These suo moto proceedings under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan were initiated on a letter received from the Justice Helpline, an NGO, regarding an attack on a Church in Peshawar in which 81 persons died (subject matter of FIR No. 728 dated 22.9.2013 under Sections 302/324/427 PPC, 3/4 of the Explosive Substances Act and Section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act at Police Station Khan Raziq Shaheed (Kabuli), Peshawar). Complaints were also received from adherents of Hindu faith and it was prayed that the Court should direct the authorities to take remedial measures so that their places of worship are protected.
13. Religion has played an important role in human history, and faith has influenced the minds and actions of individuals, societies and nations down the ages. By freedom of religion and belief is meant the right of a person to follow a doctrine or belief system which, in the view of those who profess it, provides spiritual satisfaction. However, it is impossible to define the term ‘religion’ in rigid terms. The freedom of religion must then be construed liberally to include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief and faith. Freedom, individual autonomy and rationality characterize liberal democracies and the individual freedoms thus flowing from the freedom of religion must not be curtailed by attributing an interpretation of the right to religious belief and practice exclusively as a community-based freedom. Thefreedom of religion and conscience has been protected in several treaties and declaration4. Article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 provides as follows:-
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
14. The fundamental right to freedom of religion and belief was articulated at the international level by the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. These human rights norms then serve as moral checks and efforts are continually being made to incorporate these rights into domestic laws. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has invoked International Human Rights norms in numerous cases 5. It is evident from a bare reading of these provisions that the freedom of conscience cannot be separated from the freedom of religion. While the freedom of conscience is an individual right, the right to religion has both individual and community based connotations. Sub-article (a) of Article 20 of the Constitution also recognizes the individual and communal natureof the right to freedom of religion as it addresses "every citizen" and "every religious denomination and every sect thereof" and one aspect cannot trump the other. Moreover, the individual aspect to the freedom of religion applies both against inter-religion and intra-religion conflict.
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In the subcontinent, the individual right of freedom to religion has occasionally been trumped by the right of the community, as in the above-cited Indian case of Sardar Syedna. It is imperative that the right to freedom of religion be restored as an individual and indefeasible right, while concurrently preserving and protecting this right at a communal level, where the latter does not infringe on the former.
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25. Islam does not compel people of other faiths to convert. It has given them complete freedom to retain their own faith and not to be forced to embrace Islam. This freedom is documented in both the Holy Quran and the Prophetic teachings known as Sunnah. ALLAH addresses the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the Quran:
“If it had been your Lord’s will, they would all have believed
all of who are on earth! Will you then compel humankind,
against their will, to believe7?”
Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands clear
from error: whoever rejects false gods and believes in God
has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never
breaks. And God hears and knows all things.8”
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36. The spirit of pluralism reflected in the Holy Quran constantly points out that Muhammad (PBUH) had not come to cancel the older religions, to contradict their Prophets or to start a new faith. To the contrary, His message is the same as that of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon or Jesus. The cherished goal of creating a more pluralistic society where fundamental rights are respected would continue to elude us unless we realize that we are living in a world of globalized interdependence, a world of interconnectivity, of cyber space, of shrunken distances, of cross border migration, and a world of rapidly changing cultural identities. We are all members of one race of humans with common challenges, and we cannot confront these challenges without forging a common alliance. This paradigm shift in the world around us can be achieved at the international and domestic levels only by discouraging sectarian, racial and ethnic biases which are violative of shared values and fundamental rights, and by the promotion of and strict compliance with these values and rights.
4 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 9), the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 12), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 8(
5 Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari Vs. Federation of Pakistan [PLD 1999 SC 57] at page 191; AlJehad Trust Vs. Federation of Pakistan [PLD 1997 SC 84]
7 Holy Quran (10:99)
8 Holy Quran (2:256)