Rev. Parvez Masih is not in jail for a crime of violence. He has not been charged with stealing or fraud. Nor is he suspecting of dealing drugs, breaking any traffic laws, or even littering. No, Rev. Parvez Masih is in jail for a crime most of the world cannot even comprehend: the crime of "insulting the Prophet." This crime is covered under Section 295c of the Pakistani code. Upon conviction, he faces the death penalty.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, like the witchcraft laws of medieval Europe and colonial America, are relics of a darker and more fearful time. But instead of jettisoning such cultural baggage as the world has become more enlightened, Pakistan has held onto these repressive laws.
Like the witchcraft laws of old, the "standard of proof" for such laws isn't very strict. And like the witchcraft laws, the blasphemy laws are ideal for "disposing" of someone you don't like: simply bring an accusation, and the authorities will do your dirty work for you.
That's exactly what happened to Rev. Parvezs Masih. He was operating a school in his village, and his school was doing much better, enrollment wise, than a school operated by a local Muslim cleric. The Muslim cleric arranged for some boys to ask him a question about one of Mohammad's wives, Aisha. When asked if this wife were only nine years old when Mohammed married her, Rev. Masih replied that the Quran stated that she was. Feigning outrage at Rev. Parvez Masih's matter-of-fact statement, the Muslim cleric had him charged with a violation of 295c. The problem of a rival school was thereby very neatly solved.
One might be tempted to say that surely Rev. Parvez Masih will get a fair trial. That might be true if the deck weren't stacked against Christians in Pakistan-one of the justices of the District Court was heard to say that a Muslim cleric's word was to be believed over that of a Christian. As if that weren't bad enough, Rev. Masih probably won't be able to get a lawyer to defend him. Muslim extremists have vowed to kill any lawyer who dares to defend him.
According to the United States Department of State, an average of 55 - 60 Christians are charged every year under the country's repressive blasphemy laws. Those who win acquittal are often torn apart by mobs incited by Muslim clerics.
If not for the efforts of organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs www.persecution.com
and Christian Solidarity Worldwide www.csw.com, Rev. Parvez Masih would have been just another poor Christian to waste away or perish at the hands of his persecutors-hidden from the eyes of the world. Now, however, the full light of day is shining into Rev. Masih's small, squalid cell, and on his persecutors. The sordid story of a radical Muslim cleric who shamelessly used the blasphemy laws to destroy a Christian pastor is now coming to the attention of the world.
The story of Rev. Parvez Masih's imprisonment and torture is not just a source of shame to the Muslim cleric who "framed" him, but it is a source of shame for the Pakistani government-and for Islam. It is shameful to the Pakistani government because neither the District Court nor President Musharraf has freed Rev. Masih. It is a source of shame to Islam, for what is being done to Rev. Masih is being done in the name of Mohammed. And while Rev. Masih does have his Muslim supporters, far too few have spoken up for him and against the blasphemy laws.
When unholy acts are committed in the name of Christianity, Christians should be the first to protest the misappropriation of their religion. Similarly, when evil is committed in the name of Islam, Muslims should be the first to protest the "hijacking" of their faith. Many Muslims, however, have been cowed into silence by threats from their extremist brethren.
Muslims must find their voices-and soon-if their religion is not to be forever identified with hate, intolerance, and senseless violence. One need not look further for evidence of hate and intolerance committed in the name of Islam than Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the imprisonment of Rev. Masih.
Yet we know that not all Muslims are bigoted, hateful, or intolerant. There are many examples of Muslim charity and Muslims helping Christians and others. However the good that is being performed in the name of Islam is being rapidly overshadowed by the acts of hate committed in its name. Clearly, Muslims who profess a love for Allah and other human beings-particularly the "people of the book"-must take the initiative and wrest their religion from those who are doing Satan's work in the name of Islam.
The starting point for Pakistani Muslims who wish to "take back" their religion from the radicals and extremists should be the repeal of the blasphemy laws and the relief of the human misery that has been caused by them. The "first fruits" of these efforts should be the immediate release and protection of Rev. Masih.
Make no mistake-the United States and other Western powers may trade with Pakistan and make temporary military and aid agreements with it, but Pakistan will never be considered a true friend until it stops the imprisonment, torture, and killing of Christians. Pakistanis should consider this statement very carefully, because it is of the gravest importance to Pakistan's future.
The people of Pakistan now stand at a crossroads. They can either join the rest of the civilized world in the 21st century, or they can continue to embrace Islamic extremism and consign themselves to a religious hell of their own making. Their choice will be made through action or inaction. If positive steps are not taken very soon, the choice will be made for them.
