The often-troubled relationship between religion and politics in Pakistan is the product of a complex history. Islam arrived in the Indian Subcontinent in the 8th century, establishing itself as the predominant tradition over the next millennium. During the 18th and 19th centuries, India was gradually incorporated under the British Raj. During British rule, Hindu-Muslim relations grew strained, leading to the eventual partition of British India and the formation of an independent, Muslim-majority Pakistan in 1947. Since independence, Pakistan has been plagued by periods of civil unrest, war with India, and despotic military rule. It has also seen a marked increase in religious influence in the sociopolitical sphere, particularly under the military dictator Zia ul-Haq (1977-88). Pakistan remains unstable in part due to its ambivalent relationship with religious extremists. Islam is the state religion and laws are required to be in accordance with Islam. Although the Constitution formally grants religious freedom and makes provisions for religious minorities, non-Muslims are subject to discrimination in rural areas.Pakistan’s Penal Code (revised 1986) has the authority to impose draconian punishment for blasphemy against the Prophet. While there have been over 127400 people charged with blasphemy between 1986 and 2011, very few people have been legally tried or convicted.” In some cases when people have been convicted in the lower courts, the higher courts and judges have overturned the decisions creating further discord between the Muslim majority and religious minorities in the nation.
May 3, 2011
January 17, 2011
The great majority of Bangladesh's 160 million citizens are Muslims, making it one of the world's largest Muslim communities. Bengali Islam is distinctive, shaped by a long history in which adherents of different religions lived side by side. A Muslim family prayed five times a day, but also went to the Hindu temple. Bengali Islam was seen as tolerant, infused with the poetry and language of love of the Sufi traditions. Bengali women rarely wore head coverings. People speak, with pride, about...
November 8, 2010
October 23, 2010
Polio, that long dreaded disease, is almost but not quite eradicated. The global polio eradication campaign
(a joint effort of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Rotary Foundation) was launched in 1988, with the target of ending polio by the year 2000. It has achieved remarkable success: by 1994, polio was officially declared eliminated in all the Americas. But now, in 2010, polio is still a threat in eight countries, and the campaign's hopes for defeating polio by 2012 hang on...
September 24, 2010
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan 'fact tank,'" has recently garnered immense media and popular attention with its "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey
In the second installment of a blog post in The Public Discourse, Thomas Farr argues that we must oppose violent extremists in part by promoting freedom of religion, both at home and abroad. Part one is available here.
August 30, 2010
Washingtonians will remember this ferocious August for its unusual and disconcerting heat - a merciless string of 90-plus degree days - and an intemperate, nasty, heated public discourse. Meanwhile, human crises of biblical proportions are unfolding across the world: stunning floods in Pakistan, a molasses-pace rebuilding in Haiti, heartbreaking conflict in central Africa, droughts in parts of Asia. We badly need to bring down the temperature and refocus the agenda.
August 23, 2010
There's a Ghanaian proverb that goes, roughly: "Plenty of meat and fish does not spoil the soup." The saying suggests that diversity and robust faith can thrive, all mixed together. Looking at the debates swirling about during these dog days of summer in America, it's worth asking whether such a commitment to energetic religious diversity, a covenant that is an integral part of America's heritage, is alive and well today.
June 7, 2010
March 9, 2010
In a previous post
, I voiced the fear that the Obama administration was placing U.S. international religious freedom (IRF) policy on the back burner, subordinating it to other less compelling administration priorities, or clearing the deck for initiatives that might be complicated by a robust defense of religious liberty abroad (such as outreach to Muslim majority countries or promoting international gay rights).
President Obama has on several occasions articulated his commitment to international religious freedom. Unfortunately, his State Department appears to be on a course that will seriously downgrade the nation's international religious freedom policy.
March 1, 2010
Jane, a Kenyan woman, showed off her brand new house to Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, which had financed the housing development. She was justifiably proud. Starting with nothing, Jane worked and saved for years to escape the Mathere Valley slum community where she used to live. Jane exuberantly demonstrated the wonders of her toilet.
December 4, 2009
For Novogratz this was a truly a spiritual moment. My curiosity piqued by the association between sanitation and spirituality, we spoke...
November 12, 2009
THE most important moment in President Obama's Dec. 1 speech
on Afghanistan came when he outlined his administration's exit strategy. "Additional American and international troops," he asserted, "will allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July 11, 20011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
Egypt, a country of some 82 million people, once was the intellectual, strategic and political hub of the Arab world. But today, Egypt is adrift. Cairo seems more crowded, more polluted and more chaotic than ever. The country is suffocating under a cloud of political ineptitude, apathy and cynicism, the likes of which I have never seen in Egypt.
October 21, 2009
President Hamid Karzai's last minute agreement to hold a second round of presidential elections on November 7 could be nothing more than a cynical ploy. The notion that the international community can work with domestic monitors to effectively prepare for such elections in the next 16 days, and that this run-off will produce a credible victor, is questionable.
