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Mind your own religion


I found it an interesting read and thought it should be shared with my readers. The figure of 108,000 is huge and impressive when it is meant the number of those who have converted to Islam (by choice?) since 1989 by a man who was once a Hindu. In the town of Matli of Badin district, Sindh, Deen Mohammad Shaikh, a 70-year-old, wishes to see the entire world becoming Muslim.

Frankly, he did not inspire me as his wish hurts my ‘perfect world’ philosophy which shapes a way to the coexistence of all human beings with different faiths, creeds, ideologies, and cultures. I have not intended to comment on this for the sake of just criticism, but the disappointment has provoked me to share those resentful feelings.  The mindset of “Muslims winning, ruling the world” has a deep meaningful connection to Muslims psychological euphoria of being “superior.” The superiority which they have inherited from their glorious history which has created winners and conquerors is a push that keeps the fire burning.

I would wait till the day when a Hindu or, for that matter, a Christian decides to convert Muslims and Muslims all over the world will go gaga, protesting, burning properties, and killing people from other religions. Hold on, how easily the great Pakistani Muslims have chosen to forget the hard work they have put in harassing, intimidating and killing Ahmaids, Christians, Hindus and many more?

The only Muslim and Pakistani Nobel laureate was Abdus Salam who won it for his work on the electroweak unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces in 1979. No one else since then has reached to that level of excellence, and brought fame to this country, but he, too, suffered from the hate and negligence from this ‘religion stricken country’. His crime was that he was a proud Ahmadi. We bask in the glory of Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi, but ignore the existing pride out of our extreme bias, hatred and prejudice for those whose beliefs are different. Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi are past and I am not fully convinced if they are my heroes, but Abdus Salam certainly is. This country needs more of such people and their religion is not my business.

I stop here, enjoy the read….

 MATLI: Such are Deen Mohammad Shaikh’s powers of persuasion that he has converted 108,000 people to Islam since 1989, the year he left his birth religion Hinduism behind.

His multi-coloured business card describes the Matli dweller as the president of the Jamia Masjid Allah Wali and Madrassa Aisha Taleem-ul Quran – an institute for conversions to Islam.

The reedy 70-year-old brandishes an embellished cane. A red-and-white keffeiyah perched on his shoulder offers people a hint to his theological leanings.

As he speaks to The Express Tribune, his arm slices an invisible arc through the air. He is gesturing to a vast expanse of nine acres of donated land where converts are invited to pitch a tent and stay. “My heartfelt wish is that the entire world becomes Muslim,” comes his response, when asked about the en masse conversions. His piety is matched only by its ambition.

But contrary to the grandiose proclamation, this preacher isn’t a repository of rehearsed sound bites. It is only after he settles down on a charpoy that he deigns to embark on the journey of a Hindu named Jhangli who became an expert in evangelism.

“I always loved Islam,” he begins. “I read the Holy Quran and realised that 360 gods were not of any use to me.”

At first he had to study the Holy Quran in secret. There was the risk of being misunderstood if a Muslim caught him with the holy book. He started fasting and in fact he would begin a day before Ramazan started.

Shaikh’s mother grew alarmed at her son’s forays into another faith. She thought that if she married him off, he would not ‘leave’. Thus, he was barely 15 when his wedding took place, followed by a quick overtaking by nature – four girls and eight boys.

But despite this, he was drawn back to his curiosity and managed to find a teacher, Sain Mohammad Jagsi, who instructed him in the Holy Quran and Hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

Fortunately, Shaikh’s uncle was of the same mind and the two men agreed that they would give each other the strength. Shaikh held off until his daughter was married to a Hindu as planned, since he had already “given his word”. Then there was no turning back.

After his conversion, Deen Mohammad Shaikh made it his mission to woo others. He began in his own backyard, preaching to family, before venturing beyond this comfort zone. Encounters with the rich and powerful helped pave the way. Retired Pakistan Army general Sikandar Hayat, who owns a sugar mill in Matli, offered Shaikh money, which he turned down. Instead, he urged Hayat to give jobs to some of the new converts. Hayat and his daughter proved extremely helpful in providing assistance.

Now, Shaikh says, his fame has spread and people come to him from as far as Balochistan, members of all religions and sects, who would like to convert. A small mosque has sprung up in his residential compound along with a number of rooms where children – mostly girls – are taught how to say their prayers and recite the Holy Quran.

One of the teachers is 14-year-old Sakina, who is just 15 days into the job. “Only a few students are difficult to teach,” she says while commenting on their ability to recite a text in an unknown language.

Shaikh is aware of the difficulties converts face while taking on what appear to be the initially daunting rigours of a brand new system. He makes life easy for the first 40 days. “They only have to pray farz!” he says while referring to the mandatory parts. This relaxed schedule ensures that they can ‘confirm their faith’. He understands that if he demanded they start out with praying five times a day to offer even the optional and ‘bonus’ parts, “They would run away!” as he puts it with a look of mock horror on his face.

Other than this, he is reluctant to actually explain how he influences the people. All he offers is a nugget of fire and brimstone: “I tell them that I was a Hindu too and that they would burn in Hell if they are not Muslim.”

More than saving a soul

There are other practical considerations that accompany conversions. In order to ‘save’ the converts from influential Hindus in other districts, Shaikh packs them off to Hub Chowk while the Kalima is still moist on their lips. “Their families would beat them up (for converting) otherwise,” he explains.

This trick of the ‘trade’ he learnt from personal experience. He alleges that he was kidnapped along with his daughter-in-law by influential Hindus who threatened him so that he would stop converting people. “They don’t want these poor Hindus to stand up to them when they become Muslims,” Shaikh maintains.

