A Christian man and his family were rescued from a mob after intervention by Muslim clerics and local police in Wazirabad.
On July 3, a large number of stick wielding men gathered outside his house and shouted slogans against him. But local cleric Qari Naeem and several other Muslims helped the police intervene before the situation worsened. Hafiz Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council (APUC), says his group played a key role in rescuing 40-year-old Aftab Masih, a father of five who was wrongly accused of speaking ill against Islam.
Aftab, who is a resident of Wazirabad’s Railway Colony, had an argument with 18-year-old Zain Shah, another resident of the locality, after Zain kept asking his 12-year-old son Akash and five-year-old son Adnan to change their religion.
Zain is the son of a retired Pakistan Railways constable, Safdar Shah.
“I only defended my Christian faith but it was construed as blasphemy against Islam,” said Aftab. “Whenever my children went outside, Zain told them to convert to Islam.”
“Whenever my children went outside, Zain told them to convert to Islam”
He said Zain had also told his sons they would not be allowed to take drinking water from the nearby mosque until they converted to Islam,because otherwise they would defile the taps. Since there were no other sources of clean drinking water close by, other Muslims of the area had no objection to them taking water from the mosque.
The argument took place in front of Shafqat Hussain Shah’s shop on June 29, where Aftab asked Zain not to bother his children. “Upon hearing that, Zain became angry and used inappropriate language for the Christian faith,” he said. Shafqat, the owner of the shop, reprimanded Zain for using disrespectful language for Christianity.
By the evening, Zain’s elder brother and father were spreading rumors that Aftab had disrespected the Holy Prophet (PBUH), he said.
Aftab met Safdar Shah and several other people of the area to apologize, but Safdar said the matter should be presented before Hafiz Naeem, who runs the Jamia Mosque Gulzar-e-Madina.
After hearing both sides of the story, Hafiz Naeem declared that Aftab had not committed blasphemy. But Safdar Shah refused to accept the decision and said that the matter would be taken to Asif Hazarvi – who is a grandson of cleric Mohammad Abdul Ghafoor Hazarvi, the founding member of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).
The cleric declared that no blasphemy had taken place
“By the evening of July 2, several people had called me to tell me it was the talk of the town that I had committed blasphemy,” Aftab said. “I was sitting at my friend’s shop discussing this situation when about 300 men, armed with sticks and other weapons, reached my house and shoutedslogans.”
After an intervention by Aftab’s Muslim neighbors, it was decided that they would wait until the meeting with Hazarvi. Among those at that meeting were a catholic priest, Wazirabad city SHO Nawaz Gujjar and cops from the Elite Force, Safdar Shah and many of his supporters,Shafqat Hussain Shah, and Hafiz Naeem. After listening to everyone, Hazarvi declared that no blasphemy had taken place.
But there were dozens of hostile men present outside. “Shafqat Hussain Shah and Hafiz Naeem took me in their custody and brought me home,”Aftab said. He has since left Wazirabad and is in search of new means of livelihood.
Tahir Ashrafi says the situation would have been quite different if the local clerics hadn’t taken a stand. “Since 2013, we have intervened on 23 such occasions, to stop them from becoming major incidents.”
After the Joseph Colony incident in Lahore in 2013, Ashrafi says a large meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders was convened, and they were assured that misuse of the blasphemy laws would not be allowed. “Since that meeting, we have arranged training workshops with about 7,000 clerics who were exposed to the misuse of the law.” His group had asked why the blasphemy suspect was convicted but no one was punished for ransacking and burning more than 100 houses, he said.
After that, his group intervened when a Christian couple was killed and burned by a mob in Kot Radha Kishan, when another Christian couple was falsely accused of blasphemy in Sheikhupura, and when dozens of Christians in Faisalabad had been accused of blasphemy in Faisalabad because of a disagreement over graveyard land. The Pakistan Ulema Council also helped control increasing hatred towards Christians after the Youhanabad incident, Tahir Ashrafi said.