October 15, 2009
June 20, 2009
If there is one thing successful revolutionaries hate, it's a mass movement. The "people" are a useful device for seizing power. Elements of the populace--bused in at the state's expense! --can be stage-managed to reinforce the message that the Leader is in charge. But under no circumstances can they take to the streets en masse to speak for themselves. This would run counter to law and order. Revolutionaries just love order.
June 9, 2009
This logic goes hand in hand with a brutal contempt for the masses...
We often bemoan the fact that we Americans have, to put it charitably, large gaps in our understanding of Islam as a religion and of the endlessly complex Muslim world.
May 18, 2009
Ignorance contributes to the global tensions that some call the "clash of civilizations". It makes it harder to deal with the day-to-day challenges of international interactions as well as with conflicts and hot spots. After 9/11 there was a blizzard of talks, books, and articles, the most intensive public education effort in...
April 24, 2009
One of the world's longest running and nastiest wars, in Sri Lanka, may be near an end. Sri Lankan government troops have cornered remnants of a force called terrorists by some, nationalist guerrillas by others: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. Over 70,000 people have died in a conflict that has raged, off and on, since 1983. Peace would indeed be a blessing.
April 16, 2009
The video shows the brutal beating of a young girl, well covered in her burka and red trousers, screaming and struggling as she is held down by a man and a woman. The scene symbolizes the tensions tearing Pakistan apart and it raises a host of questions. Is this what Sharia law is about? What does this primitive justice by bearded Taliban leaders portend for Pakistan? For south Asia? What's caused the Swat Valley, a region celebrated for peace, civility, and beauty, to change so rapidly? And...
President Obama heralded an encouraging new tone when he told Turkey's Parliament on Monday that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam...America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism...We seek broader engagement based upon mutual interest and mutual respect."
March 16, 2009
A. "Mr Sharif has a long history of...pretending to be principled," said the spokesman. "As someone who ordered his party supporters to storm the Supreme Court in 1998, his claims to fight for judicial independence sound so hollow." B. "Mr. Zardari...is destabilizing the nation," said Mushahid Hussain, a...former aide to Sharif. "Just a year ago, we believed it was the dawn of a new democratic era, but our leaders seem to be back in the old mind-set of tearing each other apart."
February 20, 2009
January 7, 2009
The Taliban: Coming to a Phone Near You?
To understand the escalating threat posed by the Taliban to Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Queens, New York, take a look at the Feb. 17 edition of the New York Times.
Story Number 1 is "Taliban Commander's Death Ends An Embarrassment for Afghanistan."
In this piece, we learn that Maulavi Ghulam Dastagir--a Taliban commander who organized the November 2008 ambush of an Afghan Army convoy-- was recently killed in an air attack organized by the American...
"(Israel's)... acts made me reflect on some of the commandments given by God to the 'Chosen People': Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. No one could be chosen by God to annex the land of other people and kill them."
December 31, 2008
Among the many statements I have read regarding the tragic situation in Gaza the above caught my attention. Penned by a Palestinian professor of American literature
, it reminds us of two facts:
December 4, 2008
As the new year dawns, India is massing troops near its border with Pakistan after the Mumbai tragedy, and Israel is wreaking havoc in Gaza to stop the rocket attacks from its hostile neighbor. Just days ago, the political scientist Sam Huntington died, bringing his controversial theory of "the clash of civilizations" back into the public consciousness.
Whose heart was not broken by the image of two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg crying for his parents, both of whom were murdered last week in Mumbai's Jewish Center? The world weeps with this innocent child, and for all of those whose lives were lost or torn apart in last week's carnage.
March 1, 2008
The Mumbai tragedy brings with it two sad lessons, not merely for South Asia, but for the entire world.
Recently I agreed to become a regular contributor to washingtonpost.com's provocative blog on religion and politics: 'On Faith'. My mission: to elucidate the intricate mysteries of Islamist politics. Something about my reputation for scholarly honesty and objectivity-- I was told--bolstered by my work with Arab democratic activists, suggested that I could make a compelling addition to the On Faith team! Who was I to argue?
August 29, 2007
When tragedy strikes, many look to religion to help understand what has occurred and why. The religious community offers comfort and support in times of trouble. But religion is not only about consolation. Religious institutions from time immemorial have engaged communities directly in action. After the 2004 tsunami, the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, and earthquakes in Peru, Pakistan, Iran and Japan, faith-inspired institutions were among the most active in bringing relief. The mobilization of...
January 28, 2007
The Executive Group of the Council of 100 met as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos; the C100, briefly, is a WEF initiative (rather atypical among WEF activities) that aims to further dialogue and understanding between "the Islamic World" and "the West". At present the group includes some 86 people, and the intent is that they be drawn from both the Islamic world and western societies, and from five major sectors: business, politics, religion, media, and civil society....