Despite 108,000 conversions, for which a record is kept, Shaikh still doesn’t feel his work is done. He wants everyone to be a Muslim and learn from his example. He also attends the Tablighi Jamaat’s annual congregation in Raiwind, although he doesn’t believe in sectarian divisions. “All groups are like brothers to me,” he declares.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2012.

 

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Hindus, minorities

 

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Love thy neighbours?


It has been ages since I last wrote a blog. My apologies for this pause, longer than what I have expected. It was fair to assume that either I have lost interest or my cause has met some success. But I still have no reason to choose either of the options. It was time for me to sit back and ensure that I am still committed despite having no signs of improvement in the status of those people I strongly feel for. But as majority decided to side with violators; likewise, the victims and their supporters decided to continue fighting for their rights.

There is a long list of things I would like to share with my readers, but a report published in a newspaper has just caught my attention. Siddique Sindhu, a Christian Pastor, who lives in Green Town of Lahore, has been receiving threats from a neighbor who, he suspects, of having involved in two robberies. Sindhu lost 0.8 million rupees goods, including jewelry and dowry for his two daughters in those robberies. Muhammad Aslam Shah, the accused, has rented his house out to around 30 boys whom he used to harass the family of Sindhu. The question here is that why he has done it and what he could achieve through harassment and robbery except creating an environment for Sindhu not conducive to live peacefully.

His wish to grab the land where Sindhu’s house is built right now was behind it in a hope to build an imam bargah later. This all has started in the year of 2009 and since then Sindhu and his family has suffered an immeasurable damage both in terms of money and peace of mind.  The accused, though, has denied all charges saying that his 28 tenants were arrested on Sindhu’s complaints, but no evidence was found against them. He is sure of his tenants’ innocence as they swore on the Holy Quran. Sindhu said that one Safdar, had introduced himself as reader to a police superintendent, told him on 15 July to withdraw the complaints or else he would implicate Sindhu’s sons in criminal cases and also get Sindhu in the legal trap of blasphemy.

Waqar Ahmed, the Lahore chapter president of National Peace Committee for Interfaith Harmony is personally looking into the matter and interviewing the neighbours to establish the facts. The response from the neighbours is encouraging and loaded with sympathies for Sindhu and they are hopeful that it will not be a case of Muslims vs. Christians.

Here I have put all the facts and the point being made here is not to determine the righteousness of anyone based on his/her religion. There is a possibility that Sindhu has overreacted to any event, but here it is a string of threatening events. My personal observations suggests that keeping in mind the current status quo of Christians, no one would dare to give a reason to the majority to single him out. Sindhu is alone in his fight for justice knowing that his position in the society being a Christian will always be challenged. He still has taken the tough route despite threats and harassment and this strengthens my belief that all cannot be a lie.

Sindhu is mindful of threats doled out to him but he is still pursuing the case. The blasphemy does strike anyone like a real threat because it has swallowed many lives, and inefficient legal system has given teeth to this law as well. Whatever has happened to hundreds of people behind this legal shield is enough to scare people away and stop them from any sort of resistance against injustice. The issues have always involved property and land grabbing from people of other religions and blasphemy gives them an excuse to hide their intentions. I want to believe his neighbours who do not take it as Muslims targeting a Christian, but simultaneously I cannot outrageously ignore the logic in Sindhu’s argument.

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Blasphemy, Christians

 

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Minorities suffer beyond borders…


The Church after the attack

I am not writing it in defence of this country-Pakistan- or presenting any justification of what abnormality the country has shown towards the minorities. But a broader picture of the injustice committed against the marginalized sections of the society suggests that Pakistan has joined the ship where other countries including the Arab world also do their bit.

The clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo have given the country a tough time, leaving 51 people injured, according to the health ministry. The week-long clashes broke out following an attack on two churches which has taken 12 precious lives.

Attacking churches does not sound new to our ears as we have seen it happening in Pakistan for multiple reasons. The comparison I am drawing here that the root cause of this attack happened far away in Egypt is found here commonly and has flared up people’s emotions to the extent that they burnt Christians alive in past. Some Muslims in Cairo surrounded the church demanding Christians to hand over a woman, they said Christians had detained after she converted to Islam and left her Christian husband to marry a Muslim.

In protest, when Christians were staging a sit-in outside the state television building, an altercation between a Muslims and Christians has further intensified the situation. A protest mourning the killing of 12 people brought injuries to 51 other people. It is not a good situation and the queasy feeling it has stirred are hard to counter. The danger for something worse is now lurking in the minds and hearts of 10 to 15 million of Christians in Egypt who are called Copt.

Christians clash with police and Muslims

Religion is not a property which empowers anyone enough to decide others fate and assigns his new role as a custodian of any religion. Muslims must prepare themselves of letting go of the feeling that they are somewhat ‘superior’ because God has sent them the last Holy Book—Quran.  There is no Jabar, force, allowed when one preaches religion as your actions speak louder than words. The precedent the Islamic world is setting is unacceptable because a ‘perfect world’ does not exist. A world only for Muslims will again not bring any solution because they themselves are divided and any new sect is enough to challenge their little kingdom they are building on the blood of innocent people.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13403504

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Christians

 

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OBL: The Church is scared…


Osama Bin Laden– a nightmare for the US, but a pal for many including a lot of Pakistanis–is dead. The man has left many conspiracy theories behind him and a whole debate on future bilateral relationship of the US and Pakistan. Many mourned his death in a manner one could do for his loved ones whereas many kept assuming the possibilities with much skepticism. This is how Pakistanis must have felt generally, but a country where its minorities are victimized for every sin, their fear of a possible backlash is genuine.

What is true has no significance here that those Pakistanis who believe in other religions and sects have no direct link to this killing which determines their zero share in the punishment too. But in the land of ifs and buts, the Christians have a feeling that Taliban tend to attack their churches as acts of vengeance. Taliban and many ordinary citizens would look at the ‘OBL operation’ as an invasion in a Muslim country which offers an excuse to announce Jihad against Christians.

