KARACHI: An American Muslim scholar and international minorities’ rights activist visiting here urged the Pakistan government on Friday to reform and eventually repeal all laws believed to be discriminatory against minority groups in the country.
Delivering a lecture on ‘State of religious freedom in South Asia’ at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Safiya Ghori said these laws had ambiguous language and flaws liable to be misused by individuals and groups to promote their own agendas.
Citing the example of last year’s Gojra incident, when a mob of extremists burnt alive at least seven persons in arson attacks on a church and homes of Christians, she said the misuse of the blasphemy laws could entail similar horrendous acts in the future too.
The young advocate of Muslims’ rights in the United States and once herself the victim of religious discrimination in America, she said Islam is a tolerant religion, Pakistani society as a whole is non-violent and a majority of people are open-minded believing in religious diversity. But, she added, a few pockets of extremism here were active against minority groups, be they Christians, Hindus or Sikhs.
She also referred to the laws concerning women enacted under General Zia-ul-Haq and said they must also be rolled back.
She said she had met members of some non-governmental organisations, and praised the NGOs movement for wresting various rights from the state, particularly women’s and minorities’ quotas in parliament.
She said she had met some young persons here also and “the young generation is more enlightened and articulate … wearing western clothes and speaking English as (fluently) I do.” But she was critical of Pakistan’s education system. She said on the one hand there were elite education institutions and, on the other, government schools and madressahs. So, naturally their students had different mindsets and ways of thinking. In this regard she praised the single, public education system back in her own country.
Ms Ghori also condemned the 2002 massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat, where marauders killed more than 2,000 people, and said the state of minorities such as Muslims, Sikhs and Christians was no better in that country. She, however, admitted that she did not know much about the state of minorities in South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.
She said persecution on the basis of faith must end wherever it existed. She also said that Shias in Afghanistan were being dealt with unfairly. So were the followers of the Ahmadi faith in Pakistan.
Safiya Ghori, a Joint Juris Doctor and Master of Arts from the University of Arkansas, said good and bad people existed in every religion and condemning a whole community for the acts of a few was wrong. And that was what she was trying to impress on the people and authorities in the United States. She said she was fighting for the Muslims’ legal rights in the US and was engaged with some NGOs trying to better the perception about Muslims at the grassroots level.
At the end of the lecture, she answered questions from the audience, particularly about her article titled: The application of religious laws in North American courts: A case study of Mutaa marriages. Masooma Hasan was the moderator at the discussion.
Ms Ghori most recently served as the South Asia Policy Analyst at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Earlier, she served as Government Relations Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, DC.