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Kalash falls to Kalash–nikov


An honest answer to one simple question about your identity as a Pakistani or a Muslim explains the roots of extremism and an increasing intolerance among this society. I was asked this question many years ago, and my answer was not logical rather an abrupt and sudden gush of emotions. I said I am a Muslim first. The later years have weakened or killed that emotion and today I would like to answer in a different way.

The white patch in Pakistan’s flag which seems evaporating now, determines the answer. We are Pakistani first is a simple answer to this white patch. The difference in views of majority is stark. Majority now dreams of a homeland only for Muslims and the survival for rest depends on their submission to majority’s religion.

A few months ago, my friend Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, went to Kalash, a beautiful valley in the northwest of Pakistan, to capture its exotic beauty and rich culture. A tiny tribe of total 4,500 people, which cannot be a considerate share of the total 180 million Pakistanis, is about to be nonexistent. He returned with breathtaking pictures, but seemed perturbed. In the middle of the Kalash fairytale, he mentioned his visit to a school which did not have pupils for some unknown and known reasons. The school’s timetable shows a class of Islamic studies for the students who do not believe in Islam. How would Muslims feel if they are forced to attend a class on Christianity? In my view, they will be marching on roads, burning tyres and property, and calling it a threat to Islam and a Jewish conspiracy against Muslims. My friend mentioned that how tremendously Kalash has changed due to the extremist elements forcing the people to convert to Islam. Some radical Muslims, bound to spread Islam by force, began building mosques in the valley for Kalashis, who claim descent from Alexander the Great’s army.

The valley runs along the border ofAfghanistanand for centuries, they sacrificed animals and practiced polytheism without any interference from the Muslim community.

So what has changed now? The youth of this country, mainly inspired by Jihad against then Soviet Union, have grown up brandishing radicalized version of Islam. The concept of coexistence is at stake in this country, which has minimized the chances of survival for our minorities. Now the question arises that can all flee from this country in sheer despair and frustration? Will this country have space only for a particular sect of Islam? But we need to ask ourselves if we are humans or Pakistanis first or Muslims later? If the answer is Pakistanis first, I see hope.

Reuters Story:

Nestled among the valleys of Pakistan’s mountainous northwest, a tiny religious community that claims descent from Alexander the Great’s army is under increasing pressure from radicals bent on converting them to Islam.

The Kalash , who number just about 3,500 in Pakistan’s population of 180 million, are spread over three valleys along the border with Afghanistan. For centuries they practiced polytheism and animal sacrifice without interference from members of Pakistan’s Muslim majority.

But now they are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants just across the border, and a hardline interpretation of Islam creeping through mainstream society — as Pook Shireen discovered.

After falling unconscious during a car accident , the mid-20s member of the paramilitary Chitral Scouts woke to find that people with him had converted him to Islam.

“Some of the Muslim people here try to influence the Kalash or encourage them by reading certain verses to them from the Koran,” said his mother, Shingerai Bibi.

“The men that were with him read verses of the Koran and then when he woke up they said to him, ‘You are a convert now to Islam’. So he converted.”

The conversion was a shock for his family. But they were lucky compared with other religious minorities under threat from growing religious conservatism that is destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

In May 2010, more than 80 Ahmadis, a minority who consider themselves Muslims but are regarded by Pakistan as non-Muslim, were killed in attacks on two mosques in Lahore.

Then in March this year, the Christian minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose job it was to protect groups like the Kalash, was assassinated outside his home in the capital, Islamabad, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

SMOOTH CO-EXISTENCE

The lush green Kalash valleys, which sit below snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, have been a magnet for tourists, both for the scenery and for the people, who are indigenous to the area.

Most are fair and with light eyes, which they say proves their descent from the army of Alexander of Macedonia that passed through the area in the 4th century BC to invade India. The community brews its own wine and women are not veiled.

But the smooth co-existence between the Kalash and Muslims has been fading in recent months and the area is suffering from many of the religious tensions marring the rest of Pakistan.

The conversions are causing splits among the Kalash — converts become outcasts overnight, described by many as “dead to their families”.

“When a Kalash converts we don’t live with them in our houses anymore,” said farmer Asil Khan, sitting on a neighbor’s balcony.

“Our festivals and our culture are different. They can’t take part in the festivals or the way we live.”

Some in the area are so concerned that they believe segregation is the only way to protect the Kalash.

“We should move the Muslims out of the valley to make more room for the Kalash,” said Shohor Gul, a Kalash member of the border police who lives in Rumbur valley. “This area should be just for us. We dislike these conversions – it disturbs our culture and our festivals, and it reduces our numbers.”

The subject of Kalash festivals is raised often in these narrow valleys, where carefully cultivated corn crops cover what flat land exists, and the Kalash community’s distinctive wooden houses terrace the valley walls.

Held to usher in seasonal change or to pray for a good harvest, Kalash festivals include hypnotic dancing and animal sacrifice, fueled by the grape wine with which the Kalash lace their gatherings.

