The continuing struggle of Christians in Pakistan

Muslim militants often attack Pakistan Christians considering them to be associated with 'Christian nations'
The continuing struggle of Christians in Pakistan

Pakistani Christians mourn the death of a blast victim of the March 27 suicide bombing in Lahore. (Photo by AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, Karachi
Pakistan
March 29, 2016
Pakistan is once again in the news over its attack on religious minorities. A terrorist attack targeting Christians killed more than 70 people in Lahore as Pakistani Christian families were celebrating Easter in a public park.

This is not the first time that Christians in the Islamic country have been targeted and observers say that as things stand this won't be the last time.

This is largely because discriminatory laws, state's patronage of militants groups, deep-rooted intolerance and chronic ignorance give rise to incidents of persecution in Pakistan, making it a living hell for the minority Shia Muslims who along with Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis became the prime target of Sunni extremists.

While Ahmadis are constitutionally declared non-Muslims, Christians and Hindus were made to suffer from harsh blasphemy laws while Shias were regarded as kafirs (infidels).

Pakistan, carved out from British India was created in 1947 in the name of Islam after Muslims of the Indian subcontinent called for a separate homeland.

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Although Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the nation's founder, addressing the Constituent Assembly stated that citizens may belong to any religion as it has nothing to do with the business of the state, a resolution proclaiming that the future constitution of Pakistan would be modeled on the ideology and principles of Islam was kept as a preamble of the Constitution.

In 1985, when it was made an integral part of the text, Pakistan became an Islamic republic, and the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Shariah (Islamic) court were established.

Many Islamic laws were passed, including blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinance (Islamic criminal code).

 

Pakistani Christians hold placards and lighted candles as they assemble in Lahore March 28 for victims of the suicide bomb blast. (Photo by AFP)

 

Recent attacks

Christians are the most persecuted religious minority in Pakistan. In recent years, Christians braced continuous deadly terrorist attacks in the country leaving hundreds of them dead.

Two bomb blasts at churches in Lahore in March killed 14. A twin suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church in 2013 left around 80 dead. In 2009, nearly 40 houses and a church were burnt by a mob in Gojra town in Punjab, with eight people burned alive.

In 2005, hundreds of Christians had to flee their homes in Faisalabad as churches and Christian schools were set on fire by a mob claiming Christians had burned pages of the Quran.

Another attack also took place in Lahore this year, resulting in the deaths of over a dozen people. Lahore is the capital of Punjab province where the majority of Christians in the country reside.

More than 95 percent of Pakistan's 180 million people are Muslims. Less than 2 percent are Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities.

 

Blasphemy laws

But more than terrorism, Christian leaders have long campaigned against the misuse of blasphemy laws that have led to many incidents of mob violence. The law mandates that anyone who "blasphemes" the Quran is to be handed a death sentence.

Rights campaigners say that the laws are often used by people to settle personal scores and spread terrorism. The prime example of this was the lynching of Shehzad Masih, 26, and his wife, Shama Masih, 24, in Kot Radha Kishan, Punjab.

On Nov. 4, 2014, the Christian couple was beaten to death and then burned by an angry mob that had been told that they had desecrated a copy of the Quran. Local clerics used loudspeakers to incite the mob.

The victims were working as bonded laborers at a brick kiln. It was reported that the couple knew that they were in danger before the attack and went to the kiln owner to seek permission to leave. But he locked them in a room and told them that they could not leave before they cleared their debt.

In November 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging for "blasphemy." The sentence has to be upheld in higher court before it can be executed.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minority affairs minister was murdered in March 2011 by Islamist gunmen after he spoke out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

 

Pakistan rights activists protest at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28. (Photo by AFP)

 

Education

Catholic educators have long maintained the textbooks used are written with "a biased mindset" by Muslim writers who do not make allowances for the teachings of religions other than Islam.

The Catholic Church, which operates more than 500 schools, has often criticized the syllabus for praising only Islamic personalities while presenting followers of other religions as infidels and depicting Christianity negatively.

Moreover, textbooks quote excessively from the Quran, even in science texts. It raised the particular concern that minority students' unfamiliarity with these texts could leave them open to accusations by people exploiting the country's blasphemy laws.

Activists and members of the Christian community say around 5,000 Christians have fled Pakistan because of threats, persecution and lack of security.

Many of them have sought asylum in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Some representatives in the Christian community say that there are 10,000 registered Pakistani asylum seekers between the two countries.

 

Major reason for attacks

Pakistani Christians have been the target of several terrorist attacks since the United States, viewed by many Pakistani Muslims to be a Christian nation, attacked Afghanistan in October 2001.

The deposed fundamentalist Islamic regime of Afghanistan has many supporters across the border in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis view the United States and Western European countries as Christian, and Muslim militants consider Pakistani Christians to be associated with those "Christian nations." 

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