The concern for the safety of Christians in Pakistanis high and explained very well by the Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha. “Christians could face a backlash and we are a soft target as they cannot attack America. We demand security. The government should control any retaliation,” he said.

The bigger picture tells that the government and for that matter any institute lack a will to protect the worship places of other religions, let alone the Christians. The backlash nightmare is turning into reality and people regardless of their religion are being killed. The churches, mosques, mandirs, and gurdwaras including their followers are still vulnerable and if the government decides to provide these places with security.  I doubt if it could be of any help.

But the situation in Gujranwala indicates that something is cooking and that isolates Christians only. The Quran burning so far has proven the most powerful and effective excuse when the mob decides to take revenge or settle the scores. Same happened in this case too. The blasphemy laws strike again when two men– Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh– were taken into police custody for questioning and found guilty. Muslims have reacted angrily, held protests and vandalized Christian homes and a school. Some 3,000 Christians have fled the area fearing for their lives and the police failed to control the situation.

I tried to imagine other possible outlets through which the Muslims could react, but I could only come up with the accusations of blasphemy. It is a successful recipe to flare up people emotions and one does not need to present evidences to prove the offense. The police quietly succumb to the pressure and let go of the investigation part, the little blasphemy laws allow. Osama has gone and I believe the world will not fall apart without him. The US and Pakistan will eventually normalize the relationship as world believes in coexistence. Neither OBL nor the US will ever come to your rescue but those who share the same country, culture, and traditions will be on your side. Do not isolate your own people even if they believe in other Holy Books. They are and will always be Pakistanis.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Blasphemy, Christians

 

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Bhatti killing pushes Pakistan closer to the brink


Minority Rights Group International: Jared Ferrie

The assassination of Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities, Shabaz Bhatti, who was brutally killed Wednesday on the streets of Islamabad, was described as an attack on “the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the only Christian member of the Pakistani government, the Vatican also considered it timely to comment, calling his death an act of “violence against Christians and religious freedom”.

While it is true that for decades Hindus and Christians, along with Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims have suffered persecution in Pakistan, it is necessity to delineate these statements. After all, Bhatti’s death not only speaks to the obvious and continued stranglehold that Islamic extremism has on the Pakistani government, but also, the consequences of its continued influence on the country’s educated middle-class, judiciary and military.

In a claim of responsibility, Taliban spokesmen stated that Bhatti’s murder was a message to Pakistanis of all backgrounds who oppose the country’s long-standing blasphemy law. Introduced in the 1970s, the controversial law makes insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or the Prophet Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Critics claim, however, that it is often used to justify the persecution of minorities.

The real problem facing the Pakistani government over the last forty years is that, while radical Islamic groups enjoy periods of safe haven in the northern tribal regions of the country, they have also proven to be something the country’s ruling elite just cannot rid themselves of internally. Bhatti’s murder joins what has become a tradition of extremists killing liberal politicians at will, and follows the January murder of liberal Punjabi governor, Slaman Tasser, who was killed by his one of his own bodyguards.

Though Islamists have done very poorly in Pakistani elections, the country’s moderates do very little to publicly criticize these types of violent crimes. Further, while Pakistan’s military and intelligence community (ISI) claim to be rigorously hunting down terrorists domestically, Afghan Taliban groups continue to enjoy permanent operating residency in the notorious border region of North Waziristan.

With so much US military financing benefitting Pakistan, the epicenter of the global confrontation with radical Islam, the question remains: has terrorism in these countries become a cash crop? And if so, to what extant is the incompetence, indifference and corruption that allows it to continue to flourish there become an exploitable resource for its leaders?

Trevor Westra is a graduate of Canada’s Laurentian University in Religious Studies. He writes frequently on politics, globalization and the intersections of religion and history at his blog The Theo Log.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Assassinations, Blasphemy, minorities

 

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The Pakistan killings are not about blasphemy


Guardian, Nick Cohen

After Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, religious “scholars” doubted whether the Ayatollah Khomeini had the right to order his murder. They had no liberal qualms about executing a writer for subjecting religion to imaginative scrutiny. They believed that blasphemers and apostates must die as their religion insisted. But only if they were citizens of an Islamic state. As Rushdie was living in London in 1989, a free man in a free country, the clerics concluded that religious law did not apply to him.

The Rushdie controversy was the Dreyfus affair of the late 20th century. It established today’s dividing lines between the secular and the authoritarian, between those who were willing to defend freedom of thought and inquiry and those who wanted to censor and self-censor to keep fanatics happy. We can gauge how low we have sunk by remembering that at the start of the battle 23 years ago there was a tiny regard for the forms of legality, even among those who were otherwise happy to condemn free thinkers to death. However brutal they were, they respected their version of due process.

The Islamist murders first of Salmaan Taseer and then of Shahbaz Bhatti show that what tiny scruples blood-soaked men possessed vanished long ago. The best way to describe the terror which is reducing Pakistani liberals to silence is to enumerate what the assassins did not allege. They did not say that Taseer and Bhatti must die because they were apostates – or, to put that “crime” in plain language, because they were adults who decided they no longer believed in the Muslim god. Taseer had not renounced Islam. Bhatti could not renounce it as he was the bravest Christian in Pakistan, who campaigned for equal rights for persecuted minorities with the dignity and physical courage of a modern Martin Luther King.

