Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 121, 8 July 2020

Pakistan court dismisses claims against Hindu temple construction
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news 

On 8 July, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) dismissed three identical petitions filed against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad observing that the construction of a place of worship requires mandatory approval of the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The matter is now being referred to the country's Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) an independent government advisory body of religious leaders, to make recommendations on this issue. Further, the government has asked for consultation on whether public funds can be used for the construction of the temple.

Several clerics have raised objection to the construction of the temple, with pressure mounting from religious, political, and civilian bodies. On 5 July, a group of men destroyed a partially constructed wall around the temple's land stating that it was their Islamic duty to do so.

Issues at large

First, PTI's promise on ensuring religious coexistence derails. When Prime Minister Imran Khan won the elections in 2018, he promised to uphold Pakistan as a symbol of hope and tolerance away from the country's violent sectarian past with regard to the construction of this temple. He also promised to improve conditions for Pakistan's religious minorities who have always faced discrimination. However, the recent development has only derailed his plans of projecting Pakistan as a secular country.

Second, opposition from the religious right. The religious right within Pakistan has strongly criticized the construction of this temple in Islamabad. Mufti Zia-ud-Din of the Lahore chapter of Jamia Ashrafia, a leading cleric in Pakistan, has issued a fatwa against the construction of the temple by calling it "un-Islamic." The fatwa, issued initially when the grant was approved, also states that according to Sharia laws it is not permitted for non-Muslims to build their new worship places or rebuild those which were in ruins as "this is a sin in an Islamic state."

Last, criticisms from the political right. The political right has also echoed similar criticisms like that of the religious right over the construction of the temple. The speaker of the Punjab Assembly along with other political leader have voiced strong contestations against the construction stating that it is against Islam and an insult to the Islamic kingdom. 

In perspective

First, the contention over the temple construction has brought out the stark realities of the minority rights in Pakistan. The mere construction of the temple has shaken the foundations of a republic which has promised equal rights to the minorities. For long Pakistan's minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, have been the targets of religious hardliners. The country's strict blasphemy laws have been disproportionately applied against religious minorities. It is the government responsibility to ensure that the rights of these minorities are secured.  

Second, although Pakistan was founded as an Islamic country, the country has a liberal section, starting from its founder Jinnah. The rise of the religious right has been challenging the liberal values; the democratic State is unable to resist the former and defend the latter.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)

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