by JAMILA RIZVI
As Muslims around the world mark the end of Ramadan, this is the time of year when we see the very best of Islam. A religion with peaceful goals, whose rituals and celebrations are breathtaking to behold and whose followers are overwhelmingly good and kind people.
We have just passed through the final day of Ramadan (the month of fasting from dawn until sunset), which is the Muslim holiday Eid. Eid is a day of celebration, where Muslims across the globe come together in unity, to mark the end of the month of fasting and enjoy a day of festivities.
But yet again this annual opportunity for the Islamic faith to show the very best of itself to the non-Muslim world, has been lost. And yet again we see a reinforcement of the West’s perceptions of the negative aspects of Islam; the beliefs and the actions that are perpetrated by extremists and dominate our news coverage.
As tensions rise again in Syria and we prepare to see more bloodshed, we have also seen news reports out of Pakistan that an 11-year-old Christian girl could face the death penalty for blasphemy. They are horrifying.
The Guardian reports:
An 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl could face the death penalty under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, after she was accused by her neighbours of deliberately burning sacred Islamic texts.
Rifta Masih was arrested on Thursday, after complaints against her prompted angry demonstrations. Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has ordered the interior ministry to investigate the case.
As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.
On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes’ drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.
One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September. “I don’t think anyone will dare go back after this,” said one Christian, Arif Masih. “The area is not safe for us now.”
A few brave souls have stayed behind, but shopkeepers have refused to serve their Christian neighbours or supply them with water. Locals say only about 10% of families in the area are Christian, renting cramped houses from Muslim landlords. They tend to do dirty, menial jobs such as sewer maintenance.
As with any case, there are disputes around the exact nature of what happened. For example, did this girl burn the actual Qu’ran or simply a pocket book of Qur’anic verses remains contentious.
At present only one witness has come forward and his own testimony appears quite unclear, he cannot confirm exactly what he saw being burnt except that the paper had Arabic words written on it.
There are also claims that the girl has Down’s syndrome, which are strongly denied by the local Muslim community.
Regardless of the truth, it is clear that this girl – who is the same age I was when I was reading the Famous Five and had posters of the Backstreet Boys on my walls – faces a very uncertain future, for doing something she most likely couldn’t contemplate the gravity of.
A long prison term for her apparent ‘blasphemy’ is likely. The death sentence, while remote, is certainly a possibility.
Each year, I feel overwhelmed by the beautiful photos and stories that come out of Muslim nations during the month of Ramadan. The sense of spirituality and of devotion, is somehow strengthened all the more, when you see so many people coming together in shared belief.
While that belief is not one I hold, it is an integral part of my family’s history and even laying that aside, the beauty of the rituals and the strength of peoples’ faith is something that can be admired even as an outsider.
Ramadan is a chance for the world to look to Islam as a positive force for good, instead of focusing on the evils, that far too often happen in its name.
And yet each and every year a story like this will come to the surface, a story that makes your stomach churn, a story that makes you wonder if the good name of Islam – one of our oldest faiths – will ever be recovered in the eyes of the West.
Maybe next year.