With several Christians on trial awaiting potential death sentences for allegedly committing blasphemy  – tensions are increasingly high across Pakistan with a record breaking amount of blasphemy charges being waged against both non-Muslims and Muslims alike.  What is commonly known as the blasphemy law, went into effect in 1986 for the “use of derogatory remarks in respect of  Islam’s Holy Prophet”. In 1990, the Federal Sharia Court ruled that the penalty should be a mandatory death sentence, with no right to a pardon. May 2014 was especially unique in that on Saturday May 17th, three cases of blasphemy were registered in different parts of the country. 

The first was against four Jehovah Witnesses (3 female and 1 male) who were arrested for distributing Watchtower leaflets in Mirpurkhas.  Jam Zaffar, the Senior Superintendent of Police there, said the distribution of the leaflets was noticed by a member of Ahle Sunnat wa-al Jamaat (ASWJ), considered one of the most violent organisations carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan, who alerted other ASWJ activists which resulted in the group of four being surrounded by hundreds of protestors. Zaffar said the protestors were so angry there was fear of violence and bloodshed. Francis Khokhar, the groups legal representative, said, “as soon as the police took them into custody, I filed a motion for habeas corpus.” 

Pastor Samson Shukardin also spoke saying, “the police registered the case but released the three women on bail, but the man was sent to jail. Zaffar said that during the process ASWJ had surrounded the police station. “They seemed to have planned to halt the city and descend to violence,” he said. On the same day, but 900 kms northeast of Mirpurkhas, a 20-year-old Muslim youth allegedly set the Qur’an ablaze. In a fit of anger, Nazir Ahmed set the book on fire in Arifwala. His mother was furious and cried out for help; neighbours gathered and started to beat him. He was reported to have been beaten so severely he was close to death, but police intervened and took Ahmed into custody. 

Also on the same day, the media tycoon Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the female host of his TV Channels morning show, a film actress and her husband  were all charged with allegedly airing a blasphemous show on Geo TV. Three days before, the channel had aired the re-enactment of the actress  and her husband’s marriage. During this re-enactment, a Sufi song was sung that captures marriage between Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. Presenting Malik as a bride while the religious song was played infuriated many Pakistanis. The Sunni Ittehad Council, which represents 160 million Pakistani Sunni Muslims, registered a case against them in the Supreme Court.  

In Pakistan, Muslim attorneys are no longer safe. Some are trying to fight the abuse of blasphemy cases, but at the risk of their own lives. On May 7, a prominent human rights lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was murdered. Rehman is the first lawyer to be killed for taking on a blasphemy case. Rehman was shot by gunmen posing as clients in his office for representing Junaid Hafeez, an English professor arrested in 2013 accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. Hafeez had been in prison for nearly a year before Rehman agreed to represent him; his case became one of Rehman’s 228 blasphemy cases including Sherry Rehman, who was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States when charged with defaming Islam. 

Rehman joins a list of Pakistanis killed while opposing the country’s widely popular anti-blasphemy laws. Two elected officials, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed while trying to pass an amendment in the Penal Code to end abuse of the laws. The U.S. State Department and the Human Rights Watch have urged the Pakistani government to investigate Rehman’s killing. In a separate, May 14 incident, a criminal case of blasphemy was lodged against 68 Muslim lawyers. The lawyers were arrested for arranging a protest against a police officer who had illegally detained one of the group’s colleagues. 

The penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan is death, though no one convicted has yet been executed. Most are freed on appeal, often to face mob justice. Several people have been murdered while on trial, and more than 50 have been murdered in extrajudicial killings. The original blasphemy law dates back to Britain’s colonial rule over India, prior to the 1947 partition that created Pakistan. It was intended to prevent Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from using provocative religious language against each other. However, under President Zia-ul-Haq, in power from 1987-1988, the law was changed to protect only the Sunni version of Islam and increasingly has become a pretext to pressure Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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The al Qaeda offshoot terrorist group conquering parts of Iraq is gaining strength thanks to prisoner releases and its social media magnetism for foreign fighter recruits. As its ranks grow, the Islamic State (ISIL), has become the first terrorist organization to plan and execute a two-front land war, presenting yet another challenge to the West in its long war against Islamic extremists. The Islamic State has shown it can capture towns and territory in Syria and Iraq at once. Al Qaeda and its franchises have not accomplished such a feat. The Islamic State has demonstrated that it is an organized hierarchical army that launches campaigns based on brutal tactics, clear objectives and a time table.

