Pakistan (MNN) – A curious case has erupted in Pakistan — the call for the arrest of 100 people after “mixed prayers” between men and women during a funeral. The funeral was held for Asma Jahangir, a well-known senior lawyer and activist in the country.
Blasphemy Charge for Many
Because high numbers of people were expected to attend, the funeral was held in a stadium rather than a mosque. But, following the funeral, an unidentified man from the Punjab Province of Pakistan came forward calling the “mixed prayers” blasphemous.
“The man who is trying to get that FIR (or First Incident Report) issued so that the warrants for the arrest for 100 people can be delivered says this amounts to a major sin to have women at the funeral,” FMI’s Bruce Allen shares. “It’s taboo in Pakistani culture for women to attend funerals, to go to gravesites. Although, there are Islamic scholars who would say the ban against women attending funerals or burials is not what their prophet Muhammad intended.”
Allen explains there are conflicting stories in the Koran as to what Muhammad said and what he did. It’s something Muslim scholars still debate.
Debates in Islam
One man, Dr. Aslam Abdullah, who is the editor-in-chief of The Muslim Observer, wrote an article called “The Allowability of Women Visiting Graves”. In the article, Abdullah presented further support as to why all Muslims, including women, should visit gravesites.
Furthermore, there are two Hadiths or traditions in regards to Muhammad, which calls all Muslims to visit graves because it reminds them of the afterlife. Still, the tradition in Pakistan is that women do not attend funerals under any circumstances, even the funerals of their own children or siblings.
It’s also possible the call for these arrests has a political element to it. The man who led the prayers at the funeral, Haider Farooq Maududi, is the son of the man who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest mass religious organization in South Asia.
The call for this mass arrest seems to be coming from an ultra-orthodox radical political party with a passion to uphold the current Pakistani blasphemy laws, Allen says.
“There has been talk about reform, even at parliamentary levels. Do we want to tweak the blasphemy laws a bit? This political party says absolutely not,” Allen shares. “They have staged protests in the streets that have stymied the capital for weeks at the end of last year. It’s really gaining momentum as a movement inside Pakistan.”
Still, there’s no concrete evidence to prove that politics might be involved. But the problem with this potential political move is that in Pakistan, despite being one of the largest Muslim-majority nations in the world, most of the people don’t know how to read the Koran in Arabic, since it’s not their native tongue. And any Koran not in Arabic is considered only a translation and does not have the ability to offer “true Muslim teachings.”
For this reason, many Muslims in Pakistan may not even know what the Koran actually says. Instead, these people are guided primarily by the Pakistani Muslim leadership who tell Pakistani Muslims how to act and respond to events in the country.
“We’ve been taught to read the Bible for yourself. Have daily devotions, understand Christian apologetics, how to defend the faith, things like that,” Allen says. “That is not on the radar screen for the typical Muslim. They’d say, ‘I’m to believe what my teacher at the mosque tells me to believe.’”
It’s easy to see how radical leaders at a mosque produce radical followers who can be stirred up into a frenzy and protest or call for action in events they don’t even understand.
“In a case like this where you have a political party that’s saying, ‘We want the purest string of Islam and let us define that for you,’ and they’re not saying [to] search out the scriptures for yourself to know what that would be, it can be a dangerous thing for a society to do,” Allen explains. “They’re just swallowing hook, line, and sinker what their religious leaders tell them.”
And while no one has been arrested yet, if they are, it could disrupt the entire nation.
“There would be some prominent people perhaps arrested [from the funeral] because of the status of this woman who had died,” Allen says. “And many prominent people like lawyers (like herself), or politicians, or other people who rubbed shoulders with her — and she was a highly respected woman — attended. So, it will be interesting to see what the outcome is.”
Effects in the Courts
Whether it’s protesting, calls for arrests under the blasphemy charge, or people taking matters into their own hands, Pakistani judges can often be influenced by the happenings in their society — despite the fact they’re supposed to administer justice.
The more radical and passionate people become about the blasphemy law or other politics in the country, the higher the chances these same people will do everything in their power to see political decisions be made the way they believe they should. They will even resort to violence, corruption, and bribery.
This makes it harder to see justice administered for minorities like Christians in Pakistan.
But before getting riled up because of injustices in Pakistan, Allen encourages Christians to stop and consider their own hearts.
“Are we diligent to be reading our Scriptures and do we know God’s words? Do we know how God wants us to behave in certain situations and what his love for the world looks like?” Allen asks.
“Or do we just want to denounce all these people who are ignorant or do not believe what God said? We go, ‘Let’s bomb them or let them burn in hell.’ That’s not what Jesus would do. He says, ‘I love so much that I want to demonstrate my love even while they are sinners, I will go to the cross for them. I will take their punishment.’”
Examine your own heart and ask for God to continually change it to match his. Pray for the Gospel’s work in Pakistan and that despite the dangers Christians face there, that God would be glorified in the country.
And finally, keep praying for justice for Ahmed, an influential laborer for Christ in Pakistan whose story we have been following in light of blasphemy charges. Pray for his safety, his ministry, and his encouragement. Ask that Ahmed’s family would be safe and encouraged as well.
For more FMI’s work in Pakistan, click here!
To get more information on Ahmed, click here!