Nor did their assassins claim that their targets had committed the capital crime of blasphemy. Taseer and Bhatti had not said that the Koran, like the Talmud and the New Testament, was the work of men not god. They did not denounce Muhammad’s morality or offer any criticism of his life and teaching. If you wanted to reduce the whirling, brilliant narrative of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to a single sentence, you could say that it was in part a “blasphemous” account of the early history of Islam. Taseer and Bhatti attempted nothing so brave. They confined themselves to making the modest point that Pakistan’s death penalty for blasphemy was excessive and barbaric, and that was enough to condemn them. Their killers murdered them for the previously unknown crime of advocating law reform: blew them away for the new offence of blaspheming against blasphemy.

One Pakistani journalist I spoke to described his fellow liberals as members of a persecuted minority, who now knew that if they spoke out, they would be shot down. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, Shehrbano, wrote a heartbreaking piece for the Guardian in which she despaired of a “spineless” Pakistani elite that was too frightened to praise her father or condemn his murderers.

In the networked world, censorship by the authoritarian state or clerical paramilitaries is meant to matter less. Technology enthusiasts can point to Twitter revolutions as proof of how emancipatory democratic ideas seep into apparently closed societies. But the ideas that Pakistanis need from America, Europe or “the west” to help fight armed theocracy are not there for surfers to find.

Fear plays its part in keeping western opinion quiet as well. It is hard to credit, but liberal society responded pretty well to the threat to Rushdie in 1989. Penguin refused to withdraw the Satanic Verses. Booksellers ignored threats and bombs and carried on selling it. But once the global wave of terror had passed, no one wanted to put themselves through what Rushdie and Penguin had been through, and a silence descended. Even the supposedly militant “new atheists,” whom genteel commentators damn for their vulgarity, steer clear of religions that might kill them. Close readers of Richard Dawkins will notice that almost all his examples of clerical folly are drawn from the Catholic and American evangelical churches, whose congregations are unlikely to firebomb his publishers.

The fear is still present. Last month, four men were convicted of slashing the face and fracturing the skull of Gary Smith, a London teacher who had made the mistake of taking the windy official pronouncements about “promoting diversity” seriously and taught Muslim girls about Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Political violence comes from the British National Party, English Defence League and various splinter groups from the IRA, as well as Islamists, and that is before you raise your gaze and examine the assorted gun-totting crazies who inhabit the fringe of American politics.

The difference between Islamism and the rest is that liberals are happy to denounce white extremists, while covering up militant Islam with the wet blanket of political correctness. They do not confine themselves to saying that, of course, society must protect people from being murdered for their religion, as Slobodan Milosevic murdered the Bosnian Muslims, and punish employers who refuse jobs to members of creeds they dislike, as Protestant employers in Northern Ireland once refused to hire Catholics. They maintain it is illicit to criticise religious ideas. Thus, along with the admittedly faint fear of violence, western writers who want to provide arguments against religious misogyny, homophobia, racism and censorship must also live with the fear that their contemporaries will accuse them of orientalism or Islamophobia.

The world may pay a price for the monumental blunder of treating religious ideologies – which are beliefs that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject – as if they were ethnicities, which no man or woman can change. Not the smallest reason why the Arab revolution is such an optimistic event is that al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have been left as gawping bystanders. Their isolation cannot last. Eventually, if Arab states move towards democracy, there will be a confrontation with political Islam. Arab liberals, like Pakistani liberals, will search the net for guidance. They will discover that far from offering strategies that might help, timorous western liberals have convinced themselves that it is “racist” to criticise raging fanatics who no longer even bother to pretend that they are anything other than liberalism’s mortal enemies.

 
 

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A tribute to Salman Taseer: We will continue our struggle…


Salman Taseer in a press conference with Aasia Bibi (r), his wife (c) and his daughter (L)

The country in 2011 has lost a brave, liberal and outspoken politician-Governor Punjab, Salman Taseer–who did what no one else could do. In December, 2010, I got a chance of meeting him and when asked about his bold step of supporting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, he was still determined and confident of his faith as a Muslim and also of what he thought of blasphemy law. He wanted President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Aasia Bibi for the crime she never committed. Blasphemy law, he called, ‘a black law’ saying I do not like it. But since then we all went gaga and assumed his support for Aasia as his disrespect to Holy Prophet (PBUH) but that made me wonder how illogical we are in our assumptions.

I have some questions in my mind with a hope I will ever get their answers. Who commits blasphemy? Those hawkers who throw newspapers at our doorsteps with the name of God and Prophet on the front page? The police and lawyers who repeat thousands of times those blasphemous remarks in police stations and courts to prove their point against the accused?  And why this blasphemy law is not applied when disrespect is shown for other religions and Prophets?

NO one had the guts to raise Aasia issue, only Salman Taseer could do so. It is a shame when Dr. Sahibzada Abu-al-Khair Muhammad Zubair from JUP said on Geo that no Muslim should mourn his (Salman) death because he supported a woman who committed blasphemy. Salman Taseer rightly said that this is a man made law.

Criticising a law which some people have made for their vested interests does not mean disrespect to Prophet (PBUH). The blame of this murder should be shared by all those religious parties, extremist forces, and orthodox who either stayed quiet when death threats were made to the Governor, or who provoked those who finally did it in the broad day light.

Slman Taseer was neither an amazing politician, nor a perfect governor but he was liberal and never a hypocrite which is not a trait of a good politician.  He had never been a supporter of any cause despite all his liberal views, but he died for a cause. Those who thought that this murder  is enough to silent all dissenting voices have to face disappointment now. It will create many Salman Taseer’s because we all own this country. We refuse to hand it over to any extremist religious, or ideological force. We have a right to life and we refuse to be killed for our views. 

Insecure cowards need bullets but brave live and die for their beliefs. Islam and Prophet (PBUH) do not need these so called watch guards who are foolish in assuming that they are here to protect Islam and Prophet (PBUH). It is a war now which we have to fight for our survival, humanity and Pakistan.

