The Faith of One Man Against a Nation
On July 29th, a father, Tahir Ahmad Naseem, was shot in a Pakastani Court. His killer was praised as a hero.
His daughter, Mashal Naseem, cries out against the injustice her father faced as there was little done about protecting his religious freedom. Tahir Ahmad Naseem was an American citizen and a passionate believer in God, however, his self-proclamations of being a Muslim prophet captured the attention of other Muslims in Pakistan. Mr. Naseem was part of the heavily persecuted Muslim sect, Ahmadi, and those affiliated with this marginalized group have been deemed mandatory to kill by some mainstream Muslims, like the Sunnni and Shiite.
As he was becoming more vocal about his story and perspectives on social media, a few students from a Pakastani madrassa institution, otherwise known as an Islamic religious school, lured Mr. Naseem to Pakistan by offering him a position in a religious debate. The students then filed a police report claiming he was spreading propaganda that he was Prophet Muhammad’s “successor” which is a crime with a penalty of either death or life imprisonment. While authorities tried to reassure Mashal that her father would most likely be acquitted on a lack of evidence, he spent two years in a Pakastani jail. On the day of his trial, Mr. Naseem was being trialed for blasphemy when he was gunned down by a 24 year old shooter who was immediately placed under arrest after the murder.
While Mashal Naseem does not agree with her father’s beliefs, she has continued to be vocal in voicing her disapproval of the United States government’s choice to not interfere as they slacked on protecting one of their own citizens. The Pakistan blasphemy laws are well-known for specifically targeting religious minority groups as believing in any other prophets that come after Prophet Muhammad is considered a grevious offense. This religious persecution has existed since the mid-1900s and has seeped into school curriculum and political discussions, ultimately resulting in the Ahmadis not only being ousted from their own religion but also society.
Similar to how the Puritan sect fled to America in the early 1600s because of persecution in England, many persecuted religious minorities today call the United States their home as the Constitution promises protection of religious freedom and expression. However, as certain religious groups are minorities, they do not receive the same exposure in the media as mainstream religions do which results in their continuous persecution. In response to the US government’s inaction toward Mr. Naseem’s injustice, over 47,000 people have signed a petition calling for the US government and United Nations to hold the killer accountable and condemn Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Since Mr. Naseem was vocal in proclaiming himself as a prophet, many of his opposers labelled him as mentally ill to justify belittling and persecuting him. However, regardless if the teachings are agreeable or disagreeable to others, as an American citizen, Mr. Naseem had a basic human right to believe in what he wanted and express those beliefs so as long as it did not bring harm to others. Yet, in Pakistan, it is common for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands and decides if anyone who opposes the mainstream Muslim teachings is condemned to death. If the United States refuses to speak up on behalf of its own citizens then it shows other oppressive countries that religious persecution is tolerable.
According to the Pakistan’s Center for Social Justice, at least 1,472 people of religious minority groups have been arrested and charged under the strict Pakistan blasphemy laws. Without pressure from external international powers or other human rights NGOs to change, the malicious slander and persecution occurring within Pakistan will continue until all religious diversity is eradicated. Limiting religious freedom also corresponds with constrictions toward freedom of speech and expression enforcing a dictatorship.
As there is much bias against Middle Eastern religions in America, there is minimal attention given to this case of injustice across social media platforms. However, this has not deterred Naseem’s daughter as she endures a battle against countless death threats. Despite her disagreement about her father’s beliefs, she continues to emphasize the greater injustice that is occurring in both her country and the United States as Muslims all across the world are demonized for their faith. Living in a country that prides itself on the protection of freedom ideologies, Mashal Naseem is calling for justice regarding the unfair treatment and death of her father, who was also an American citizen.
Stigma against marginalized religious groups affect the regulation of policies as public opinion often favors more of what is popular versus what is right. Additionally, Commissioner Johnnie Moore of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commented on how “it is outrageous beyond belief” that the Pakistan blasphemy laws resulted in the death of a U.S. citizen who was on trial for his faith. The USCIRF also voices their encouragement for the U.S. State Department to take action against the Pakistani government through a binding agreement to permanently repeal these discriminatory laws.
Yet, before the United States government can repeal the religious blasphemy laws of another country, it must first examine its own principles when it comes to defending the religious liberty of its own citizens. If the U.S. continues to turns blind eye to the religious persecution of minority groups within its own borders, then inspiring change in other oppressive regimes will be nearly impossible. As millions of American Muslims are persecuted and discriminated for their faith in America, the U.S. government can serve as a role model for others by displaying the benefits of supporting religious diversity as it promotes peace and kindness within communities.
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