The Economics of Hate


September 5, 2012

Mehreen Zahra-Malik.
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Allah-eser

Predictably, it began much before little Rimsha was accused of the incomprehensible – much before torn little pieces of religious paraphernalia were bandied about and their desecration decried.

Venal mullahs, jilted neighbours, greedy influentials – the usual cast of characters that surround most sordid tales of blasphemy are, unsurprisingly, on the set of the Mehrabad miasma also.

But how did a locality that has been home to Christians for over two decades, and where Muslims helped them build a church less than a year ago, turn an unlettered child into a blasphemer and allow her to be banished to solitary confinement for weeks? In one of the few slums in Islamabad where Muslims and Christians have always lived side by side, what compelled a prayer leader to scheme to “get rid of the Christians?”

Visits to Mehrabad reveal that the locality has been long scarred by mounting schisms – a confluence of personal, economic and political factors – that made Rimsha’s fate almost inevitable.

The most defining division affecting the Rimsha case is between the area’s landed Maliks and its clerics – a schism that predates the present controversy.

Malik Amjad’s family, the owners of Rimsha’s home, and other Maliks of the area, rent hundreds of run-down shacks to various Christian families. When the Christians first bolted from Mehrabad fearing violence after Rimsha was arrested, economic interests, above all, compelled the Muslim landlords to go after the fleeing Christian community and lure them back. For someone like Amjad, who makes about Rs300,000 a month just from rent, an exodus would spell nothing short of disaster. Amjad also runs what he calls a ‘servant provision agency’ through which he gets his Christian tenants work in Muslim homes and offices for a small commission. Ever since August 16, his phones have never stopped ringing, anxious clients calling to complain that their servants haven’t shown up to work.

In fact, so disturbed was Amjad by the idea of a mass Christian exodus that he brought up during the Friday sermon on August 24 a controversial case from last year when an Muslim boy “behaved inappropriately” with a younger Christian boy. “I’m asking them why, when that happened, we didn’t ask the whole Muslim community to leave for the unfortunate actions of one person,” Amjad said, the stress lines on his forehead deepening.

There’s yet another reason the Muslim landlords are even willing to stand up against the clerics to ‘protect’ their Christian lodgers: the downtrodden community makes for docile tenants. They’re quiet, they don’t complain, they do what they’re told. In fact, they even complied when asked not to hold church services except on Sundays. “Imagine if they were replaced by Pathan tenants. Rooz ka aazaab bun jaye ga (That would be everyday punishment),” Amjad sniggered.

But if the Muslim Maliks have spoken up for the Christians and against the clergy for reasons of economics, what compelled local prayer leader Khalid Chishti to do the opposite: intensify his efforts to expel the minority community from the area?

The clergy in Mehrabad, just like in other localities and religions, have much the same economic interests as their non-ecclesiastical counterparts. As producers of spiritual goods – as performers of marriage ceremonies, as whisperers of azaan in the ears of infants, as ministers of last rites, as preachers of sermons, and as expounders not only of theology but also of society’s basic political and legal doctrines – the clergy always needs constituents.

Imagine, then, the frustration of an Imam Chishti stuck in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood; imagine his prospects if the infidels could be expelled and replaced by a larger number of Muslims to do his bidding, to donate to his mosque, to help expand it, to consider him a spiritual leader?

So when all else failed – when complaints about Christians disrupting the Muslims’ prayers by playing music didn’t work and the committee formed to expel the community from the area didn’t find much support on the ground – what was Imam Chishti to do?

Plant burnt pages of the Quran in the bag of an unlettered, unsuspecting Christian child and cry ‘Islam in danger?’

Given that many of Mehrabad’s residents are migrants from Gojra, and have relatives there, no one was surprised when Christian families fled their homes the very night the accusations against Rimsha surfaced. Too close are Mehrabad’s Christians to the memory of the 2009 Gojra riots when a mere rumour of blasphemy led to over 40 Christian houses burnt and seven dead. Imam Chishti couldn’t have found better victims of a blasphemy-related fear campaign.

