A Catholic bishop in Pakistan is expressing concern about an Islamic group's petition to ban the Bible. The extremist group says the Christian scriptures contain “blasphemy” and “pornography.”
“We Christians are in Pakistan, and we have a right to our Bible,” said Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore. On June 6, he told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that people were “very shocked” by the campaign.
The Islamist political party Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami has asked Pakistan's Supreme Court to declare certain Bible passages as “blasphemous.” If their demand is not met, the political party will request that the Bible be formally banned in the country.
Christians who criticize Islam already face persecution under Pakistan's “blasphemy law.”
But Lahore's auxiliary bishop does not expect the Bible itself to be condemned officially. He said most Muslims respect the Bible more than the members of Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami.
The Islamist political party's leader, Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, says that some Bible passages describe prophetic figures, such as David and Solomon, as engaging in moral crimes not mentioned in the Quran.
Farooqi acknowledged that the proposed ban was partly a response to U.S. pastor Terry Jones, who was involved with a burning of the Quran in March.
Bishop Shaw called for calm, saying that the request was an attempt to provoke Christians.
“Problems like this are happening one after the other,” he said. “If we give the right response, the matter will die away just like any other debate that suddenly flares up.”
Pakistan has been embroiled in a number of religious and political conflicts this year.
Federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer were both killed after expressing their disagreement with the blasphemy law.
Taseer, killed in March, sought to grant pardon to Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death under the blasphemy law.
Bhatti was a Catholic who pursued religious freedom and peace in Pakistan, despite being subjected to threats against his life. He was murdered by Islamic extremists this past January.
Meanwhile, the killing of Osama bin Laden has intensified anti-Western sentiments. Bin Laden's death in May prompted Pakistani Christians to prepare for potential attacks.
Schools and Christian institutions were closed during this time, and local churches were guarded with high security measures. Christians also received security from Pakistani authorities.
In this tense atmosphere, Bishop Shaw said Pakistani Christians should remain careful – and prayerful.
“If we want to make an issue out of it, it will certainly become one,” he observed. “We must be wise and instead ask people to pray for us, to remember us before God.”
"What we need right now,” he said, “is prayers and patience.”