Below are some stories and Interview of Salman Taseer:

Governor Punjab Salman Taseer killed in gun attack
Dawn, 4 January, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Gunmen killed the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, a senior member of the ruling party, in Islamabad on Tuesday, his spokesman said.

“Yes, he has died,” said the spokesman for Salman Taseer.

Police official Mohammad Iftikhar said Taseer was gunned down by one of his elite security force protectors. Five other people were wounded as other security personnel responded to the attack.

Police said earlier Taseer had been shot nine times and wounded near his Islamabad home in the F6 sector and close to Kohsar market, a popular shopping and cafe spot frequented by wealthy Pakistanis and expatriates.

Another police official, Hasan Iqbal, said a pair of witnesses told the police that as the governor was leaving his vehicle, a man from his security squad fired at him. Taseer then fell, while other police officials fired on the attacker.

In recent days, as the People’s Party has faced the loss of its coalition partners, the 56-year-old Taseer has insisted that the government will survive. But it was his stance against the blasphemy laws that apparently led to his killing.

Interior Minister Rahman Malik told reporters that the suspect in the case had surrendered to police and told them he killed Taseer because “the governor described the blasphemy laws as a black law.”

Taseer was believed to be meeting someone for a meal, Malik said. Other members of his security detail were being questioned, Malik said.

The security for Taseer was provided by the Punjab government.

“We will see whether it was an individual act or someone had asked him” to do it, Malik said of the attacker.

“He was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities,” said a crying Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Zardari and friend of Taseer. “God, we will miss him.”

Newsline Interview:

Q: Why did you take up Aasiya Bibi’s case?

A: Aasiya Bibi’s case is particularly relevant. She is a woman who has been incarcerated for a year-and-a half on a charge trumped up against her five days after an incident where people who gave evidence against her were not even present. So this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged, and all I did was to show my solidarity. It is the first time in the history of the Punjab that a governor has gone inside a district jail, held a press conference and stated clearly that this is a blatant miscarriage of justice and that the sentence that has been passed is cruel and inhumane. I wanted to take a mercy petition to the president, and he agreed, saying he would pardon Aasiya Bibi if there had indeed been a miscarriage of justice.

Q: When do you expect the president to issue the pardon?

A: The case will come before the High Court and be heard, and if for any grotesque reason the judgement of the Sheikhupura district judge is upheld, then she will be given a presidential pardon.

Q: You have been criticised for circumventing the legal process.

A: Yes, particularly by a television talk show host. I would like to ask that host if some maulvi accused her of blasphemy and she spent a year-and-a half in jail and was then offered a presidential pardon, would she turn around and say, “no wait until my appeal has been heard.” This kind of ‘mummy daddy’ approach is probably fine for others, but I wonder if she would apply it to herself. I don’t think I have circumvented anything; all I have done is to draw everyone’s attention to this case. I have also showed my solidarity with minority communities who are being targeted by this law and, in doing so, I have sent across a strong message.

I have received thousands of messages from people from all walks of life. The result can only be good. This law that no one dared speak about is now being discussed, criticised and its repeal sought. I have heard anchors, journalists, members of civil society, people like Ghamdi, Imran Khan even Rana Sanaullah and many more saying amendments are required. The important thing to remember is that this is a man-made law, not a God-made one. What I find particularly distasteful is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder.

Q: Do you advocate repeal of those provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code better known as the Blasphemy Law?

A: If you want my personal opinion, I don’t like this law at all. I understand we are working in a coalition government and that being the case what we can do is to amend the law in such a way that the maker of a false accusation is tried under the same law. There should also be a proper filtration process where someone like a DCO should confirm that there is a case to answer. This will help ensure that pressure from maulvis and fanatics does not result in the victimisation of helpless people. One of the maulvis demonstrating against me said that they killed Arif Iqbal Bhatti, a judge who released someone accused of blasphemy. Surely, at the very least, he should be tried for incitement to murder.

Q: Yes, but the perpetrators get away…

A: The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.

Q: Babar Awan, the federal law minister, has said there is no question of repealing the law on his watch. How do you respond to that?

A: Well, I do not agree with Babar Awan, it is as simple as that. That opinion is not a majority opinion in the party. Sherry Rehman has tabled a bill to amend the PPC. Most people in this country – and I am not talking about the lunatic fringe – are moderate. They do not like this law and have demonstrated against it.

Q: Will the PPP support Sherry Rehman’s effort?

A: President Zardari is a liberal, modern man; most people I know in the PPP are liberal and modern. I think the MQM, ANP and most of those in the PML-Q have the same point of view. So if push came to shove and there is no bowing to pressure from the lunatic maulvi, then it can very easily go through. And I think if Nawaz Sharif will show a little bit of moral courage for a change and keep away from his constituency of religious fundamentalism and place himself on middle ground, that too would be a very positive thing. This amendment should come through not on a party basis but across party lines. So you vote with your conscience.

Q: People may have demonstrated against Aasiya Bibi’s sentence, but fatwas have been issued against you.

A: People also issued fatwas against Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They issued fatwas against basant. These are a bunch of self-appointed maulvis who no one takes seriously. The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? How many businessmen? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50% of them are Christians when they form less than 2% of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.

Q: How do you think the media has handled this issue?

A: I am very impressed. Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.

Q: What kind of perverse pleasure is there in oppressing the weak and vulnerable?

A: Unfortunately and sadly there are people who feel bigger when they pick on someone who cannot fight back. It’s called bullying. I went to Sheikhupura jail to stand up against a bully and it has encouraged others to do so as well. That’s what taking a moral stance is. I am honestly happy to say that I am heartened by the huge response from ordinary folk. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. Ghamdi, for example, has stated clearly that this has nothing to do with Islam – Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.

