Renowned Pakistani televangelist, Islamic scholar, and member of the National Assembly Aamir Liaquat Husain last week took a jab against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Sharif by mocking a Hindu deity on Twitter. The National Assembly member from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) used a doctored image of a Hindu goddess in a bid to degrade the PML-N leader, intrinsically attributing derogatory characteristics to the deity. While Husain has since deleted the tweet, and issued an apology, the incident is the latest reminder of the Islamist double standard of Pakistan’s stance on blasphemy and the correlated bloodthirsty laws.
In Pakistan, lives have been derailed, individuals burned alive, and entire colonies torched over false allegations of blasphemy against Islam. Unlike Husain, who didn’t even have to face any criminal inquiry for open sacrilege against Hinduism, those accused of blaspheming against Islam aren’t afforded the privilege of a retraction or apology. At least 75 have been extrajudicially killed, and hundreds imprisoned, over the intangible and victimless “crime” of sacrilege against Islam in Pakistan. The Islamist mob violence in the country is encouraged by gory blasphemy laws, which establish the capital punishment for outraging Islam alone, inherently relegating other religions and ideologies to the periphery of judicial egalitarianism and pushing non-Muslim minorities outside democratic bounds.
Over the past six months, Islamabad has been embroiled in an embarrassing diplomatic brawl with Paris, over the republication of Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures on Islam and the anti-separatism bill, culminating last week in the French foreign ministry issuing a reminder to Pakistan that all of France’s laws, past and present, are equally applicable to all religions. Pakistan’s diplomacy currently appears to be orchestrated by radical Islamist groups like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which in November had convinced the government to “boycott French products” and “expel the French ambassador” owing to blasphemous caricatures against Islam. The TLP’s policymaking positions include, but aren’t limited to, issuing death threats to makers of award winning Pakistani films, rallying for the genocide of the Ahmadiyya community and calling for the nuclear bomb to be dropped on France — all under the pretext of responding to blasphemy against Islam.
An especially damning exposé on Islamabad’s duplicitous blasphemy stance came on September 25 last year when Prime Minister Imran Khan was hypocritically lecturing the United Nations on Islamophobia, the same day a Pakistani man launched a terror attack on Charlie Hebdo’s former office and Hindu beliefs were openly mocked on national TV.
Proponents of a global blasphemy law designed to shield Islam often argue that Muslims never engage in sacrilege against the messengers of Christianity or Judaism, and hence other religions should similarly reciprocate with regards to Prophet Muhammad. This line of argument often fails to take into account Islam’s endorsement of Jesus and Moses as prophets of Allah, which intrinsically establishes their respect in synchrony with Islamic beliefs. Such courtesy is often discarded for non-Abrahamic religions, with Pakistan’s Hinduphobia being a prominent case in point.
In 2019, Punjab government spokesperson Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan was sacked for anti-Hindu bigotry and mocking Hinduism, but he was reinstated in the same position months later. Last year, an official banner affiliated with the PTI, carrying Imran Khan’s image, read “Hindu baat se nahi, laat se maanta hai” (“A Hindu doesn’t understand words, only kicks”).
A couple of days after Aamir Liaquat Husain’s mocking of Hinduism, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Siraj-ul-Haq reiterated that “Muslim money” can’t be used to build a Hindu place of worship. The JI chief’s statement has reignited the controversy that has stalled the construction of Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad since last year.
The resistance against the construction of Islamabad’s first ever Hindu temple is rooted in the institutionalized anti-Hindu bigotry in the country, which continues to be preached through school curricula and mosque sermons. The latter, coupled with the ubiquitous glorification of temple vandalizers in Pakistani history, folklore, and literature, often rile up mobs to desecrate Hindu places of worship. Over 95 percent of pre-Partition Hindu temples in Pakistan no longer exist.
Underage Hindu girls are also the primary victims of the annual 1,000 forced conversions to Islam in Pakistan. These forced conversions, just like blasphemy lynchings, are rooted in the Islamist supremacy upheld by the Pakistani Constitution.
The large-scale disregard in Pakistan for religious matters outside of those mandated by orthodox Islam can also be witnessed in anti-Christian bigotry, which makes it hard to preach Christianity, or the widespread anti-Semitism, underscoring how Islamist tolerance for “people of the book” also has its prejudicial limits. Elsewhere, dissenting or divergent Muslim beliefs — or lack thereof — also trigger the blasphemy law for many, as exhibited by Pakistan’s acquiescence to anti-Shia politics, outlawing of Ahmadiyya Islam, or the upholding of death for apostasy and atheism. The country has even witnessed blasphemy cases for the assertion that “all religions are equal.”
Indeed, should a global blasphemy law be implemented, Pakistan would be among the worst culprits of sacrilege against all beliefs contradicting orthodox Islam, along with its existing status as a chief denier of religious freedom.
Of course, any law censoring critique of religion curbs the fundamentals of free speech. However, when a country upholds religious supremacism, elevates one religion over others, and shields it with the death penalty, the first step is to establish the equality of all faiths — and lack thereof — before law.
For Pakistan, establishing the legal equality of Islam and Hinduism would right many of the country’s wrongs of the past seven decades. It would also help overcome the communal hatred that became the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s creation and pave the way for a pluralistic and prosperous future.