Protect Freedom of Worship sign now

Articles 19 and 20 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan protect every citizens rights of freedom of expression and freedom to profess and practise his religion. We can move towards an enlightened, moderate and tolerant society only by ensuring that these fundamental rights of the citizens are protected.

You are the ex-officio Chancellor of the University of the Punjab, and if a violation of these fundamental rights takes place at the campus, it would only be appropriate to seek your indulgence in its remedy.

This is to bring to your attention the deplorable act of the Punjab University (PU) administration whereby they have attempted to stop some students from offering congregational prayers and also penalized them for this act of worship. The details of the incident reek of sectarianism on part of PU officials.

Salaat (namaz) is the most major obligation placed by Islam on its followers. Islam also strongly recommends that salaat be offered in congregation. In accordance with these Islamic teachings, Muslim students at PU offer fajr, zuhr and asr prayers together at their hostels or departments. However, as the timings of maghreb prayers of Shia Muslims are 10 minutes later than when Sunni brethren congregate at the PU hostel mosque, the Shia students arranged to offer this congregational prayer in the hostel mosque after the congregation of Sunni brethren had offered their prayers and dispersed.

The congregational prayers of Shia students caused inexplicable lack of comfort in the PU administration, possibly under pressure of some sectarian elements within their fold, or because of influence of some external sectarian elements. In any case, Shia students and only the Shia students - were asked to discontinue congregational prayers. At specific request of the PU administration, Shia students agreed in December 2006 to temporarily offer prayers individually while the matter was promised to be resolved by the administration within a month. This, however, proved to be a stalling tactic of the PU administration, and when, in violation of the administrations promise, no resolution had been reached till 6th August 2007, Shia students again decided to commence offering congregational prayers in the hostel mosque. However, doors of the mosque were closed by the administration, thus forcing the students to offer their prayers on the road outside.

The students were served notices of misconduct and violation of rules for offering congregational prayers. When they appeared before the enquiry committee, the administration was unable to prove either of the accusations, while the students made it clear that they will continue exercising their fundamental right of freedom of worship. Despite their failure to prove any misconduct or violation of rules, the administration has expelled six students from hostels. The affected students and later a delegation of Shia scholars sought to meet with the Vice Chancellor to resolve the situation amicably. The VC refused them the courtesy of an audience.

Subsequently some heads of departments have verbally threatened students with expulsion from the university, and asked them to choose between their degrees and namaz!

We demand that:

All students be given equal right to offer congregational prayers irrespective of their sect, as is available in other universities in Pakistan, e.g. University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore, University of Karachi, etc.
Students who have been illegally expelled from hostels be reinstated forthwith and threats and acts of further victimisation through expulsion from hostels or university be ceased forthwith
PU administration be immediately expunged of sectarian elements who have deliberately magnified this routine matter into a sensitive situation of sectarian bias

Strongly protesting against this openly sectarian attitude of the PU administration, including the Vice Chancellor, we ask you as to who should Shia Muslims be looking to for protection of their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and worship in this land for the gaining of which they contributed a lot including their lives and wealth under the leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah?

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Rebecca BarryBy:
Transport and infrastructureIn:
Petition target:
Lt. Gen. (retd) Khalid Maqbool, Governor of the Punjab


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