Taseer to take Aasia’s clemency appeal to president
ExpressTribune

ISLAMABAD: Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer has said that he would take the clemency appeal of Aasia Bibi, Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations, to the President.He said he would personally request the president to use his prerogative and pardon the woman. Taseer visited Sheikhupura to meet Aasia Bibi on Saturday. Talking to the media men after the meeting, he said that Bibi denied that she had said anything disrespectful for the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) or Islam, adding that she accused the villagers who had chased her to her home of sexually assaulting her and dragging her through the streets. Taseer said that he did not want to interfere in the judicial proceeding, but he would do as much as he could in his capacity to make sure that she does not get punished for a crime she said she had not committed. He added that it was for the president to decide whether he would or would not grant her appeal.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010.

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Taseer to take Aasia’s clemency appeal to president

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Blasphemy, Christians, Courage

 

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Pakistan can be the next Golgotha


By Khaled Ahmed
The Friday Times (TFT)

We are trapped in our own scheming in the name of Islam. Blasphemy Law is biting the state and the government can do nothing. An illiterate dirt-poor Asiya Bibi is to die for all of us devotees of the faith. The world is begging us to do something. The Pope has appealed only to get an unworthy repartee from our bearded firebrands. The government is now hamstrung.

The President won’t pardon her because he can’t challenge the clout of the clergy at its strongest at the present moment; he has just signed on the appointment of a harsh cleric to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). A moderate CII former member Javed Ghamidi is on the run from Islamic terrorists as he criticises the bad law that hands down death for blasphemy without the normal criteria of justice, such as intent and level of consciousness.

Poisoning of national language: You can still write sanely in English but not in Urdu, so poisoned is the national tongue even as experts opine that true learning is only possible in one’s own language. Iftikhar Murshid writing in The News (28 Nov 2010) says: ‘Blasphemy laws have existed in British India since 1860. In 1927, Article 295 was added to the Penal Code under which “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief” became a culpable offence.

‘The law was non-discriminatory and conviction under its provisions depended exclusively on conclusive evidence, as a consequence of which there were only ten blasphemy cases in the 58 years between 1927 and 1985. Since that year the number of blasphemy cases has soared to more than 4,000. In 1982, Gen Ziaul Haq introduced Section 295-B in the Penal Code of Pakistan, under which “defiling the Holy Quran” became punishable by life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295-C was added, mandating capital punishment for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet”. Even the law minister at the time did not support the bill when it was introduced in the National Assembly “on the ground that the Quran did not prescribe a penalty for this offence”.

Liberals on the run: The enactment of Ziaul Haq’s blasphemy laws unleashed a reign of terror in which the impoverished Christian community suffered the most. The violence will continue till these draconian laws are repealed. This is unlikely, however, because the present law minister, Babar Awan, was quoted by the print media on Nov 26 as saying that ‘no one can change the blasphemy laws’. Thus, so-called liberal politicians have been just as responsible as semi-educated clerics for the distortion of the laws of Islam in pursuit of their respective political agendas’.

Huma Yusuf researching a book in Washington thinks Pakistan was ‘on the brink’ as it faced the endgame in Afghanistan. The extremism within was damaging Pakistan’s chances of implementing a credible strategy. Writing in Dawn (28 Nov 2010) she said: ‘The government has made little headway in its efforts to change the climate of xenophobia and intolerance in Pakistani society. No doubt, the right noises have been made: Zardari’s government is the first to appoint a minister for minorities; it also established the Sufi Advisory Council and the Sindh Education Department is now launching an International University of Sufism at Bhit Shah. But all this signifies little in real terms’.

For Asiya no asylum either: The PPP government has backed off from any consideration of repealing the law; it will back down also on the question of pardon. What is more, it will find it difficult to send Asiya Bibi into asylum in the West. (Times are different from when Salamat Masih was exiled even though the judge who had favoured him at the High Court was later assassinated.) The other side is just too strong; and the opposition doesn’t care that it will have very little valid ground to stand if it comes to power after the PPP.

Everybody is in a frenzy of toppling and the only party that is winning is Al Qaeda. The PPP will go along with the aroused clergy and let the victims of blasphemy law down. Asiya Bibi will either have to die to save all of us from the wrath of the mullah or she will rot in jail indefinitely as she has already done for over a year. Let us have a taste of what has appeared in the Urdu press where the battle in favour of the evil law is being fought.

Lawyers and clergy join hands: Leader of JUIF Dr Atiqur Rehman told Express (23 Nov 2010) that the entire world had laws punishing blasphemy, but he did not say whether the entire world gave death as the minimum punishment for blasphemy. Christian Minorities Minister Shehbaz Bhatti said that Blasphemy Law was being misused to persecute non-Muslims. Cleric Afzal Qadri said Blasphemy Law was abused the same way as the Murder Law but no one protested against the latter law. Wukla persons protest against Asiya Bibi: Reported in Jinnah (23 Nov 2010) the lawyers of Nankana Sahib and Sangla Hill came out to protest against the granting of pardon to Asiya Bibi and said that such a pardon would be contempt of court. They said the court should take notice of efforts to smuggle Asiya Bibi abroad.

Shujaat against Asiya’s pardon: Reported in Jang (24 Nov 2010) Chaudhry Shujaat of PMLQ – always the first to bend the knee to tumescent clergy – said that pardon given to the Blasphemy Law victim Asiya Bibi would be wrong and would entail violent reaction. JUI wants Asiya hanged? Reported in Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) coalition partner of PPP the JUIF said that Asiya Bibi should be allowed to face whatever punishment the courts hand down to her and that there should be no pardon. It supported death sentence for blasphemy and asked the government to pay more attention to drone attacks. It said it will physically resist any pardon.

