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Inquisition: The Reign of Fear

Published Aug 26, 2013 04:43pm


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In 1506, a light was seen shining brightly on one of the crucifixes in a Dominican monastery in Portugal. When crowds gathered to marvel at the miracle, one man wondered aloud how similar the sight looked to a candle having been placed behind the image of Christ. He was dragged onto the streets by his hair and burnt alive. The man in question was a Converso – a Christian convert of Jewish descent.

In the 15 century, the Spanish monarchy formed the Tribunal of Holy Office in order to direct the unrest of the people away from the throne. The Tribunal was charged with “cleansing” Spain of heretics; the Conversos being the first scapegoat of many. Fear was the main pillar on which the Inquisition was built; and it was this that led to the growing separation of the Christian, Converso and Morisco communities. After the Conversos were driven out, the institution turned towards Moriscos (Christian converts of Muslim descent) and later, the red Indians in America.

This cleansing took place via great autos in every town where the Inquisition officials were sent. The tortured mental state of the people is evident here, who relished attending these public autos as much as they feared them. People were encouraged to indulge in social gossip and confess should they come across any signs of heresy; causing families to turn against one another.

Fear and torture were common tools used to get confessions from suspects. The properties of suspected heretics were confiscated by the Inquisition, which then also charged a hefty sum to the already bankrupt families for the paperwork. Prisoners lounged for years in rotting dungeons in the towers built specifically to house suspects as the reign of the Inquisition spread globally. It is clear that the Inquisition was more about power than religion. It is possibly the very hypocrisy of the Inquisition itself which lent credibility in its dealings with the people it victimised.

Green’s Inquisition encompasses the 315 year reign of the Spanish Inquisition, from the time of its inception until its eventual demise. Aptly titled “The Reign of Fear”, this beautifully worded psychological drama depicts to perfection the primitive instinct of society to turn on itself in fear.

One does not have to look too far to see where Green was so skillfully (albeit covertly) trying to point. The world as we know it today is surrounded by hair-raising incidents of (religious and ethnic) persecution. It does not seem to matter whether the perpetrators belong to the highest sectors of society or not; continuously oppressive circumstances are bound to release the inner barbarian most of us “civilized” individuals are so good at hiding from the rest of the world..

There have been a host of such bloodcurdling incidents in the past couple of years; with the numbers increasing at such frequency that it feels as though the world has gotten used to the idea of bloodshed.

The brutal killing of two Muslim brothers in Sialkot caused the world to halt in its tracks in the second half of the year 2010. Perhaps what made it worse was the fact that instead of stopping the policeman from beating the two boys to death and then continuing the horrific beating on the two dead bodies, the crowd around the four of them watched silently; as though perversely enamored of the spectacle. Most were too busy making videos to upload or send to the media to step in and stop the brutal bashing that resulted in the cruel death of two boys from Sialkot. Though the culprits were later sentenced to death, the two boys so cold-bloodedly sent from this world can never return.

The torching of Christian houses in Joseph Colony in March this year is testament to the destruction that is possible at the hands of an inflamed mob bent on revenge, regardless of whether the actual perpetrators of the crime and the people punished are one and the same. Witnesses of the event recount how a raging mob armed with clubs, automatic weapons, and incendiary chemicals ransacked Christian houses forcing the families to flee for safety. The one family that stubbornly refused to stand down in the face of such hatred was locked inside their house by the enraged mob and burned alive.

The massacre of Muslims in Myanmar this year had the world crying tears of blood. The horrific killings of more than 200 Muslims on that fateful night on March 21 will always be remembered as the night the soil ran red with blood as the world looked on mutely.

The killing of a young African American boy, Trayvon Martin, in Florida preceded one of the biggest racially heated, high-profile cases in the history of the USA. Thousands took to the streets in protest after the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, was acquitted in July this year by a six member, all-female jury made up of five Caucasians and one Hispanic.

In India, many Hindus and Sikhs have been persecuted by their brethren for converting to Christianity. Some even had the “audacity” of becoming preachers of the Christian faith; causing general uproar amongst their villages and towns, leading to reactions that were as heated as they were brutal. The recent killings of Christians in Sinai are testament to the deep-seated hostility that is rising in people today.