These starkest of juxtapositions – of Christian against Muslim, of the landed against the clergy, of the landed Muslim against the non-landed Muslim willing to side with the mullahs to break the power of the landed – only highlight in their desolate extremity what is commonplace everywhere: that economics and power, more than religious sentiment, may be behind campaigns of death and hate. In many ways, Mehrabad may just be microcosm of modern inequality, with all the pluses and injustices it bestows on those on different sides of the divide.

Two weeks ago, when Malik Amjad told me Chishti may have fabricated the entire case against Rimsha, I urged him to go on record with the information. But he said it was not yet time: “Let the issue be handled quietly. It will be better for everybody.”

Today, the Imam is in police custody for very same charge he levelled on Rimsha: blasphemy.

Hammad, Amjad’s nephew and the original complaint and accuser, has disappeared. And there’s another story there.

Some residents claim Rimsha’s older sister was proposed to by a neighbour – a Muslim. She turned him down. Weeks later, Rimsha was arrested for burning the holy pages.

Was Hammad that jilted neighbour? Some neighbours think so. Others say it may be the boy who runs the shop opposite Rimsha’s house, ‘Sharjeel CD and Video Point.’ As each day in the Rimsha saga brings new information and new scandal, perhaps this twist too will be confirmed in the days to come. We may also get clearer answers to why senior Muslim clerics like Tahir Ashrafi have spoken up for Rimsha. Some suggest Ashrafi has a child with Down’s Syndrome – a condition that has become attached to Rimsha’s very name.

For now, the nightmarish thought that Rimsha may be killed in prison is never far.

(From The News, Pakistan)

© 2012, Mehreen Zahra-Malik. This article may not be reproduced in any form without providing an active attribution link/ reference to The Pakistan Forum. All attribution links within the article must also be retained.

The author Mehreen Zahra-Malik Mehreen Zahra-Malik is assistant editor, The News International. She may be reached at mehreen.tft@gmail.com

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Imam Arrested in Pakistan for Implicating Christian Girl in Blasphemy Case


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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A young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy has to wait until Monday, September 3, 2012, to know whether she will be given bail, after a judge adjourned her case on Saturday, September 1, 2012. The case has focused attention on Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws that can result in prison or even death for insulting Islam. Human rights activists have long criticized the laws that help to persecute non-Muslims and settle personal scores.

On September 2, the arrest of an Imam named Khalid Chishti, in Islamabad, provided a new twist to the blasphemy case involving Rimsha Masih, a minor Christian girl.

The Imam, prayer leader of the Jamia Aminia mosque in the Mehria Jaffar neighborhood of Islamabad, was arrested on Saturday night after a person named Hafiz Muhammad Zubair, recorded a statement against the cleric before a magistrate. Zubair testified that he saw the cleric stuffing pages of the Quran in the bag of the Christian girl and implicated her under the contentious blasphemy law.

Police arrested Chishti based on this statement and produced him before a judicial magistrate, and then remanded in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi for 14 days.

Blasphemy accused cleric Imam Khalid Chishti

Blasphemy accused cleric Imam Khalid Chishti

Earlier, Zubair told the media that the incident took place while he and some other men were in ‘aitekaf‘ (seclusion) in the mosque during the holy Islāmic month of Ramzan. He said, “The bag brought to the mosque, had nothing in it. When he (Chishti) was given the bag, he went inside the mosque and pulled out two or three pages and added them to the bag. I told him what he was doing was wrong. He told me that it was evidence against the Christians, and a way to get them removed from the area.”

Zubair said that Malik Hammad, a local, handed the bag with the pages of the Quran over to the police. On August 16, when an angry mob surrounded the police station and demanded that action be taken against the Christian girl the police arrested Rimsha. She is being held at the high-security Adiala Jail, and her judicial remand extended by 14 days last week.Malik Hammad, ourt to take suo motu notice of the incident and take action against those who had really desecrated the Quran. He blamed the Christian girl for the incident.

An official medical board concluded that Rimsha was 14 years of age, and her mental development did not correspond to her age. Last week, Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer of Rimsha’s accuser, challenged the findings.

Khalid Chishti in a television interview last week accepted that he had, during a recent sermon, called for the eviction of all Christians from the neighbourhood if they did not stop their prayer services because “Pakistan is an Islāmic country given by Allah.”

The new evidence against the cleric could help defuse the blasphemy case against the Christian girl.

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