Rana Sanaullah in the breach as always: Daily Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) reported that religious parties in Sheikhupura in Punjab came out in strength supporting the death sentence of Asiya Bibi blocking all roads and causing traffic jams and saying that they will not allow pardon to her and will react to sending her out of the country for asylum. Rana Sanaullah for Asiya death: Law minister of Punjab Rana Sanaullah was quoted by Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) as saying that he was in agreement with the punishment meted out to Asiya Bibi under Penal Code Section 295C and that Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was acting like a spoiled child (bigra batcha) by supporting her and trying to win a pardon for her. He said by doing dalassa (compassion) to Asiya he was causing a Muslim-Christian conflict (fasad).

Cities rise against Asiya’s asylum: Daily Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) reported that a number of cities staged protests against the alleged shifting of Asiya from Sheikhupura jail to Islamabad before sending her away to the US to avoid her being hanged under orders from a sessions judge. The processions were arranged by power religious organisations such as Tehreek Hurmat Rasul, Sunni action and Sunni Ittehad Council. Friday was named as the grand protest day against Asiya’s asylum.

Famous columnist Hamid Mir wrote to say that Afiya had confessed to blasphemy and now had to face the music. But some years ago he was less quiescent, which is a measure of how extremist Pakistan had become. He had written in Jang (26 June 2006) that the PPP’s imprisoned leader Yusuf Raza Gilani had stated in his book that when in 1990 Nawaz Sharif became prime minister and wanted to change the Blasphemy Law but Ms Bhutto in the opposition did not help him in parliament. Still later Ms Bhutto returned to power in 1993 and wanted to change the Blasphemy Law but this time Nawaz Sharif did not help her.

That kind of a game is still on.

Pakistan bride, Osama bin Laden bridegroom: Pakistan will not stop having death wishes. Usually nations on their way down have a single death wish. Pakistan has many. It wants the Qadianis killed and wants to use blasphemy to hang them but is netting others instead. It is like a fisherman who will kill other fish to get at the one he wants. Christians as a community are threatened after we in our stupidity have broadened the net of blasphemy by including all prophets. Since the Bible has stories of Prophets that Muslims consider insulting – Noah, David and Solomon get a raw deal – the entire Christian community led by the bishops might have to be hanged collectively. Pakistan may the next Golgotha.

So be it, because most of us will die anyway after Al Qaeda takes over. Pakistan is a bride in her conjugal chamber waiting to be ravished by Osama bin Laden. We got Pakistan from Jinnah and are now ready to hand it over to the minions of bin Laden. What gives me just a shred of satisfaction as I ready myself to die as a secular person is the fact that all Barelvis who are now baying for the blood of a poor Christian woman will be disembowelled by the ‘superior’ Muslim followers of Al Qaeda and made to hang in the various squares of Pakistan. We have had the foretaste of it in Swat and elsewhere in the Tribal Areas.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Blasphemy, Christians

 

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Some Christians denied aid unless they convert to Islam


I need to ask one question to all the Muslims including those who are living here in Pakistan. Do you ask a hungry person before offering him food that is he a Muslim or not? And in case if he turns out to be a non Muslim, do you refuse to feed him? Please do not bother to give me this answer rather tell this to yourself. Self accountability often leads to realisation and then it helps in repairing the damage your actions have done. The story below is not new to us, in fact, since floods hit Pakistan such stories have started emerging.

What is the greatest sin our minorities have committed which has rewarded them with this discriminated and miserable life in this country, I have failed to understand. A Christian is as affected by the flood and deserves same amount of attention, help and food as a Muslim does. What we do not understand here that sufferings and disasters have a strange potential to remove the differences boundaries, cultures and religions create. In such situations, the status could just be one–a human being who is either an affectee or a victim, nothing else.

God knows which religion we keep on referring when it comes on giving aid to Christians with the money of Zakat. It looks to me a perfect excuse to justify bias and prejudice. If any Muslim has hesititation in spending Zakat money on Christians then one could always spend the money which is not Zakat. When there is a will there is a way.

We must realise that it is hard to hide such violations in this information age and the world is taking note of every gesture you convey as a nation. Nothing you can do in isolation anymore and every actions bears some consequences.

Below is the Story:

The head of an organization that combats anti-Christian persecution charges that some Pakistani Christian families are being denied flood aid unless they convert to Islam.

“Some Christian refugees are openly denied aid, while others are told to leave or convert to Islam,” said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “You can imagine that terrible choice: either you abandon your faith or you cannot feed your child.”

The Fides news agency has collected testimony from several Christians who have been denied aid:

  • “We were overcome by waters and we lost everything,” said Zubair Masih. “We went to a refugee camp near Thatta, but they did not allow us to enter because we are Christians.”
  • “My wife is sick, but the doctor refused to visit her and treat her, saying that we should wait for the World Health Organization to send Christian doctors,” said Abid Masih.
  • “I arrived with my family at a camp near Hyderabad, but the camp administration refused to register us because we are Christians and they did not give us anything,” said Aamir Gill. “We were forced to leave.”
  • A Pakistani bishop said that the Church, in contrast, does not discriminate in assisting the victims of the worst flooding in the nation’s history.

    “The tireless work of Caritas continues in all directions, in every diocese and without discrimination on the recipients,” said Bishop Max John Rodrigues of Hyderabad. “In the diocese, we help everyone. Many religious and Catholic volunteers are working in the area. I see a lot of solidarity: Muslims, Christians, and Hindus are united in suffering.

    “As far as the aid brought by Islamic charity groups, they defend themselves by saying that according to their doctrine, the money from the zakhat (Islamic alms) should go only to Muslims,” he added. “We should keep in mind that in this country there is a general discrimination against minorities and the poorest workers. It is a widespread mentality which can also affect this tragedy. The fact that the rich are better off than the poor, having saved their own land, is a serious matter which the government must address.”

    Source(s): these links will take you to other sites, in a new window.

