Lahore, Pakistan, JUNE 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- An Islamist politcal party in Pakistan has called on the country’s Supreme Court to investigate “blasphemous” and “pornographic” passages of the Bible, appealing to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. In response, the Catholic bishop of Lahore has appealed to the faithful to resist this provocation and asked for prayer and patience.
The Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami party held a press conference at a mosque in the city of Lahore in which the party leader, Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, criticized certain passages of the bible that portrayed some prophets as sinners, guilty of “a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures.”
Although Islam considers Old and New Testament figures to be part of their own spiritual tradition, Farooqi objects to their portrayal in the Bible as sinners, citing the story of King David’s adultery and facilitation of the killing of Bathsheba’s husband as an example.
The party has informally petitioned the Supreme Court of Pakistan to declare certain Biblical passages “blasphemous” and also announced that their lawyers would appeal for a formal banning of the Bible in Pakistan if the Court fails to meet their demands. Farooqi declared the campaign to be a direct response to the controversial Gainsville, Florida, pastor Terry Jones’ Koran-burning episode in March.
That same month a Pakistani man tried to burn a copy of the Bible in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore but was stopped at the gates by guards and proceeded to burn his copy there.
Bishop Shaw said the party’s campaign was unlikely to succeed as a majority of Pakistani Muslims respect the Christian Bible.
In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Shaw cautioned his people against responding to this clear provocation: “We must be wise and instead ask people to pray for us, to remember us before God.”
Bishop Shaw explained that this provocation has increased the tensions that the Church in Pakistan faces on a daily basis, and that those tensions would only multiply if Church leaders reacted strongly to the initiative. His flock has been “very shocked” by the party’s claims, the bishop said. “If we want to make an issue out of it, it will certainly become one,” the bishop said, “”What we need right now is prayers and patience.”
The Anglican bishop of Lahore, Reverend John Malik, issued a statement reminding lawmakers that giving into the party’s demands would violate the religious freedom guaranteed in the Pakistani constitution. The aim of the ban-the-Bible campaign is to sow discord among different communities, the bishop said.
Pakistan’s blasphemy against Islam laws have endangered Christian’s freedom to worship and even to simply live without fear of attack several times in the recent past, the most famous example being the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian farm laborer who was accused of blasphemy by some of her co-workers and sentenced to death by hanging. Bibi’s case has been appealed but her family has had to go into hiding to save their lives.
Even those non-Christians who defended Bibi and criticized the blasphemy law have paid the ultimate price: in January the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by his body guard for his support of the law’s repeal and for Bibi’s pardon.
Benedict XVI has repeatedly called for the law to be repealed, describing it as a pretext for violence against minorities. “The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction,” the Pope said in January.
In response to these papal remarks, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the same political party that is now calling for a Bible ban said then: “The Pope has given a statement today that has not only offended the 180 million Muslims in Pakistan, it has also hurt the sentiments of the entire Islamic world. This is an interference in Pakistan’s internal matters. … We respect the Pope, being head of Christians and their religion, but he should also refrain from interfering in Muslims’ religious affairs.”
The blasphemy law sentences those convicted of desecration against the Qur’an to a life sentence or death. In March, the only Christian in the Pakistani federal government, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated. He served as the minorities minister, and was respected across the political and religious spectrum in the Pakistani government.
Fear and emotions are running high following the party’s press release, Bishop Shaw reported, but he is cautioning his flock to take the prudent path: “Problems like this are happening one after the other. If we give the right response, the matter will die away just like any other debate that suddenly flares up.”