“They’ve been able to project a lot of force into two countries simultaneously, which is unprecedented for a single group,” said Patrick Johnston, an analyst at the Rand Corp. He said al Qaeda, based in Pakistan, has projected power via franchises in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa. “But here we have a single group running complex operations that is able to fight a two-front war. You can’t do that without manpower and resources,” he said. The ISIL’s growing prowess does not bode well for the underperforming Iraqi Security Forces. Its ranks fled in large numbers as the fighters invaded from Syria, hooked up with old “Qaeda in Iraq” terrorists and proceeded to capture city after city, from Mosul to Tikrit on Baghdad’s doorstep. 

There were reports of militants emptying Mosul prisons of thousands of potential recruits” Mr. Johnston said.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIL’s reclusive leader, has positioned about 3,000 fighters in Iraq and some 7,000 in Syria, according to a U.S. intelligence official. Al-Baghdadi declared last week that he was the ruler of a new Islamic caliphate, which follows Shariah law, spanning swaths of Iraq and Syria. “ISIL is probably the strongest it has been in several years,” the official said. “Its momentum in Iraq and in Syria poses a threat to Western personnel and interests throughout the region.” Analysts of the group’s YouTube uploads say that ISIL owns air defence missiles as well as tanks and artillery pieces. 

“ISIL’s military capabilities have greatly improved as the group has gained access to advanced weapons from installations it has overrun,” the official said. About 5,000 members of ISIL’s army is composed of foreign fighters. In its quest to conquer Baghdad, ISIL may unleash these foreign fighters as suicide bombers in the Iraqi capital because foreign recruits tend to be more willing to assume that fatal role. ISIL cells in Mosul have shown an ability to unleash a wave of attacks against the Shiite-dominated government by deploying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. “They are an organized group able to coordinate complex operations in places of their choosing,” Mr. Johnston said. “That’s really the key to their success.”

ISIL has embraced social media like no other terrorist group. “A big part of its bureaucracy is a media committee,” Mr. Johnston said. “This produces propaganda operations that have been operating within Iraq since 2006.  There is already a picture on Twitter of Abu Umar al-Shishani, the military commander of the ISIL in Syria, stepping out of his personal Humvee,” the report notes. “Several posters on jihadist web forums and Twitter have sent out requests for helicopter pilots to potentially fly some of the aircraft that the ISIL captured in recent days.” The media committee also knows how to meet deadlines. Within hours of its Iraqi conquests, ISIL documented the victories in the English-language Islamic State News magazine.

“All extremist groups make use of social media to advance their causes, but ISIL’S media team is especially adept, and its target audience extends beyond the Arabic-speaking world,” Johnston said. The combination of ISIL’s growing power, the sorry state of Iraq’s army and the lack of a Sunni-Shiite governing coalition prompted US Army General Martin Dempsey, to say: “Will the Iraqis be able to recapture the part of Iraq that they’ve lost, I would say “Probably not by themselves.” Gen. Dempsey, who directed the training of Iraqi security forces from 2005 to 2007, laid out what now must be done: “You must squeeze them from the south the west and the north and from Baghdad. That’s a campaign that has to be developed.”

Source: Intercessors for America

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A statement by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) that people are not born gay has been welcomed as a major admission that helps men and women change unwanted same-sex feelings. Core Issues Trust (CIT), which is campaigning against a ban on therapy being offered to people who want to exit a homosexual lifestyle, says the statement admits what the RCP previously denied,. “that the causes of homosexuality are a combination of ‘biological and postnatal environment factors.’ So, if a child does not encounter such postnatal experiences, they will grow up heterosexual,” says the director of CIT, Mike Davidson. Davidson says however that despite its admission, the College continues to support the ban on change therapy. 

