Pakistani Bombings Highlight Theological Tensions

Lahore, Pakistan - In a series of deadly attacks around Pakistan, a suicide bombing in Northwest Pakistan on last week killed at least 105 people, and injured at least 115 - the deadliest attack in the country this year.

Two suicide bombers struck two areas seconds apart in the village of Yakaghund - a northwest tribal region called Mohmand- near a government office.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they were targeting a gathering of pro-government tribal elders - including those setting up militias to fight against the Taliban.

Though the elders were in the government building, none was hurt, said Mohmand chief administrator Amjad Ali Khan.

Women and children were among the victims.

About 70 to 80 shops were damaged or destroyed, and a damaged prison building allowed 28 criminals to flee, said local government official Rasool Khan. None of the escaped prisoners were militants, however.

The latest attack comes shortly after the bombing at a Sufi shrine in Lahore ,when two suicide bombers attacked the famous Data Darbar shrine in the country’s cultural hub. At least 43 people were killed, including women and children, and about 180 were injured in a continued streak of violence against minority Muslim groups.

The attack occurred while visitors were in the midst of worship and ablution late on Thursday night at about 10:50 p.m. at the burial site of Sufi saint Syed Abul Hassan bin Usman bin Ali al-Hajweri, where many worshippers come to pay respect.

While the two bombers have not been identified with any group, a rise in attacks by the Taliban and other pro-militant groups has occurred against groups deemed heretics according to extremist thought. Similar attacks have been carried out against Sufi Shrines in the northwest Pakistan as well.

Footage from Pakistan’s CCTV showed the suicide bombers rushing into the shrine complex after evading police guards and volunteers standing at a gate.

Since the attack, the CCPO Lahore admitted there was a lapse in the security arrangements that were revealed through preliminary reports of the incident. Five police officers were dismissed after the incident due to negligence of their duty.

43 bodies had been received at the city’s morgue the day after the attack, according to Salman Kazmi, a senior official at Mayo Hospital in Lahore. Several of the victims died as a result of their wounds in the hospital, he said.

Of the 180 injured, doctors described 20 as being in serious condition.

In another attack on May 28, a group identifying itself as the Punjab provincial chapter of the Pakistan Taliban attacked two mosques each filled with about 1,500 people during Friday prayers, killing at least 80 people and injuring at least 78.

At least seven men armed with grenades, high-powered rifles and suicide vests stormed the mosques at the end of the Friday congregational prayers. The group was described by the Washington Post as an "amorphous Sunni Muslim organization" based in the mountainous tribal regions.

The attacks showed the Taliban's ability to "strike forcefully in urban centers and pointed to rising sectarian tensions in Sunni-majority Pakistan," reported the Washington Post.

The May 28 attacks, which took place minutes apart, targeted mosques of the Ahmadi sect of Islam, a minority group that was declared non-Muslim by Pakistan law in 1974 due to differences of opinion on religious matters, according to Dr. Ahmad Chaudhry, spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA and a member of the Executive Board of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Youth Organization.

Prior to the law, these differences were always kept in the religious sphere and not brought into the sphere of the State, Chaudhry said.

In 1984, Ordinance XX was passed, titled the “Anti-Islamic Activities of the Quadiani Group, Lahori Group and Ahmadis (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance.”

The act “prohibits Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), who, directly or indirectly, poses himself as Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims.”

Violation of the law, and the specific “Anti-Islamic activity” it outlies, may result in imprisonment of up to three years and may also be fined.

Religious minorities in Pakistan- including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Shiites, say the blasphemy laws are "widely misused" against them. A report written by human rights organization Minorities Concern of Pakistan states that, “it is evident that in majority of cases the charges are mala fides – such as personal enmity, religious rivalry, property disputes etc. “

The organization has repeatedly demanded that the Pakistani government repeal the laws, "as soon as possible to save the lives of many innocent people and to bring harmony in the society which has been shattered since the promulgation of these contentious laws," said Aftab Alexander, Mughal of Minorities Concern of Pakistan

“Blasphemy laws provide harsh sentences, including the death penalty, and injuring the “religious feelings” of individual citizens is prohibited. Incidents in which police officials take bribes to file false blasphemy charges against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and occasionally Muslims continue to occur, with several dozen cases reported each year," says the Freedom House Report "Freedom in the World - Pakistan (2010), issued this month.

