Pakistani politician Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, addresses his supporters during an election campaign in Lahore, Pakistan, on July 23, 2018. Pakistan holds general elections on July 25. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Stop the ‘weaponization’ of religion in Pakistani politics

(RNS) — This week, as hundreds of religious leaders, nonprofit heads and government officials gather in Washington for the State Department’s first-ever ministerial on religious freedom, an election about to take place in Pakistan shows why the cause of religious freedom is as important as it has ever been in modern history.

For Pakistan’s Christians and minority Ahmadi Muslims, the run-up to Wednesday’s (July 25) vote has been terrifying. New hard-line Islamist political parties, such as the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, have risen, focusing on denigrating the Ahmadis.

Last November, the TLP organized a violent protest that called for Ahmadi Muslims to be removed from high positions in Pakistani society, and demanded that a list be created of all Ahmadi Muslims working in the government. Ahmadis have long been subject to targeted killings, bomb attacks and vigilante violence, and the prospect of being publicly identified cast an even darker shadow over the community’s future.

This kind of harassment is not isolated to extremist political parties. Earlier this month, Imran Khan, the celebrated cricketer and the establishment Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s candidate for prime minister, announced his support for controversial blasphemy laws, which have long been used to target and punish religious minorities. Khan’s hard-line approach has further marginalized religious minority communities.

Meanwhile, on July 4, the Islamabad High Court ruled that citizens must declare their faith when applying for any government-issued identification, a necessity for government employment. By stating that all citizens “have a right to know the religious beliefs of civil servants,” the IHC has laid the path for extremist groups to physically target and eliminate anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the political establishment’s ideology.

The Federal Minister for Information appealed the court’s decision, but when Pakistan’s most popular leaders and highest courts signal that certain religious communities are second-class citizens, the damage has already been done.

Take, for example, an attack on the 100-year-old historic Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot in May. Though the Ahmadi community was granted permission to make renovations, a mob attacked the mosque and the historical residence of the faith’s founder under the eye of the municipal authorities. The mob was allegedly led by Hafiz Hamid Raza, who is affiliated with Khan’s PTI.

Pakistani volunteers collect debris from a demolished Ahmadi mosque in the eastern city of Sialkot, Pakistan, on May 24, 2018. Sunni extremists demolished the mosque belonging to Pakistan's minority Ahmadi sect, the latest mob attack on minorities in the country. No one was inside the Ahmadiya Mosque and there were no casualties in the pre-dawn assault. (AP Photo/Shahid Ikram)

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Despite widespread international condemnation, a resolution in Pakistan’s Sindh province condemning the attack was rejected by legislators. The participation of a political leader in the attack on the mosque and the subsequent refusal to denounce such acts by a provincial assembly affirm that the Pakistani state is itself a major part of the problem.

As a consequence of the increasing discrimination, incitement and violence targeting Ahmadis, the community has decided to boycott the elections entirely out of fear that its members may be attacked.

Similar examples could be drawn from Pakistan’s Christian community, whose citizens have been frequently, unjustly imprisoned without proper due process and whose churches have been regularly attacked by extremists to the neglect of the nation’s security forces.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we both serve, has also been monitoring alarming efforts within Pakistan’s military establishment to encourage politicians to stoke interreligious hate and violence in order to gain campaign funding and electoral support from religiously intolerant voters.

Pakistan’s decline has been consistent and entirely predictable. Every year since 2002, USCIRF has recommended to the State Department that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern” due to “ongoing, systematic, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The international community and the U.S. government must put unrelenting pressure on whoever wins Wednesday’s election to immediately stop the harassment of the country’s religious minorities. The State Department should work collaboratively with its European partners, including the European Union and United Kingdom, to put Pakistan on notice that its failure to address these concerns will impact aid and trade.

Without sustained pressure from the U.S. and international community, the already dwindling population of religious minorities in Pakistan will soon face an existential threat.

The shame of our world’s record on religious freedom is that the story of any of a dozen minority groups could be told just by changing the names and country in this article. In a dozen more, the situation has so degraded that the persecuted minorities would like nothing more than to be in the situation of the Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan today.

The success of this week’s ministerial will be determined not by the quality of sentiments shared by those present but by the strategic change made because of it. All eyes will be on Pakistan as the first of many places in which much must be done, fast.

Johnnie Moore. Photo courtesy of The Kairos Co.

Gayle C. Manchin. Photo courtesy of USCIRF

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(The Rev. Johnnie Moore, as a commissioner, and Gayle C. Manchin, as a vice chair, serve on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)


  1. Stop the weaponization of religion in American politics first.

    You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

  2. Goshes! Religion is demonstrating once again its message of love, peace, tolerance, and morality. Everyone knows you can’t have morality without religion.

  3. In addition, don’t confuse morality with “the “do”s and “don’t”s of the Bible”. Those are both completely different concepts that many people commonly confuse.

