protestors with the arbitration of an ISI Major General, and Law minister Zahid Hamid has resigned, several questions arise: why did an ISI General act as an arbitrator between the government and protestors? If the government was willing to accept the protestors’ demand, why wait for three weeks? Perhaps, the military pressurized the government to accept the protestors’ demands.

The deal itself has been subject to severe criticism by various quarters, with leading commentators describing it as “surrender”. Unfortunately, such deals were struck with the likes of TTP leaders Mullah Fazlullah in Swat and Nek Muhammad in Waziristan, but ultimately, the state had to launch military operations against them.

If one was to learn from those experiences, accepting the demands of an outlawed group is acknowledging them as stakeholders, which only worsens the situation. With this deal as well, the government conformed to the outrageous demands of a small group of protestors – setting another very bad precedent.

Now that someone’s faith is subject to suspicion by a mob, it is clear the mob won’t stop with Zahid Hamid. According to some reports, Punjab Law minister Rana Sanaullah needs to testify his belief in the finality of Prophethood in front of some clerics. If this continues, no one even with a slightly dissenting opinion will be able to live peacefully in Pakistan.

However, there is another important factor to be considered. The military in Pakistan has a history of using religious groups to further their agenda. Currently, the establishment is working hard to destroy the PML(N) votebank ahead of the 2018 general elections. What better way to do so but pitting Barelvism – a large part of the Pakistani population adheres to this school of thought – against the PML(N) ?

The signs have been there. In the recent by-elections for the National Assembly seat vacated by the disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, TLYP received more than 7,000 votes, while the Milli Muslim League – a political front of the banned LeT (or JuD) – received more than 5,500 votes. Both parties built their campaigns based solely on anti-PML(N) rhetoric.

One reason the military establishment is now relying on Barelvi groups is because the previous “assets” have now become a liability. Pakistan faces continuous pressure from the international community for not acting against terror groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or its previous incarnation, the Lashkar-e-Toiba. By using the Barelvi groups, over an issue as sensitive as blasphemy, the military establishment might be preparing alternative assets to be deployed against their political rivals in Pakistan. The public perception after the government crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. Pakistan’s ultra-conservative population believe they were fighting for a noble cause.

The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year, but at a hefty cost. A dangerous precedent has been set, and the majority Muslim sect has been weaponized. History is repeating itself in Pakistan.

Umer Ali is an award-winning Pakistani journalist who has reported extensively on terrorism, blasphemy, and human rights. He tweets @iamumer1
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Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

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Blasphemy Uproar in Pakistan: Drive to Halt Insults Against Islam Gains Political Clout in Pakistan — “This is a mini revolution.”

December 3, 2017

Anti-blasphemy uprising in majority sect wins influence through protests, prosecutions

Protesters chanted slogans at their protest site in Islamabad, Pakistan on Nov. 27.Photo: CAREN FIROUZ/Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—An emerging religious movement is gaining political clout in Pakistan around the incendiary issue of blasphemy, posing a particular challenge to the country’s leadership because it springs from the country’s mainstream Islamic sect.

Religious activists led by a cleric with a weeks-old political party besieged Pakistan’s capital in late November and forced the government to give in to all of their demands, including promises of stricter implementation of blasphemy laws.

“This is a mini revolution,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on religious extremism.

The anti-blasphemy wave, supported by vigilantism and political activism, is reviving religious strife in the society and politics of Pakistan, which is gradually surfacing from a decadelong struggle with Islamist terrorism.

This time the conflict comes not in militant attacks but an inquisition over who is a proper Muslim.

Khadim Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah political party, addresses the media during protests in Islamabad, on Nov. 27.Photo: caren firouz/Reuters

With national elections set to be held by September, the concessions to protesters last month underscored the threat that the movement could pose to Pakistan’s ruling party among voters and lawmakers, some of whom are threatening to leave the party over the issue.

Laws prohibiting blasphemy—statements or actions against Islam—have long been on the books in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. But there are more cases recorded in Pakistan, with harsher punishments, including a mandatory death penalty for using derogatory language about the Prophet Muhammad.

Anti-blasphemy campaigns are also growing in other parts of the Muslim world, including Indonesia, where a conservative party gained clout this year with accusations of blasphemy against the governor of Jakarta, who is Christian. He lost re-election, was convicted and is serving a two-year prison sentence.

