Pakistan: Christians and Muslims divided on "State sermons"
by Kamran Chaudhry

The Provincial Assembly of Sindh wants to introduce a law to control the preaching of the ulema. The sermons will be released only if previously approved by the government. All Islamic parties oppose the draft. The Catholic Church points out the pros and cons. "The new law will curb sectarianism," but "in the future we may also be asked to register our homilies".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church of Pakistan has received the bill introduced in the province of Sindh, that would place Islamic Friday prayer sermons under strict state control, with mixed feelings.

Father Abid Habib, of the Association of Major Superiors and member of the Commission for Justice and Peace, told AsiaNews: "Religious leaders need to be more careful in what they preach during Friday sermons, but the new law is not entirely convincing. In the future the government could ask for sermons to be registered at the police station. What we really need is that the imams of all the mosques in the country be properly educated. "

While the Catholic Church is skeptical, the Muslims of Pakistan have rejected the bill. The Islamic parties have condemned the decision of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh to present the Juma Khutba (Friday sermon) Bill, which will allow preaching only if the text has been approved by the government as a precautionary measure.

In presenting the legislation, Abdul Qayum Soomro, adviser to the Sindh chief minister for religious affairs, said: "No Khateeb (preacher) will be allowed to make provocative speeches. This proposal is important to appease hatred and replace it with religious harmony. "

The new legislation will only apply in the province, one of three that make up the country. Those who criticize the forms of militancy in the name of religion have often cited Friday prayers as opportunities to rally exalted extremists.

The Jumu'ah, common prayer on Friday, is sometimes associated with tensions between Christians and Muslims. For example, in the Punjab province, several incidents of attacks on Christians were attributed to the Friday gathering.

Muhammad Asim Makhdoom, Secretary for Information of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the Islamic religious party, believes that "the new law will spread anarchy." The Koran – he told AsiaNews - "calling for peace. But it seems that the government wants to force the passage of the bill. It puts into question Islam and therefore should be avoided. The ulema will never agree ".

Finally Mgr. Shukardin Samson, bishop of Hyderabad, highlights the positive aspects of the law. The prelate concludes: "It will help ease the prevailing tension in the country, but it must be the same in all provinces. Government control will prevent one religious leaders from speaking against each other and will curb sectarianism ".