It is needless to emphasise that mutually-hostile sentiments between Muslims and Christians, the major religious entities and civilisations of the world, have always been there in one form or the other. But these feelings never manifested in an extremist ferment. Different societies had accepted multifarious cultural co-existence as a way of life and a modern-day reality. However, 9/11 has changed the global scenario most radically. There has been a phenomenal rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment—also called Islamophobia—in western societies. Islam has come to be identified with violence, provoking angry and catastrophic reactions by individuals and groups harbouring anti-Islam feelings. This hostility is manifested through desecration of the Holy Quran and publication of blasphemous material against the personality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the name of freedom of expression and regrettably, the governments there remain oblivious to the hurt it causes to 1.3 billion Muslims across the globe.

Some governments are even encouraging this phenomenon through anti-Islam state policies. A case in point is the publication of blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet in France during October 2020. It sent a wave of indignation in the entire Muslim world and almost all Muslim countries demanded the French government to take preventive measures to stop the recurrence of such acts. But French President Macron refused to heed the demand of Muslim countries. He not only described Islam as a problematic religion that needed to be contained, but also announced stricter oversight on schooling and better control over foreign funding of mosques.

The issue of blasphemy and Islamophobia is probably the biggest challenge confronting the Muslim World. It is not exclusive to Pakistan. The hate syndrome against Islam is not only causing upheaval in countries where it has raised its ugly head but is also causing strains in the relationship of the Muslim world with Western countries. The ugliest manifestation of this hate against Islam was the massacre of 50 Muslims in three mosques in New Zealand on March 15, 2019.

It goes without saying that Pakistan, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has been at the forefront in the efforts to check the phenomenon of Islamophobia and blasphemy in its tracks and building pressure on western countries at bilateral and multilateral forums. In response to the statement of the French President, the Prime Minister said “It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists. Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam and our Prophet (PBUH). Hallmark of a leader is that he unites human beings, as Mandela did, rather than dividing them. This is a time when President Macron could have put healing touch and denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation and marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation.”

The Senate and the National Assembly also passed unanimous resolutions strongly condemning the latest attempt of illegal and Islamophobic acts of re-publication of blasphemous sketches of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in France under the garb of freedom of expression.

It would perhaps be pertinent to recount efforts and initiatives taken by the PTI government in regards to discourage blasphemy which include: The speech delivered by Prime Minister at the 14th OIC Summit in Mecca on 1 June urging collective action by Ummah: His speech at the 74th General Assembly in September 2019 in which Islamophobia was the key theme of his address: His speech at the 75th UNGA session on September 2020 in which he inter alia urged the world body to universally outlaw wilful provocations and incitement to hate and violence and declare International Day to combat Islamophobia: His letter to the leaders of the Muslim countries in October 2020 and on November 18, 2020 giving an agenda for collective action against Islamophobia: His letter to the CEO of Facebook on October 25, seeking a ban on Islamophobic content: His discourses at international forums like SCO and ECO calling for efforts to curb Islamophobia and the adoption of a Pakistan-led resolution on Islamophobia by the 47th OIC Council of foreign ministers meeting held in Niamey on November 27-28, 2020 which reaffirmed that desecration of the Holy Quran and reprinting of caricatures of the Holy Prophet are not legitimate expression of the right to freedom of expression and opinion under human rights law. Pakistan joined the OIC Group in New York on 17 March 2021, to organise a high-level event to commemorate the OIC-designated International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

The OIC can surely lobby with EU countries and the UN to outlaw blasphemy and the desecration of the Holy Quran as has been done in some European countries regarding the denial of Holocaust and propagation of Nazism. That is the right way to go about it. Those who are agitating on the streets and challenging the writ of the state through violence must try to understand that there are no two opinions with regards to protecting the honour of the Prophet in the entire Muslim world and the Pakistan government is showing no slackness in this regard. There has to be a right way to go about it and it is only the collective effort by the Muslim Ummah which can help in this regard.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at ashpak10@gmail.com