Converts to Islam say, though, that these rituals quicken the decision to leave the Kalash.

“The main thing wrong in the Kalash culture are these festivals,” said 29-year-old convert Rehmat Zar. “When someone dies the body is kept in that house for three days.”

Muslims usually bury people the day they die.

Zar added of the Kalash: “They slaughter up to a hundred goats and the family are mourning – but those around them are celebrating, beating drums, drinking wine and dancing. Why are they celebrating this? That’s wrong.”

NOT ALL MUSLIMS

Not all of the area’s Muslims feel this way.

Qari Barhatullah is the imam, or priest, at the Jami Masjid in Bumboret valley’s Shikanandeh village.

He stresses that many of the valley’s Muslims value the Kalash’s contributions to the area’s tourism industry and contends that Kalash festivals run parallel to their own.

He admits though that there is tension between the two communities. Unveiled Kalash girls in colorful homemade skirts and head-dresses grow up alongside Muslim women covered by the all-enveloping burqas.

The Kalash girls are also free to marry who they chose, in a country where arranged marriages are common.

“We do support the Kalash – Islam teaches us respect for other religions – but there are people here, maybe they are not as educated – who don’t like the Kalash because of their religion,” Barhatullah said.

Akram Hussain oversees the Kalasha Dur, a cultural center devoted to promoting and protecting the Kalash culture, a stunning structure of elegantly crafted carved wooden beams and stone where Kalash children are educated. It also houses a library, clinic and museum, which are open to both the Kalash and Muslim communities.

“Some of the Muslims here don’t want to educate the Kalash people. They don’t want us to have an education,” he said.

Without more schools that cater exclusively to the Kalash, though, Hussain worries his community and culture will be disappear.

“There are few Kalash teachers and there aren’t schools for older children, so they go to the secondary schools and learn about Islam. The Muslim teachers are brainwashing them. They tell the children that Islam is the only right way and that we are going to hell,” he said.

A provincial spokesman said the regional government is funding development projects for the Kalash and that Pakistan was committed to protecting their unique heritage.

“We have set aside 15 million rupees ($173,210) over three years for projects such as improving roads, water supply systems and community centers,” said Ahmad Hassan. “Whatever the Kalash say they need.”

Others in the Kalash valleys though say development should cease and insist the adoption of Islam should continue, despite the impact on the Kalash culture.

Rehmat Zar, the Kalash convert, says his eventual aim is to convert his entire community to Islam.

“I’m trying my best to convert many of the Kalash myself. I’m trying to convert as many as I can,” he said.

“The people who are trying to preserve the Kalash culture are doing wrong. They are committing a mistake. The Kalash should convert to Islam because this is the real, and last, religion”. ($1 = 86.600 Pakistani rupees)

 

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FEATURE- In Ahmadis’ desert city, Pakistan closes in


A Pakistani refugee, a member of the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic minority sect, cries as she leaves a detention centre with her family on a bus in Bangkok, June 6, 2011...

By Myra MacDonald

RABWAH, Pakistan, (Reuters) – At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam.

“The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom.

Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line.

Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Yet declared by the state in the 1970s to be non-Muslims, they face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.”

The town, renamed Chenabnagar by the state government since “Rabwah” comes from a verse in the Koran, is now retreating behind high walls and razor wire, awaiting the suicide bombers and fedayeen gunmen who police tell them are plotting attacks.

Last May, 86 people were killed in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, capital of Punjab; others were attacked elsewhere in the province. Many fled to Rabwah where the community gives them cheap housing and financial support.

Among them is 15-year-old Iqra from Narewal, whose shopkeeper father was stabbed to death last year as the family slept. “I was sleeping in another room when my father was attacked,” she begins in a small voice, pulling a black scarf across her face to cover her mouth in the style of Ahmadi women.

“The attacker wanted to kill all the Ahmadis in Narewal,” her brother Zeeshan continues. “My elder brother tried to help my father and he was stabbed and wounded too.”

Later police found the attacker hiding in a mosque. He had believed the mullahs when they told him that all Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl”, or deserving of death.

Battleground for power

The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who in the town of Qadian in late 19th century British India called for a revival of a “true Islam” of peace and justice. His teachings were controversial with Muslims and Christians alike.

He argued that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped and travelled to India and was buried in Kashmir. And he claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus, destined to put Muslims back on the true path.

Many Muslims were offended by the suggestion he had come as a prophet, breaching a basic tenet of Islam that there can be no prophet after Mohammad, whose teachings are believed to be based literally on the word of God, perfect and therefore final.

Yet his call for peace, hard work, temperance, education and strong community bonds resonated, and over the years the proselytising movement acquired millions of followers worldwide.

At home, however, their history has been intimately bound up in Pakistan’s own descent from its relatively optimistic birth.

Lacking a coherent national identity, it has become a battleground for competing political, religious and ethnic groups seeking power by attacking others.

“The mistake of the Ahmadis was that they showed their political strength,” said an Ahmadi businessman in Lahore.