The choice will be made, for there are now two billion Christians in the world, and those in the West are awakening to the plight of their brethren in countries that torture, maim, and kill them. Pakistan is, unfortunately, in the forefront of those Islamic nations that are killing innocent Christians in the name of Islam.
Our religious Order, the Scottish Knights Templar, has as one of its major goals to focus attention on the problem of Christian persecution. We have priories in Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Lebanon, and we are affiliated with other Knights Templar priories in Germany, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Australia, and Russia. Together, we have pledged ourselves to the protection of our fellow Christians in foreign lands-and we are making our presence felt in churches and governments around the globe. Believe me when I say that we are awakening that "sleeping giant" of two billion Christians, and that we serious about sanctions being enacted against those nations whose human rights abuses include the persecution of Christians!
The day is coming, and it is coming much sooner than expected, when outrage against Christian persecution will thunder from church pulpits-and mosques-across the United States, Europe, Russia, and Australia. This outrage will reverberate through the halls of Congress and parliaments across the globe, and it will shake the foundations of those governments that condone or allow the persecution of Christians within their borders. To this we have pledged our knightly honor!
We also say "mosques," because most Muslims in the United States are also against the persecution of Christians and members of other religions. Muslims who call the United States and other Western countries "home" also prize their freedom of religion, and they consider it to be a basic human right.
It would be a shame if Pakistan found itself isolated and cut off from the West. After all, President Musharraf has lent his support to the international war on terror. The problem is that Pakistan is still engaging in terror at home-against Christians. Let there be no misunderstanding-Pakistan will either oppose religious terror in all of its manifestations, or it cannot be considered a true ally against terrorism. There is no "middle ground" here!
President Putin of Russia has already warned the United States to be wary of Pakistan, because of its radical Islamic clerics. We know that your country is teetering on the edge of chaos. Pakistanis are faced with hard choices. And one of those "iron truths" is this: freedom isn't free. Those Pakistanis who want to live in a country free of religious oppression must stand up for what is right. They cannot allow themselves to be cowed into silence by radicals and extremists. The radicals and extremists are actually in the minority, but they are ruling your towns and villages through threats and intimidation. If the majority, however, lack faith in themselves and in God, they will indeed be ruled by the extremist minority. Then we will know that President Putin's warnings were truly worth heeding.
If Pakistanis do not find the courage to change the blasphemy laws, they will find themselves economically and developmentally isolated. If they do not find the courage to free Rev. Masih and other imprisoned Christians, they will be find their country relegated to the dustbin of history, where it will join those other nations that have imploded because of unrepentant hatred and intolerance.
Hate and intolerance, and the child of these two-terrorism-are all wrong. It is wrong whether Muslims are killing Christians, or Christians are killing Muslims, or Palestinians are blowing up themselves in crowded restaurants, or Israeli soldiers are shooting Palestinian children who are throwing rocks. Our Order has, by the way, roundly condemned the Israeli government for its heavy handed actions in Jenin and other Palestinian-controlled areas.
We are all the children of God. We all revere Father Abraham. And while Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe their own religion is "right," we all observe this universal truth: God reserves the final judgment of human souls to Himself. Some of us may believe that the saints or Mohammed may make intercession, but final judgment belongs solely to Almighty God. Who are the children of God, then, to judge how God will deal with his children? And if those we claim to worship and revere are already in heaven, how then can our earthly voices add to or detract from their glory? If we cannot diminish or increase that which is already in heaven, then let God judge blasphemy for Himself. Indeed, if we presume to judge in place of God, is that not in itself blasphemy?
The blasphemy laws in Pakistan must go, and Rev. Masih must go free. I truly hope that all Pakistanis who love truth and justice will stand up and demand that Rev. Masih be released. I hope that they will then repeal the blasphemy laws. I hope they will do these things because the world is watching-and waiting.
I hope the Pakistani people will do these things quickly, not necessarily because Christians are running out of patience, but because we will all one day have to give account of ourselves to God. No one knows how many days will be allotted him or her upon this earth. What shall we say to God when He asks us why we allowed injustice and suffering to take place? Will we have an answer for Him when He asks us why we allowed suffering and death to be inflicted in His name?
And finally, we offer these prayers: May God give the Pakistani people the courage and the vision to do what is right. May Rev. Masih be released from his chains and spared martyrdom. And may Jews, Christians, and Muslims live side by side in peace, as they will if all of us faithfully and lovingly serve our God!
James R. Reese
Knight Grand Officer
Grand Prior of the United States
Priory of the Holy Angels
Scottish Knights Templar