“The Royal College has also modified its view on whether sexual orientation can change, saying, ‘It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary during a person’s life,'” he says. “So how can that be consistent with a ban on people voluntarily seeking professional counselling to change unwanted same-sex feelings?”  They adamantly reject any right of patient self-determination in seeking therapeutic help to facilitate sexual orientation change, referring to “a right to protection from therapies that purport to change sexual orientation.” “The “right to protection” from such therapies already exists: simply don’t go to them. No one is putting a gun to the person’s head. 

They also claim that “the experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others, means that some lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience a greater than expected prevalence of mental health and substance misuse problems.” But societal discrimination doesn’t explain why active homosexual males experience significantly higher rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and lifetime sex partners than do homosexual females. Nor does it explain why homosexual females experience on average lower longevity in relationships and higher rates of mental health problems than do homosexual males.

The RCP statement does however shine some rays of truth by adding: “Nevertheless, sexual orientation for most people seems to be set around a point that is largely heterosexual or homosexual..” They conclude: “The College would not support a therapy for converting people from homosexuality any more than we would do so from heterosexuality.” Yet they conveniently overlook the point that heterosexual relations conform naturally to the complementary structures of male and female: anatomically, physiologically, and even psychologically. The true sexual complement to a man is a woman and to a woman a man. It takes many years of ideological indoctrination to obscure that obvious fact.

Source: Christian Concern

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Pope Francis preached a homily especially directed toward the six victims of sexual abuse by the clergy who were present at the Mass at the Chapel of St. Martha recently. In it, the Pope offered his own apology, on behalf of the Church, that such a terrible thing had happened and had been for “so much time hidden, camouflaged.” “For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation,” said Pope Francis in his homily. 

“It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left lifelong scars. 

“You and all who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the pain that darkness caused you may be healed by the embrace of Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy. “I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and He looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that He look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that He give us the grace to be ashamed, just like Peter.”

Source: Intercessors Network

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France’s parliament passed a burka ban in 2010, leading to protests from Islamic groups who said it was discriminatory. Now an attempt by a British legal team to reverse the ban has been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. In a test case which will have widespread implications in other countries, judges said that the measure aimed at stopping women covering their faces in public was entirely justified. They said that the right of ordinary people to ‘live together’ was a ‘legitimate objective’, and that Muslim women wearing face coverings threatened it.  Lawyers for an anonymous 24-year-old university graduate told the Strasbourg-based court that the ban was ‘degrading’ and a ‘breach of religious freedom’. 

The complainant, identified only by her initials SAS, is a French citizen but has family in Birmingham. Her British lawyer Tony Muman told the court at an earlier hearing that she is a “perfect French citizen with a university education. She speaks of her country with passion. She is a patriot.”. SAS in turn said in a written statement that being forced to take off her veil in public constituted ‘degrading treatment’. The law, which came into force in 2011, means women who wear full-face veils in public can be fined around £130. There have been arrests and convictions in France, but attempts to enforce the ban have also sparked disturbances, including a riot in the Paris suburb of Trappes last year.

Source: The Daily Mail

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As fundamentalist Islam takes root in many Muslim majority communities and nations, female children are increasing at risk of under-age forced marriage to Muslim men. It also means that Christian girls being kidnapped for forced conversion and marriage — trafficked across religious lines — will be younger as well. In Pakistan, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII — a Sunni, government-funded advisory body) has decreed that Pakistan’s marriage laws are ‘un-Islamic’. The CII is recommending that the minimum age for girls to marry be abolished, saying girls may be married ‘if the signs of puberty are visible’. The ruling has sparked intensive debate in Pakistan.

In Iraq, the minimum age of marriage for girls is set to be lowered from 18 to 9 in accordance with Shia Islam. In February, the Maliki government approved a draft law, allegedly for political gain ahead of elections. The draft law says girls reach puberty at age 9 and are therefore ready for marriage. It also states that a girl under 9 may be married with the consent of her male guardian, for a price. The law would also legalise marital rape and unrestricted polygamy. Now that the elections are over and the Maliki regime is back in power, the stage is set for the law to be enacted. For the sake of the children, the Church must pray for a great awakening amongst Muslims; may the light of Christ break through the darkness. 

Source: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

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