Better education he said, meant they obtained good positions in the army and civil service at first; strong community bonds made them an influential force in politics up to the 1970s.

But they also made an easy target for the religious right who could whip up anti-Ahmadi sentiment for political gain.

Ahmadis follow two different schools of thinking, but will argue, often with detailed references to the Koran in both Arabic and English, that they do not dispute the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. Their erudite theological arguments, however, had little chance against the power of the street.

After anti-Ahmadi violence, they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. In the 1980s, their humiliation was completed when legal provisions barred them from associating themselves with Islam, for example by using the call to prayer or naming their place of worship a “masjid” or mosque.

“You can say you don’t consider me to be a Muslim but you can’t force me to also say I am not a Muslim,” complains Ahmed, the amir, the pain clear in his voice.

Yet in the newspaper office in Rabwah, a white board displays the words they are not allowed to use — they could be accused of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

Spreading to other sect

Many Pakistanis, if you ask about treatment of the Ahmadis, shrug it off — it’s an old story, they say, dredged up by westerners who do not appreciate the importance of the finality of the Prophet.

Yet there are signs the attitudes first directed towards Ahmadis are spreading to other sects. In a country which is majority Sunni, and where insurgents follow Sunni Islam, Shi’ites and even Sufi shrines have been bombed.

A 2010 study by Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa of students in elite colleges found that while 60 percent said the government was right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims, a sizeable 18 percent believed Shi’ites were also non-Muslims.

These and other findings led her to conclude that radicalism was growing even among the educated youth — it is often, wrongly, blamed on poverty — which in its extreme form could lead people into violence.

Their tendency, she wrote, to see different groups with an unquestioned bias, she wrote, “especially coated with religious overtones or padded with religious belief prepares the mind to accept the message from militant organisations.”

In the nearest town to Rabwah, the central square as been renamed “Khatme Nubuwwat” Chowk, meaning the finality of the Prophet. Beyond, low jagged hills spike up above the dusty land, the summits of much bigger rock formations below the surface.

Many of the Ahmadis had been active supporters of the movement which created Pakistan and when they first came here they were inspired by a verse in the Koran, describing “an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.”

Now they are surrounded by a very different country.

Rabwah itself is open to the outside world — despite the high walls guarding individual houses, it is not a walled town.

“Under the circumstances we try to tke the best measures we can to protect ourselves,” says the amir. “But what we can do is very limited. We don’t have a mindset or training for that.

And in any case, he adds, “How many people can leave Pakistan or Rabwah?”

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Ahmadis

 

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Court releases mentally ill woman after 14 years


The easiest way to take revenge in this country is to get the person arrested under blasphemy laws which carry death penalty. But much before the execution, an angry mob always decides to do justice and kill the person. The killing of two brothers is the latest proof of the impatience and intolerance of people, which is on rise. The demand to repeal these laws is not new but due to lack of will on the government’s part, minorities are still being victimized. The story of a woman, Zaibun Nisa, who spent 14 years of her life in prison without trial shows apathy of society and incompetence of justice system. Blasphemy is certainly an accusation that ruins a life and a crime that is never proven because of lack of evidence. Same happened with this woman who was kept in jail even after her medical reports confirmed that she was mentally ill. Who is responsible for the agony and pain she suffered in the prison even being innocent?

Below is the story:
Reuters: 22-07-2010

A Pakistani court ordered the release of a mentally ill woman accused of blasphemy who has been held without trial for 14 years, a court official and her lawyer said on Thursday. Police arrested Zaibun Nisa, now 55, in 1996 outside Islamabad after a Muslim cleric registered a complaint about the desecration of a copy of the Koran.

She has been held in the prison section of a mental hospital in the eastern city of Lahore for 14 years without trial because no one pursued her case. “At her arrest, her medical examination was carried out and doctors had certified that she was mentally ill but still she was languishing in jail,” her lawyer, Aftab Ahmed Bajwa, who recently took up her case with the Lahore High Court, told Reuters.

Chaudhry Mohammad Sharif, the chief justice of the high court, ordered Nisa’s immediate release, a court official said. Bajwa said cleric informed the court that he had registered his complaint with police against “unknown people” and had never accused Nisa of blasphemy in his complaint by name.

“What kind of a country is this where a person is being held without trial for 14 years. It can’t be tolerated,” Bajwa quoted the judge as saying. Nisa will be put in a shelter for homeless people until her family is found, Bajwa said.

Human right activists have long called for the repeal of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which they say discriminates against non-Muslim religious minorities and is also used to settle personal scores. Blasphemy carries the death penalty under Pakistani law, although the sentence has never been carried out because convictions are overturned by superior courts for lack of evidence. There have been incidents, however, where the accused have been killed by a mob.

Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad on Monday. Successive governments in Pakistan have tried to reform the law, introduced by former military ruler General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s as part of his Islamisation campaign, but backed down after protests from hardline Islamic groups.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2010 in Blasphemy

 

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