Why can’t we all just get along? I know that is a very over-used cliche, but in this case I think it fits. I was reading the “Around the World” section of our Archdiocese newspaper The Progress, and read an article that I found shocking, and then as I thought about it more, read it again, I started to get angry.
At first the article hit me on a “whatever happened to common sense” level, then, on a very personal level. This tragedy, and to me it is truly a tragedy, takes place in Pakistan. An 11 year old Pakistani Christian girl with Down Syndrome was in police custody (i.e. jail) for 3 weeks. And, as you read on, you find that her crime was “Blasphemy.”
I understand that in that part of the world they take their religion very seriously, but to me this sounds a bit over-the-top even for that part of the world when you look at the facts in the article. First of all, 11 years old! I know 11 years old now days is a bit more complex and advanced than when I was 11 years old back in the 60’s, but still, an 11 year old girl. Secondly, an 11 year old girl with Down Syndrome; now that’s when I went nuts when I re-read the article.
If you have been so unfortunate that you haven’t had the opportunity to spend any time around a person with Down Syndrome, I can understand your misgivings on that fact. Our family was blessed to have a Down Syndrome member of the family. I grew up with a brother with Down Syndrome, he was 7 years older than me, so I literally knew him all my life (sadly he passed away in 2007). A child with “special needs” is a challenge, but mostly a blessing to a family, and especially a child with Down Syndrome. As I was taught and firmly believe, God doesn’t make anything bad, or makes mistakes, and a Down Syndrome baby is proof positive. Outsiders may think, why not institutionalize them, or better yet, take care of the problem before they are born (now with pre-natal tests able to determine everything about a child before they are born). The only word that comes to mind when I think about a person, especially a child who has Down Syndrome is LOVE. I can attest from first-hand knowledge that they are a handful at times, but all you have to do is look into their eyes . What reflects back is true, unconditional, unfiltered, LOVE. Love that can only come from God. I can go on talking about Down Syndrome people all day, and maybe someday I will, but let’s get back to the article.
The article continues by stating that investigations are ongoing into accusations that the child burned pages of the Quran, which is a violation of the Pakistan anti-blasphemy laws. Also under investigation is a Muslim cleric who was later arrested and accused of planting the pages of the Quran and burned pieces of paper into the girl’s bag. The girl was finally released, but the charges have not been dropped.
I am for religious freedom, in this country and all around the world. Every person on this planet should be free to worship any God they choose, and be free express the beliefs and customs of that God and religion. When one religion tramples on the freedom of any other religion, be it the majority or the minority religion, there is where the problem exists. Tolerance, forgiveness, and especially love should be the key elements of all religions. Can we really be worshipping God in whatever form, without those elements? When we act contrary to those elements, are we not worshipping our man made human laws instead of God’s?
In my opinion, when an 11 year old girl with Down Syndrome is jailed for 3 weeks for “Blasphemy” under any circumstances, that cannot be God’s will, or be God’s law. God is tolerance, God is forgiveness, and especially, God is LOVE!