Today, Islamophobia is on the rise in the West; Muslims are looked upon with eyes of suspicion. The media has done nothing to reduce the paranoia that has resulted from the war on terror, with head scarves and beards now looked upon as signs of “terrorism”. It is darkly amusing how the world forgets that headscarves were first worn by Christians and Jews of old; and that the beard has always been globally akin to masculinity.

Such attempts at controlling minority groups world over, have led to “rebellious” attitudes, similar to those adopted by the Moriscos and Conversos during the time of the inquisition. Families of Jewish and Muslim origin that were forced to accept Christianity retained their original religious beliefs, hiding their true faith behind regular Church attendances and mass. It was not uncommon for the Jewish families in one area to hold weekly “Mass Meetings” in carefully selected locations, where a large cross was placed outside the door before each meeting commenced to show their devotion to the Christian faith. In reality, Jewish prayers were being held behind closed doors and barred windows, allowing the families protection from the prying eyes of both the Inquisition and society.

Recent examples include the virtual comic series The Muslim Show that depicts the lives of Muslims in France, the joining of forces of Christians and Muslims in India against prejudiced laws, and Jewish families protesting against religious violence alongside people of Christian and Muslim faiths in the USA.

One of the biggest ironies in the history of fate took place, however, when the Inquisition – after more than three centuries of brutal power – became the persecuted, from the persecutor. During the 18 century, the Inquisition recognised knowledge as the biggest threat to its existence. Thus, a law was passed banning a majority of the books that the Holy Office deemed “dangerous”. A list of “allowed” books and pamphlets was sent to all publishers and book shops, so that they may know what material they were allowed to keep and what they must discard.

This attempt at censorship by the Inquisition was the strongest there had ever been. The main idea was to banish all heretical ideas from Spain via the distribution of “indexes of prohibited books”. Included in this index were works from many of Spain’s greatest writers and poets, works that would channel emotion into the hearts of the deadened populace. Any published instrument that the Inquisition deemed had the potential to help the people think was banished from the continent.

However, strict enforcement of the ban only increased the demand for such works. Publishers and bookstore owners hence found innovative ways of smuggling censored content into Spain in order to profit from the dangerous trade, regardless of surprise raids from Inquisition officers that could result in harsh sentences ranging from execution to a lifetime of slavery. Such acts paved the way for the “Age of Enlightenment”, which was a cultural movement that first began in the 17 and 18 centuries.

This movement challenged ideas and dogma grounded in faith and tradition, declaring its purpose to be the reform of society using logic, reason and advanced scientific knowledge. Some of the greatest scientists, philosophers and artists of the age were a part of the movement; taking pride in shooting down age old ideas promoted by the Inquisition as archaic.

The end of the Inquisition came when, during the age of Charles IV of Spain, the state stopped acting as a mere social organiser and actively began to worry about the well-being of the people. In the struggle between the power of the throne and the power of the Church, the former began to gain increasing ground and enlightenment thinkers began to find increased protection for their ideas. Manuel Godoy, the Prime Minister of Spain and a believer of the Age of Enlightenment during the early 1800s was openly hostile to the Inquisition, going so far as to order one of the first inquiries into the backgrounds and credibility of some of the Inquisition’s high ranging officers.

What followed was an eventual crumbling of the structure of the Spanish Inquisition, as government authorities unearthed one misdeed after another. The horrors that had been inflicted on the populace under the Inquisition’s rule began to come to the fore, and soon Inquisition officials were being tried in their own courts facing obscenely-familiar charges ranging from death by burning and confiscation of property to a lifetime of slavery and more.

It has been observed that the general psychology of an oppressed people is not to finish oppression, but rather to try and replace their oppressors. It seems to them a fitting justice should their tormentors exchange places with them, and thus be forced to feel the humiliation and misery that they inflict on a daily basis. Thus, the cycle of oppression continues from one generation to the next, sometimes changing key roles yet managing to remain intact in all its dubious glory.

If one is to end this miserable exchange of roles and the resulting continuation of a horrifying legacy, oppression must be wiped out completely.