     
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    Posted by on September 9, 2010 in Christians, Discrimination

     

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    Christian girls being raped in Pakistan reflect hidden trend


    I do not intend to say that only Christian women are being raped in Pakistan, in fact, rape is one of the most common crimes committed against women. But the cases I am referring to have a direct link to victims identity as Christians. The religious bias is evident in all cases and it appears as targeting a woman from minority group helped the culprits in registering the fact that how weak and helpless they are in this society. All crimes with an intention of crushing weak either under pretext of religion or class give a picture of a intolerant and frustrated society which we are.

    One incident in which three Muslims raped their colleague’s 16 year old daughter is a blow on moral values of society and a decline of that trust people have in their coworkers generally. But the politics of revenge serves like a cushion to justify any crime against minorities, especially and religion along with revenge work as a shield against any punishment. Usually accused are not arrested in the first place and if it happens then they are never punished because they have done a great service to religion and society while raping a christian woman.

    We need to realise that Pakistan belongs to all those who were born here and own its nationality. The concept of religion addresses the issues of an individual’s welfare and it does not come in conflict with the issue of nationality. We all should start seeing our relationship with other people in a new dimension and also the ways to coexist with harmony and peace.

    Rape is a crime and no religion and logic could give any justification and we should not only raise our voice against it, but also start a campaign to ensure punishiment for those who commit it.

    Below is the story:
    Compass Direct News

    ISLAMABAD : The vulnerability of Christian girls to sexual assault in Pakistani society emerged again last month as a Muslim landowner allegedly targeted a 16-year-old and a gang of madrassa (Islamic school) students allegedly abused a 12-year-old in Punjab Province.

    In Farooqabad, Shiekhupura district, three Muslim co-workers of a Christian man allegedly raped his 16-year-old daughter at gunpoint the night of July 21; the following evening in Gujar Khan, Rawalpindi district, more than a half dozen madrassa students decided to “teach these Christians a lesson” by allegedly gang-raping the 12-year-old girl.

    The students at Jamia Islamia Madrassa had been harassing Christians in the villages around Gujar Khan, said the pastor of the church to which the girl’s family belongs, United Pentecostal Church.

    “They openly announce that ‘the Christians are our enemies, we should not talk to them, eat with them or do business with them,’” Pastor Shakeel Javed told Compass.

    The students often beat Christian children who come to play on the school grounds, telling them to convert or leave, he said, adding that on Sundays they throw stones at the church building.

    A school teacher who said she was witness to the alleged rape told Compass that when she came across the madrassa students the evening of July 22, she overheard one saying, “We will teach these Christians a lesson they will never forget.”

    “Three or four Christian girls were washing dishes near a pond,” Rana Aftab said. “These guys ran towards them, and the girls started running. One of them fell on the ground, and these madrassa students got hold of her and took her in the fields. I tried to stop them, but they were 15-16 in number.”

    Seven or eight of them raped the girl, whose name is withheld, while the others looked on, Aftab said.

    “She kept yelling for help, but no one heard her cries,” Aftab said.

    They left the girl in the field, and some villages took her home to her father, Pervaiz Masih, Aftab said. Masih was devastated, and the girl’s mother fainted when she saw her, Masih told Compass. Masih and Aftab went to the police station to register a complaint, but the officer in charge refused to register it, Aftab said.

    When Compass contacted officers at the police station, they initially refused to comment, but eventually one admitted that they are under pressure from Muslims leaders and extremists to refrain from filing a First Information Report (FIR) on the alleged crime.

    Kidnapped

    In eastern Punjab Province’s Farooqabad, the Christian father of the allegedly raped 16-year-old girl said he was later kidnapped and tortured.

    In his complaint to police, Ghafoor Masih of Kot Sandha village said he was working the fields when three men who work for his Muslim employer overpowered his daughter at home and dragged her into one of the rooms of the house at gunpoint.

    His daughter, whose name is withheld, told police that the three men raped her while keeping her from screaming for help by threatening to shoot her in the forehead with a pistol. The family accused Rashid Ali, another Muslim identified only as Maan son of Muhammad Boota and an unidentified man who also worked for Masih’s employer, Hajji Rashid Jutt.

    The next morning, July 22, Masih went to the Saddr police station in Farooqabad, but Station House Officer Inspector Nasseer Ahmad Khan refused to register a First Information Report (FIR), labor leaders said. Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra, chairman of the Bonded Labor Front, and Zia-ud-Din Khokhar, chairman of Equality for Minorities, later approached the Shiekhupura district police officer with Masih’s complaint, and on July 28 the official sent an application for a FIR to Saddr Police Station.

    Under pressure from the superior officer, on July 29 Inspector Khan registered the FIR under for “gang-rape at gunpoint,” family members and clergy said.

    As Masih made his way home after the filing of the FIR on July 29, however, two other Muslims who work for his employer, Jutt, allegedly intercepted and kidnapped him, the family members said, and took him to Jutt’s farmhouse. There Jutt, the two men – Muhammad Irfan and Muhammad Usman – and another worker for Jutt, Fazal Karim, allegedly shackled and tortured Masih, leaving him in critical condition.

    Inspector Khan told Compass that he has arrested Jutt, Irfan and Usman for kidnapping, as well as the suspect identified only as Maan for the alleged rape of Masih’s daughter.

    Joseph Francis, national director of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, condemned the alleged rape of the 16-year-old girl.

    “Muslim landowners and their relatives see Christian girls or women as their chattel,” Francis said. “Such vicious incidents are not being stopped by the government, and day by day the rate of rapes of Christian girls is escalating instead of plunging.” Sahotra and Khokhar added that many such cases go unreported as impoverished Christian families often do not have the resources to pursue justice.

     
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    Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Christians, Rape

     

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