  4. Certainly you have been unable to articulate a morality.

  5. But it is a dictate of the Koran to kill all non-believers!!

  6. Because gods commandmentshave nothing to do with morality?

  7. Pakistan has been weaponizing religion for over 70 years.

    First in its regular conflict with India over Kashmir and Jammu and then in order to extend their influence into Afghanistan (creating the Taliban and enabling the start of Al Queda) and then from 1999 onward to solidify the support of the military government which overthrew the first woman head of state of a Muslim majority nation ever. Pakistan used islamicism as a way to drive out moderate and democracy minded people for nearly 20 years. Its been useful for keeping its dictatorship going. So of course military backed political candidates in the current election rely on it now.

  8. You know the answer to that.

    3 are strictly for sectarian conformity.
    4 are nice thoughts but are more like useful guidelines to civilized behavior

    Only 3 of them might, but they are universal to all cultures as a way to keep the basics of an ordered society.

  9. Its is a dictate of all Abrahamic religions to treat non-believers as less than people.

  10. Of course I know that!

    The comment was simply placed to invoke the demon known as The Usual Suspect. He’s a bit—Oh, what’s the word?— obsessive. So many demons are in my experience. You’d think that after an eternity in hell, with all of the prophecies, that they would opt for a more practical course.

  11. One should be careful about invoking demons and other foul creatures of the netherworld. They always turn on you after being invoked.

    (See Roger Delgado’s entire run on Doctor Who from 1971-73 for examples.)

  12. Unbeliever children are better off being murdered according to Jesus

    Matthew 18:6
    “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to
    stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung
    around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

  13. Sometimes, they coincide. In these cases, they do not. Where they serve as a form of authoritarian right wing fascist support.

  14. Guess what morality actually means and you’ll be happier.
    Hint: It is not synonymous with the arbitrary “do”s and “don’t”s of bronze age nomads who conceived their idea of a “God” and made a “Bible”, a hilarious and laughable book of fiction which has been used to back wars and discrimination.

  15. Morality comes from the Latin “moralis” – manner, character, proper behavior.

    It is a system which differentiates intentions, decisions, actions, and inactions that as proper or improper.

    It can be a body of standards or principles arising from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can be a standard that a holder believes should be universal.

    So, are you able to articulate a morality?

    Let’s try this, which seems to have stumped Ben:

    Explain the basis for minority rights.

    Coming from a natural law background, I proposed:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    As an opponent of natural law, Ben rejected that.

    So, illuminate us.

  16. This one sure does. But that worm turns regardless, just like he shows up whether invoked or not. Kind of like the proverbial bad penny, or the buzzard in African folklore.

  17. “Natural law” [sic], a.k.a. “Nature’s Gawd” – a Catholic doctrine where bishops try to boss around nature on how to flow in relation to LGBT issues and reality-based nature refuses.

    (The founders used the same wording before, but their usage actually made more sense and had more to do with state foundation than distorted pushed views on what “nature” is.)

    Also, that’s BS — “minority”. Self-identifying Christians (practicing or non-practicing) are the majority of the US population. We’re the minority under harm, and have been able to win and we don’t even need courts on the other half in many cases. We can change the law and the constitution politically and vote out your fundie Republicos at any time there’s a November with a Senate or House election. Or move to a state that isn’t a shithole the way Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, etc. etc. are.

  18. Actually Natural Law dates back to the Greek and Roman who were pagans.

    Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the passage I quoted from the Declaration of Independence, was hardly a Catholic.

    Now that you’ve made your bona fides as an ignorant git, we can consider the conversation closed.

  19. “Actually Natural Law dates back to the Greek and Roman who were pagans.”
    Then it’s “their” doctrine then. And it’s still made by humanity, there’s no sense of “nature” in it at all. “Natural law” has no intrinsic meaning. It’s a nonsense definition of “natural law” that fundies try to back in the modern day as if it meant anything.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    Which is in favor of us…”Creator” can mean more than a fake god that people have pushed around for centuries and over two millennia to fool people and force them to practice their religion.

    “Natural law”, the way conservative fundies push, does not have anything to do with the founders’ usage of it, which is a completely different definition. Your fundies fucked up the meaning to imply that unequal access to society and basic aspects of life is inherent, necessary, and required and that is the basis for the cult of religious fundamentalism.

    “Now that you’ve made your bona fides as an ignorant git, we can consider the conversation closed.”
    It’s not even hard to disprove your bullshit. It’s infinitely easier to disprove it than to convince you that it is bull.

    Case closed.

  20. You’re blocked.

    Exhibit ignorance with someone else.

  21. Fine, I’ll be “ignorant” with anyone else, whatever that means. Fine, go ahead, block me. I’ll block you too.

    (Oh, and a PS for anyone else reading this: “Ignorance” apparently means something along the lines of “I don’t trust religion as a basis for my own independent decisions…there are millions of beliefs and interpretations of such an ambiguous ancient book which has used numerous methods to translate it that it’s not even easy to know what’s real or not…and it’s not worth my time.”

