ASIA/PAKISTAN - Bitter fight between secular and fundamentalist Muslims in North-West Frontier Province over Sharia plans which threaten country’s democracy

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Islamabad (Fides Service) - Amidst general protests of large sectors of society, moderate Muslims, human rights groups and, religious minorities, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal MMA governing alliance of radical religious parties, launched the Hisbah bill in the provincial capital Peshawar on Sunday 4 July. The bill will enshrine observance of strict Islamic codes in people’s lives.
The Islamic alliance that runs the province say it will curb corruption and root out social evils, but moderate Muslims, non religious parties and many organisations have called on the central Pakistan government to prevent the adoption of the Bill.
Religious minority communities have also voiced concern, as the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance has stated. Recently Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said that discrimination against Christians in the country is increasing.
North-West Frontier Province territory includes the Catholic diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi with a population of 35 million including 250,000 Catholics very active in the fields of education and assistance in church run schools of all grades, hospitals and training.
In June 2003 Sharia law was adopted with a unanimous vote in NWF Province. Punishments under Sharia law include amputation of a limb for stealing and stoning for adultery, and it enforces compulsory Islamic religious instruction in schools.
A number of organisations are preparing to appeal to the Federal Court sustaining that Sharia law is contrary to Pakistan’s constitution and the secular state founded Ali Jinnah in 1947
About 3 million of Pakistan’s 140 million citizens (96% Muslim) are Christians including 1.2.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 8/7/2004 lines 33 words 331)