The report says that while no convictions have withstood appeal to date, the charges alone can lead to lengthy detentions, ill-treatment in custody, and persecution by religious extremists.

“The anti-Blasphemy laws have essentially made it impossible for a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to publicly practice their faith,” said Chaudhry.

“These laws, which are regularly enforced, have led to men, women and children being imprisoned for doing nothing more than practicing Islam,” he said.

“For a State to officially declare a group, by name, as non-Muslims when they themselves claim to be Muslims defied logic,” he said. “This was not the way of the Prophet (saw) of Islam.”

Ahmadi Muslims differ from Sunni Muslims primarily in their belief that the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, came 100 years ago.

“Ahmad came to simply revive the teaching of true Islam, not to add or subtract a single thing from the Law of the Prophet Muhammad (saw),” Chaudhry said. “This revival was of a moderate Islam where Jihad through violence was no longer applicable but rather a Jihad of the Pen and ideas was promoted.”

His writings promoted separation of State and religion, universal human rights, and protection of the rights of minorities - nothing new to Islam, Chaudhry said.

Saad Karamat, a southern Califiornia resident whose uncle was gunned down and killed in one of the May 28 attacks, said the institutionalized discrimination has resulted in hatred against Ahmadis, and acts of violence.

“We’re not allowed to call the mosques mosques, they’re called places of worship,” Karamat said. “If I identify myself as Ahmadi and say “Asalam-u-alaikum,” or recite a verse from the Holy Quran, I could be put into jail according to the Pakistani constitution.”

There are many examples of the discrimination in Lahore, including billboards that say Ahmadis, Christians and Jews are worthy of death, according to Karamat.

“Authorities have come with hammer and chisel to our mosques to forcefully remove stone that had the kalima carved in it. Can the government really believe it is doing Islam a favor by desecrating mosques?” Chaudhry said. “When open declarations that members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are worthy of death are made in newspapers, on television and on billboards, what else do people expect? The situation is made worse when the government offers no real protection to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community despite repeated threats.”

Extremists are only exposed to one narrow perspective, Karamat said.

“Their (religious leaders) are misguided, they’re preaching nothing but hate,” he said. “I don’t know how it could be justified, but they actually feel they’re going to attain heaven by killing minorities.”

“I’ve always been taught that the way to defend Islam is through the propagation of pen, the jihad of the pen - that’s one of the primary things the founder of the community advocated for,” Karamat said. “He strongly condemned any form of violence in the name of Islam.”

The UC Berkeley senior said that despite the inclination to "perpetuate the state of violence and chaos," the community has not reacted to the attacks with violence.

“Our khalifa (caliph), on that (Friday), said the only thing we can do is pray, for our community and the perpetrators of these heinous acts,” he said. “I’m not giving up faith, in certain situations people may totally give up faith, and start taking up arms, but if you look at all the past Prophets -Moses, Jesus, and the life Muhammad, peace be upon him, their communities had to endure so much persecution during their times.”

The attacks have been denounced by the international community, and leaders worldwide have vowed to support Pakistan against people who wish to destabilize the country.

“We condemn this brutal crime and reaffirm our commitment to support the Pakistani people in their efforts to defend their democracy from the violent extremists who seek to destroy it,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton all spoke out against the attacks.

In Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party Punjab and Lahore chapters strongly condemned the terrorist attacks at the shrine.

Acting president Samiullah Khan Durrani, Deputy Secretary Malik Muhammad Usman and Media Secretary Iqbal Sialvi told the Daily Times that the attack on the Data Darbar “clearly reveals that the terrorists have no consideration for any religion, faith or belief.”

The leaders said that terrorists neither respect human values nor care for human lives, and that terrorists were the real enemies of Pakistan who wanted to destabilize the country to fulfill their agendas.

“Ahmadi Muslims have been single out in the law, specifically by name, but all minority religious views are under constant threat in Pakistan,” Chaudhry said.

Despite the recent violent activity, there have been fewer attacks in Pakistan this year than in previous years, particularly in the northwest.

In the last three months of 2009, more than 500 people were killed in a surge of attacks in the country.