Pakistan: Islamist extremists say 'ban the Bible'

Bishop Sebastian Shaw

Bishop Sebastian Shaw

A Pakistan Catholic bishop has described his people's distress after extremists demanded the Bible be banned and called on the country's Supreme Court to investigate "blasphemous" and "pornographic" passages.

Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said the faithful were "very shocked" after Islamist political party Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami informally petitioned the Supreme Court of Pakistan to declare certain Biblical passages "blasphemous".

At a press conference, party leader Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi called for the Bible to be banned and complained about passages in which prophets are described carrying out "a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures".

Speaking at a Lahore mosque, the clerics from Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami said that if the Supreme Court failed to declare the offending texts "blasphemous", they would submit an application for the Bible to be formally banned in Pakistan.

Maulana Farooqi reportedly said that his lawyers were "preparing to ask the court to ban the book".

Responding to the press conference, Bishop Shaw referred to the increased tensions faced by the Church and warned of more trouble if Church leaders were to issue a strongly worded condemnation of the ban the Bible initiative.

The bishop told Aid to the Church in Need: "People are very shocked by this. We Christians are in Pakistan and we have a right to our Bible. It is a very old divine text. But if we want to make an issue out of it, it will certainly become one. We must be wise and instead ask people to pray for us, to remember us before God. What we need right now is prayers and patience."

He stressed that the campaign was unlikely to succeed, especially as the Bible is respected by the majority of Muslims.

In the press conference last week, Maulana Farooqi referred to "pornographic" Biblical passages where figures – revered by both Christianity and Islam – are described behaving immorally.

Extremists have referred to Biblical heroes such as David, who coveted a man's wife and so sent him to face certain death on the battle frontlines.

Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami's ban the Bible initiative is the latest attempt by radicals to use the country's Blasphemy Laws to shield Islam from perceived insults.

Under the laws, desecration against the Qur'an carries a life sentence and Maulana Farooqi said the ban the Bible call was in response to US Pastor Terry Jones who oversaw the burning of the Islamic holy book at a Florida church in March.

Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws are linked to some of the country's worst violence this year including the murders of federal minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, in March, and Salman Taseer, Governor of the Punjab, who openly criticised the legislation.

Urging calm, Bishop Shaw told Aid to the Church in Need that in calling for the Bible to be banned, the extremists were trying to provoke Christians.

He said: "Problems like this are happening one after the other. If we give the right response, the matter will die away just like any other debate that suddenly flares up."

In a statement, Church of Pakistan Bishop Dr Alexander John Malik of Lahore said that agreeing to the extremists' demands to ban the Bible would be a violation of religious freedom as guaranteed by the constitution and said the militants' campaign was sowing discord among different communities.

Fr Andrew Nisari, parish priest of Lahore's Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral, told ACN: "Calling for the Bible to be burnt is very hurtful to us. People were very upset about it and from the pulpit I asked them not to be angry and emotional."

He told how a Muslim extremist had burnt a copy of the Bible at the cathedral. Fr Nisari said that during the incident, in March, cathedral guards had stopped the man on his way to the cathedral where he had said he wanted to burn the Bible and so he carried out the Bible-burning at the cathedral gates. Police have since pressed charges against the man and the case is ongoing.

Fr Nisari said: "Life for us is not easy. The only way anyone can really begin to understand what it is like for us in Pakistan is to actually be here experiencing what we experience."  

Source: ACN

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