    And it’s not Christianity that’s at fault. It’s religious fundamentalism, a rapidly shrinking cult of Christianity which denies scientific evidence and relies on belief, not truth.)

  22. Equivalent to Mark 9: 42 and subsequently borrowed by Matthew in 18:6. Rigorous historic testing concludes the passage is not authentic. e.g. Professor Gerd Ludemann from his studies published in Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 65-66.

    The Great Kibosh rules again:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten
    seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e.
    Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e.
    Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e.
    Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey
    gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on

    A constant cycle of
    reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings
    (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that
    we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups
    calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally,
    Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early
    philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely
    different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for
    eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  23. If Imran Khan finds it necessary to support the current blasphemy laws in Pakistan then very little can be done to alleviate religious persecution in that country at this time.

  24. Religious belief is not based on historical fact, rational appeals or evidence. So appeals to any of the above are not going to counter such belief.

  25. Obviously you need to catch up with the reality of the 21st century.

  26. Laughing at your lack of education but here is some added knowledge for the 21st century:

    The Apostles’Creed 2018: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and
    theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be
    proven and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an
    unproven, human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young
    Jewish girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple
    rabble-rouser by the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent
    into Hell, a bodily resurrection

    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


    used are available upon request)

  27. First we need to cease the weaponization of religion in US politics. The Calvinists AKA evangelicals have abused religion ever since they landed on the American continent.

  28. Nope. Laughing at the quixotic arguments as if religious belief was rational.

  29. It is true that Pakistan is and has been weaponizing religion. India’s Hindu Nationalist government is doing the same thing. The oppression of the Muslims in occupied Kashmir is similar to the situation of the Palestinians. Even some progressive Indians support the Pakastani Muslims in Kashmir.
    Speaking of the Middle East, how can the USA be part of the alliance of Sunni’s and Israeli’s against Shiite Muslims and pretend to support religious freedom.

  30. An the vast majority of American Christians would respond to that with “Fake News”. They will not even consider that information.

  31. Natural law, whether by Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas, is premised on a nature created by a God. Some contemporary thinkers would base it instead on nature. To do that is to commit the Naturalistic Fallacy or using an “is” to
    determine”ought”. Those who deny a creator God must reject Natural Law.

  32. Creator as written by Jefferson did not reference the Christian God, but Epicurus’s God. Until the theory of evolution, it was believed by almost everyone that this reality must have been created by a conscious being. That is no longer true. Since many of us now believe it was created by natural forces some have substituted Nature for the creator in the theory of Natural Law. This is in error because natural forces can have no conscious goals. It is not logical to say that because it’s natural it must be right.

    You should consider it a complement that Bob Arnzen blocked you. He does that rather than accept his defeat in a discussion. I was blocked some time ago.

  33. That is why hammering it home in all media venues is important.

  34. Maybe, but I think it would take a person to person discussion. Possibly meetings with a speaker and discussion afterword.

  35. “You should consider it a complement that Bob Arnzen blocked you. He does that rather than accept his defeat in a discussion.”
    Which is exactly the way me and others at David Cary Hart’s blog proudly wear on our uniforms our lifetime ban from LifeSite”News”. 🙂 They deny everything is true unless it hurts LGBT people and bans people especially when it’s something they know they can’t argue against and win legal battles against.

  36. It doesn’t matter if Jesus actually said it. Believers believe he did.

    It doesn’t matter if the curse of ham is nonsense. Believers quoted it anyway.

    It doesn’t matter if segregation was not biblically justified. Believers believed it was.

  37. And once people believed the earth was flat and the earth was the center of the universe. Promulgate the new good news by sending a copy of the Great Kibosh and the 2018 version of the Apostles’ Creed to one and all!!! Danke Schoen!!

  38. Natural law means: seems good to me.

  39. And since you’re not a Believer, nothing you say is of significance.

    It is probably worth pointing out to the folks who read Religion News Service to actually get news about religion, and perhaps discuss it, that there is a JoeMyGod contingent on board whose sole and only purpose is to carp at and ridicule religion and “religionists”.

  40. So, there are two things that are not rational: religious belief and your posts?

  41. Nor is your atheism.

    Looks like a tie.

  42. Referring, of course, to the causer, not the little ones.

    You really work at the bonobo shtick.

  43. In your case that doesn’t take much effort.

  44. If you’ll stop the weaponizing of the LBGT agenda there might be something to talk about.

  45. It is probably worth pointing out to the folks who read Religion News Service to actually get news about religion, and perhaps discuss it, that there is a JoeMyGod contingent on board whose sole and only purpose is to carp at and ridicule religion and “religionists”.

  46. And not even referring to children in a literal sense, but to the most powerless and insignificant of Christ’s followers, the disciples themselves being the exemplars.

  47. Khan won. Pakistan, civilization, and religious freedom lost.

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