There is zero tolerance for hate speech in Pakistan, even if you are a cleric!

Published: May 21, 2015
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Maulana Abubakar was convicted of delivering anti-Shia hate speech during his sermon. He openly declared Shias as “infidels”. PHOTO: AFP

Recently, an anti-terrorism court set a precedent by sentencing a prayer leader belonging to Kasur for five years of imprisonment. Maulana Abubakar was convicted of delivering anti-Shia hate speech during his sermon. He openly declared Shias to be “infidels”.

In the last few months, over 4,000 individuals were arrested for similar offences while 21 have been convicted in Punjab for delivering hate speech, with some of them jailed for up to eight years.

I am not going to refer to this man as ‘qari’ in this blog, for a ‘qari’ is expected to be a respectful man who is dutiful towards his religion, actions and sermons. No one should possess a tolerant attitude for hate speech, especially those who are clerics and preachers of religion. A religion that is known for ‘peace’ has been shamelessly tarnished due to these very clerics.

Who has given anyone the right to label another an ‘infidel’? Doesn’t Islam teach you that God is the Supreme Judge of all things? Thereby, shouldn’t it be God who judges which one of us is an ‘infidel’? Either way, Abubakar went a tad bit too far by trying to incite hatred for Shias.

Religion has certainly become a shady money-making business that also receives political backup. By insinuating hate speech for Shias, we encourage the heinous crime of Shia genocide that has been rampant in Pakistan. Only a few days ago, the Ismaili community was targeted, and prior to that, the Ahmadis were targeted. Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, you name it and all the minorities are being squashed in this country which boasts a flag that gives significance to the minorities with its white mark – the same white mark which has now been painted red.

When Abubakar was prosecuted in front of the court, the prosecutors showcased a video recording of him delivering his hate speech. When he was questioned about it in court, this ‘Godly’ man denied the fact that the man in the video was in fact him and pleaded that he himself had not attended this specific gathering. At the same time, the defence counsel representing him alleged that the police purposely tried to implicate their client by planting evidence against him and made a request for him to be acquitted. Thankfully, Judge Haroon Latif, who was the presiding judge in the case, saw through the absurdity of the pleas and sentenced the said convict for a five-year term in prison.

In Pakistan, stirring religious hatred is unlawful. The law clearly states that any act or speech which instigates sectarian odium, whether inadvertently or wilfully, can lead up to a possible prison sentence for nearly seven years. Yet, there are hundreds of these clerics on the loose, who incite hatred every day.

Hate speech and attacks against Shias and those belonging to various other minorities rose in the 1980s during the rise of hard-lined Wahabism in Afghanistan. According to a report by BBC, Shias make up nearly 20% of the 180 million population of Pakistan. With the rise of ISIS and minority killings, there should be no forbearance for any hate speech or act of vehemence. I am no one to suggest to legal authorities how they should conduct their duty, yet if the country is already taking the terrorists to the gallows, then such convicts should be taken to the deepest pit of prison hell too.

People like Abdul Aziz and Abubakar have certain responsibilities, yet they wrongfully take advantage of their positions and preach their personal ideologies. A mosque, church, temple or any place where one feels close to God should be thriving with God’s light (noor, enlightenment) and should be peaceful; instead, people are either scared of going to these places for fear of being bombed or receive hateful messages from these clerics who are meant to facilitate your closeness to God, not take the message of peace and harmony away.

Another aspect that personally annoys me the most about these clerics and their sermons are the way they speak. Even if there is no hate speech in their message, I only wonder why their tone is filled with so much aggression. On a lighter note, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give them public-speaking lessons, where they are taught to speak gently’.

We as a country are living in a time where our original ideology of a sovereign nation needs to be brought back into the limelight. As the nation desperately tries to rebuild itself, which is the need of the hour, hatred and discrimination of any kind against any human being belonging to any race or creed should not be tolerated at any cost.

Let us rise from being mere keyboard jihadists and tackle the situation in our own apt way. I, being a woman, may not be permitted to attend these sermons, yet the men in our society should stand up against this issue. Call the anti-terrorism numbers and put these supposed ‘imams’ back in their place. It would just be a drop in the ocean, but surely one that will count.

You can report any suspicious activity in relation to terrorism in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh by calling 1135 and 1125 for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Do your part. Speak up!

Zara Hafeez

Zara Hafeez

A digital marketer, writer, a history buff, volunteer for humanitarian causes for The James Caan Foundation, UNICEF Promise for Children, among others and a tea-aholic. She tweets as @zara_hafeez (twitter.com/zara_hafeez)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    I’ve adopted a personal policy of zero tolerance for some time. While there isn’t so much direct hate speech as such in Shia majalis, the whole ‘My Islam is better than your Islam’ debate bores me to tears. If a Maulana is incapable of discussing enlightenment and compassion and is more interested in riling up his audience with yet another Shia-Sunni debate I simply get up and walk out.

    I’d suggest my Sunni brothers do the same. Don’t even wait for a Cleric to make it to hate speech. If he can’t guide you towards being a better Muslim and a better human being without fanning the flames of hate then he isn’t worth listening to.Recommend

  • Raazi

    As my lady Taylor Swift says “Band-Aids dont fix Bullet Holes”

    Stopping this leader is just like cutting the head of a hydra when you know that 2 more will prop up immediately

    I think arresting a imam for hate speech is just a PR exercise made by pakistan until it starts correcting its educational syllabus and regulate whats being taught in madrassa…Recommend

  • Queen

    When so-called ‘clerics’ like Abubakar utter something which is hate speech against any religion or sect, then the men who listen to the sermons of such ‘clerics’ should stop them then and there from further poisoning people’s minds but sadly, it seems that in our society people have lost the courage to stand up against hate preachers.Recommend

  • Milind A

    This ain’t going to work much, unless your religion is reformed (God forbid)…
    Looking back in history will give you a clue… Amhed Shah Abdali, who invaded India and fought the battle of Panipat with the Marathas, faced this Shia-Sunni tussle in his army. The Sunni soldiers stoned the processions of Shia soldiers, during his stay in India. Wary of the Maratha onslaught and not wanting any divisions in his army, he clamped hard on the Sunni soldiers through harsh punishments (driving an iron nail or arrow through the noses of the Sunni soldiers etc.)… This subsided for a while, receding under the surface, but the divisions were back, after the decisive battle was over…Recommend

  • Khalid Shaikh

    There is no shortage of hate speech, These are only examples caught on camera, Punjab streets are full of wall chalkings against the Ahmadis, clearly declaring Ahmadis to be harassed, boycotted on all levels of society, and killed whenever (whenever needed for own personals reasons or for scapegoating) is this not hate speech? is this not inciting towards violence? They don’t even protest.Recommend

  • seismann

    The heading should be :”There should be zero tolerance for hate-speech in Pakistan,especiALLY so in the case of clerics.”Recommend

  • siesmann

    Yet majority Sunni Pakistan names its missiles after Abdali.Talk of self-hatred!!Recommend

  • siesmann

    Exactly.History writing and curriculum setting should be taken away from mullahs,and professional historians and educators should take over.Recommend