The world has yet to see the subdued become the oppressors; yet this blogger fervently hopes that instead of the roles reversing, this world can one day be witness to a sense of global tranquility and mutual respect.

Author Image

Zohra Ahmed is a Karachi-based writer and producer at She can mostly be found lost within the pages of a book during her free time. She tweets at @NoushinZora

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

Agha Ata Aug 26, 2013 06:13pm

Burning millions of innocent people alive, especially women, in the Inquisition was a blow that shook the foundation of Roman Catholic Church for which they are still embarrassed. It is terrifying to think that the Muslim Clerics are beginning to run the same episode. I hope not!

Khan Aug 26, 2013 07:06pm

Until the time all the human start believing the same set of moral principles it

Indicus Aug 26, 2013 07:29pm

In 1951, Hindus constituted 22 percentage of the Pakistani population (this includes East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh); Today, the share of Hindus are down to 1.7 percent in Pakistan and 9.2 percent in Bangladesh (In 1951, Bangladesh alone had 22% Hindu population).

ADIL GILL Aug 26, 2013 07:52pm

I am a Roman Catholic. Your article seems well intended but quite naive. I do not know who Toby Green, perhaps a Dan Brown type "historical author". What qualification does the author have and what are his affiliations. Would you consider the Ku Klux Klan poster boy a credible source? I wouldn't. The one thing the Catholic Church is, and always has been good at, is record keeping. Each and every case was meticulously documented. Modern historians of all shades have concluded that about 5000 people might have been tried by the Inquisition over 380 yrs. These were limited to urban areas and the villages were largely untouched. Horrible as these might have been they are no were near the popular Hollywood created myth of torture and fear. You have not done any research on the subject because as a Muslim you are biased. Please do more research before lending a hand perpetuating the myth. Thanks :)

Zubair Aug 26, 2013 07:57pm

A refreshing article with a different perspective. It, however, seems that the author believes in ideality. It takes equal weights to balance a beam but the beam initially does wobble. For how long; depends on the maturity of the of the operators and unfortunately it is dwindling in the populace by the hour!

Zeeshan Aug 26, 2013 08:41pm

A good narrative. I've had the opportunity to read a handful of books on the inquisition and needless to say, it has always given me knots in my throat. One of the most touching of these is Tariq Ali's "Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree". Your narrative sums up the misuse of religion in all ages.

In 2010, I had the chance to visit Cordoba and Granada. Apart from the usual Muslim landmarks of Moorish Spain, I had the opportunity to see one of Isabella and Ferdinand's inquisition torture chambers in Cordoba. Its almost hard to believe how humanity can ever descend to that level of heedlessness

deep Aug 26, 2013 08:43pm

You write : the joining of forces of Christians and Muslims in India against prejudiced laws

What prejudiced laws are you referring to?

pathanoo Aug 26, 2013 09:03pm

Religious fanaticism and persecution of any kind, by any one of any faith is definitely condemnable and must be fought. That said, the Muslims are the biggest perpetrator of religious extremism and have brought upon themselves the distrust and apprehension of the rest of the world.

AHA Aug 26, 2013 09:27pm

The Christian West became a humane society only after it ditched religion. The Inquisitions shows, without any reasonable doubt, that religions is a very potent tool for abusing people.

Zaid Bin Farooq Aug 27, 2013 02:09am

Informative and interesting article to read.

Abbas Syed Aug 27, 2013 02:14am

I hope some day Pakistan will have its own Manuel Godoy.

Feroz Aug 27, 2013 07:45am

The blogger forget to mention 'Ahmadis' periodic massacres and systemic legalized persecution, and let's hope that that was just an oversight.

ravi Aug 27, 2013 09:20am

Interesting read.

waqas Aug 27, 2013 09:38am

An awesome depiction of how dogmatism pulls back the society, man truely can do anything that maintains the status quo in his favor. knowledge and enlightenment is the only way out of this viscous cycle!

Dixit Aug 27, 2013 09:49am

I am sorry to say Johra, the article is very good but not completely unbiased. I don't think you are unaware of history of cruel muslim rulers. Hindus and Chritians are still being forced to convert in Pakistan but you did not feel necessary to mention that.

malik Aug 27, 2013 10:02am

I fail to understand the contribution of religions in this world except hatred and rampage (in the name of religion).

rich Aug 27, 2013 11:17am

i dont know of any incident in india where christian and muslims have joined forces to oppose any law?