In Pakistan, the new campaign was ignited by a February 2016 decision by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to execute a police officer, Mumtaz Qadri, who had shot dead a politician who had sought to make the blasphemy law less open to abuse. Some 300,000 people turned out for Mr. Qadri’s highly charged funeral.

Khadim Rizvi, then a little-known firebrand cleric at a small mosque in Lahore, seized on the moment, using social media to build a following and launch a group called Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, or Movement in Response to God’s Prophet’s Call.

A Pakistani security force helicopter patrols over the tomb of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in February 2016 for killing a politician who had sought to make Pakistan’s blasphemy laws less open to abuse, on the outskirts of Islamabad on March 1, one year after Mr. Qadri’s funeral.Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

In recent weeks, Mr. Rizvi made the group a political party, which came third in two by-elections, ahead of long-established parties.

“There’s a big conspiracy, coming from Europe, to take Pakistan towards liberalism,” Mr. Rizvi said in an interview in November. He said there can be no forgiveness for blasphemy, and no punishment for anyone who kills a blasphemer.

In November, Mr. Rizvi led a three-week sit-in protest in Islamabad to directly challenge the government and Mr. Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N party.

His group has drawn most of its followers from the Barelvi sect of Islam, which is followed by the majority of Pakistan’s population and has been largely moderate, resistant to the militancy spawned by purist forms of the religion. Mr. Rizvi represents one arm of a broader anti-blasphemy movement that isn’t yet unified, but is now organizing.

The U.S. had viewed the Barelvi as a moderate bulwark against militancy, and in 2009 gave a Barelvi group a $36,000 grant to organize a rally against the Pakistani Taliban, according to the State Department. That group, the Sunni Ittehad Council, is now also part of the anti-blasphemy movement.

The Barelvi venerate the Prophet Muhammad with an absolute devotion, making a perceived insult an inflammatory issue.

The funeral of Mashal Khan, a student who was killed by his classmates in April after he described himself as a “humanist,” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Rizvi is an upstart in the Barelvi world, which doesn’t have a single leader. But his influence is pushing the sect in a harder direction.

The head of a Barelvi seminary in Lahore said the message of tolerance he tries to teach to his students can’t compete with the fiery oratory they hear online from Mr. Rizvi.

An accusation of heresy in Pakistan can trigger a mob: In April, a university student who described himself as a humanist was beaten to death by other students in the northwest of the country. A later police investigation found no blasphemy had been committed by the student.

In the November protests in Islamabad, Mr. Rizvi’s group won concessions including the resignation of the law minister and positions for group representatives on the education boards that decide on the contents of school textbooks.

An editorial in Dawn, a leading daily newspaper, described the agreement as “a surrender so abject that the mind is numb and the heart sinks.”

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Tuesday said the deal “was not desirable but there was little choice,” as religious riots would have followed.

Members of Mr. Sharif’s party privately accuse the powerful military, which has long allied itself with radical religious clerics, of backing Mr. Rizvi’s protest to further weaken an administration that has been critical of the armed forces. The military didn’t respond to a request for comment, but has in recent years insisted it no longer interferes in politics.

Related

  • Pakistanis Throng Funeral of Man Hanged for Killing Critic of Blasphemy Laws
  • Curfews, Obligatory Prayers, Whippings: Hard-Line Islam Emerges in Indonesia
  • Pakistani Government’s Deal With Islamist Protesters Signals Weakening Stance

The blasphemy laws apply to Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan. In Punjab province, Mr. Sharif’s home region and the place where most blasphemy cases are registered, between 2011 and November 2017 there were 1,572 blasphemy charges filed, according to police figures.

The number of cases in Punjab had dropped after 2015 because of a procedural change that means only a senior police officer can now register a case, provincial officials said. A band of lawyers has organized to bring blasphemy prosecutions pro bono.

The blasphemy wave has spread watchfulness and paranoia. Cases are often concocted to settle personal scores, human-rights groups said.

Pakistan’s telecoms regulator has twice this year sent text messages to all cellphone users asking citizens to report blasphemy committed online. This year, a Muslim man was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court over a blasphemous Facebook post.

A professor of Urdu literature is currently on trial for blasphemy for asking his class, in a lesson on a poem on a religious theme, to consider whether the Quran’s description of heaven was to be taken literally or metaphorically.

“In my religion, there isn’t any room for ‘free speech’,” said Rao Abdul Rahim, an Islamabad-based lawyer who specializes in prosecuting alleged blasphemers.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/drive-to-halt-insults-against-islam-gains-political-clout-in-pakistan-1512216000

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Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters