Suicide Forces Us to Face Islamic Blasphemy Laws

National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Suicide Forces Us to Face Islamic Blasphemy Laws


Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, Pakistan, cried out to the world for justice (NCR, May 15). His cry will reverberate until the world risks looking at the Islamic repression he died protesting.

For anyone as self-reflective as the bishop showed himself to be, turning a gun on oneself is an awful prospect: not a wild gesture of the moment but the ultimate sacrifice approached calmly and in full awareness of the consequences -- a daunting act of conscience.

Before leaving home to travel the 100 kilometers to Sahiwal, he attended a prayer meeting for victims of the laws under which Ayub Masih and three other Christians have been condemned to death for alleged blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. "We cannot engage lawyers, the judges are scared and give biased judgments," Joseph, 65, told the meeting. "We have no way except to shed our blood, and the time has come to make a sacrifice."

Reports say he took some close associates with him on the trip from Faisalabad but parted with them at a short distance from the Sahiwal courthouse. He died of a gunshot wound about 9:30 p.m. on May 6. It was a shot heard around the world.

One quick result of the bishop's death has been to embolden people, in Pakistan and elsewhere, to speak out against the dark side of Islamic fundamentalism and authoritarianism. The whole world knows Salmon Rushdie less for his fiction than for the price placed on his head for alleged blasphemy against Islam. In a world where religion, at least in theory, is associated with love and compassion, this up-front vindictiveness startles us. This and similar chilling scenarios have discouraged critics from speaking out against abuses and injustices.

The immediate occasion of Bishop Joseph's gesture is but a small case in point. Sources say Ayub Masih was condemned to death not so much for blaspheming as for being on the wrong end of a local land dispute. …

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