Cosmic Lion Aug 27, 2013 01:25pm

@Indicus..add to that Hindkush...Selective amnesia by the author?

Khanm Aug 27, 2013 01:31pm

Religion is essentially the art and the theory of the remaking of man. Man is not a finished creation. All major religious traditions carry basically the same message that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives no matter what religion or sect you practice or preach.. The way to silence the religious dispute is to take no notice of them

Zafari Syed Aug 27, 2013 02:53pm

@Dixit, Muslim rulers of India in particular never tried to convert or even entice Hindus to become Muslims.You cannot show a single authentic historian saying that. Hindus secured good positions in their courts. Moughals in particular were very broad minded. They did not even ask their wives to convert to Islam, even though such marriages are not permitted under most sects. The kingpin General who brought Aurangzeb Alamgir to power was a Hindu.Several of his very trusted courtiers and Governors / Rajas were also Hindus. Most of the much drummed up cases of forced conversions in Pakistan were later found to be that of some Hindu girls getting converted to Islam on their own and marrying Muslim boys either out of love or to get a protection so that they are not forcibly sent back to their families where they risked being killed if they refused to convert back to their religion. Such conversions are a daily affair in India, but the Muslim communities over there are do not make it such an issue.Nor the media over there will take it up to such an extent. On the contrary there are hundreds of cases where Hindu extremist organizations have forced Muslims to convert and become Hindu or risk their lives. This was highest around partition time and several Muslim majority villages particularly in East Punjab had to face this. Even today whenever a Hindu converts to Islam, such organizations are after their lives.

Zeel Aug 27, 2013 03:20pm

Which law in India is against minorities ? Can you please elaborate ? Being a Hindu, I have always felt that it is much more difficult to get admission in college, loans etc. Govt. has given special budget quota for lower castes and minorities in all Govt. Schemes but not high caste Hindus.

Mrmisterkh Aug 27, 2013 05:21pm

Excellent article. People have to realize that the author @NoushinZora is just depicting and relating the events of a history/ book with current affairs in various countries, cities, etc. So no need of judgement call and now that the thoughts are provoked, individuals must do their own research and see how future will effect them under these dire circumstances coming our way. All visionaries are seeing similar tragedies coming towards everyone's way, be it on ethnic, racial basis, or what ever you want to call it. It seems inevitable. A cycle of survival for some and power game for some. God bless all!

BakwasMia Aug 27, 2013 06:11pm

I am interested in knowing authors ancestry. Especially, whether her forefathers converted to Islam due to reign of terror.

AHA Aug 27, 2013 10:52pm

@ADIL GILL: Sir, you have made a rather sweeping statement here:

hr Aug 27, 2013 11:42pm

@Zafari Syed: Where did you get the details that none of the mughal queens were not converted...they were all converted and given muslim names. Look at Mughals history....Auranzeb started jaziya tax, Sikh gurus were killed when they refused to convert. Shivajis son Sambhaji was tortured and killed since he refused to convert....These are just some of the history...but then I pity your ignorance.

As for partition, check the percentage population of hindus in Pakistan can compare it with today

Guest Aug 28, 2013 12:18am

Christendom in the 15th century was quite similar to Islam in IT'S 15th century.

jaykraman Aug 28, 2013 01:14am

History is full of religious persecution. But that is past. Let us think about the present. I hate to say that but Muslims are the least tolerant among practioners of all religions. Do you know that in Saudi Arabia None except Sunni Muslims can pray openly. In present world most of the religion based violence is between Muslims or between Muslims and Non Muslims. WHY?

darbullah Aug 28, 2013 08:08am

@Zafari Syed: Its not that the mughals didn't try. India was too big for them to rule over it without Indian support. Same with the British. At-least the British didn't destroy hindu temples. The mughals were notorious for that. Why is it that in Pakistan, its always only hindu girls marry outside their religion. No muslim girl marries a non muslim and lives to tell the story. Why is muslim population increasing in India, but Hindu population almost decimated in Pakistan? You can't compare India and Pakistan on treatment of minorities. Pakistan's fame world over is quite different from what you have read in your newspapers or what you were taught.

Indian Aug 28, 2013 09:09am

@Zafari Syed: Amir Khusro, Muhammad Qasim Ferishta and Khafi Khan tell a different story.

Pramod Aug 28, 2013 10:23am

@Zafari Syed: History is filled with Aurangzeb policy of conversion. Do you really think that 18 crore in Pakistan, 16 crore in India and around 15 crore in Bangladesh Mulsim came from Arab countries. Jazia tax on Hindu pilgrims is another proof of broad mindness of Moghuls.

see the population of Minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947 to till date and them compare it with Minorities population in India . you ll get the facts.

Feroz Aug 28, 2013 11:10am

Nice article about Sixteenth century violence and conversion. Please let us know what happened to minorities of Pakistan, no not in sixteenth century but twentieth and twenty first century. Please also let your readers know whether conversions from other faiths to Islam should be banned, applying the same principles banning conversion out of Islam.

bhornet Aug 28, 2013 12:34pm

Dumb article, considering her nation of Pakistan was essentially created by ethnic cleasing and genocide. Also the way her ancestors became converted from Hinduism to Islam was due to a reign of terror far worse than the Inquisition in Spain. Read the preislamic history of Sindh, and India that were invaded by Islamic warlards such as Mohammed Ghazni, and Ghori. She has been so brainwashed by her arab master after they changed their names to arab names, changed the script of her mother tongue and demolished ancient temples and libraries so that people like her cannot find a trace of her ancestors and will instead live a false Islamic life in Pakistan blind to the truth of history. Shameful article actually.

illawarrior Aug 28, 2013 12:36pm

So many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion over the centuries, Christian, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists, and many more. It has never really been about religious faith, but simply political power.

bhornet Aug 28, 2013 12:43pm

@Zafari Syed: All of Afganistan and Pakistan were Hindu and Buddhists, Persia was Zoroastrian. it was after Arab armies and various warlords invaded and forced conversions on your ancestors did they become muslim. Muslims still have the same behavior today of intolerance and destroying others religions. They conquered you, changed your names so as not to remember your ancestors, they changed your script to Arabic so as not to be able to read your past, they demolished temples and libraries of antiquity so as to erase your knowledge of the past, and have taught you never to question Allah so as to fear the truth ever coming out. It is amazing how dumb your statement is and how easily muslims deny the truth.

Udai Singh Aug 28, 2013 01:29pm

Zohra forgot to mention Indian PM says 'muslims have first right on all national wealth' meaning hindus have 2nd, 3rd or 4th right. Can Pak PM say so ? In today's India 90% of main political parties are pendering to Mullahs & Madrarshs. Aligarh Muslim University will soon have 5 - 6 national branches. Baneras Hindu University can never ever get support that AMU gets. Please learn ground realities of India

shuaib Aug 28, 2013 02:47pm

@Udai Singh: Like your honourable PM is talked, you are talking in the same way BUT you both are not WALK the way your PM and you talk. "Since muslims have first right on all national resources", they are living in most poorest conditions. Good that hindus are not using "all national resources" in india!!!

Hussain Aug 28, 2013 07:27pm

Religion is indeed opium of the masses, and addicts are known to commit murder just to get their daily fix.

Rao Aug 29, 2013 12:14pm

Why only inquisition? What about Arab invasion of Persia...Wasn't that brutal...Muslim invasion of the sub-continent was equally barbaric. Both Christianity & Islam perpetrated untold horrors on the non-believers.

AIZAD SAYID Aug 30, 2013 01:26am

@shuaib: Muslims in india earn less per capital than Hindus. Black Americans earn less in America than white Americans, and Christians, Hindus earn less in Pakistan.. enough said!

AIZAD SAYID Aug 30, 2013 01:26am

@bhornet: Incorrect. Ethnic cleansing took place from both sides.

AIZAD SAYID Aug 30, 2013 01:27am

@Pramod: To "presume" that everyone becomes Hindus, Muslims or Christians owing to discrimination is incorrect.