Being a part of Catholic religious minority in Pakistan, I could face serious consequences if I spoke out against the status quo. Because you just can't say anything! Those who read this blog may not be aware, but in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the current blasphemy laws state that an individual is liable to prosecution on the most whimsical of evidence should the voice of their opinion be interpreted as offensive or insulting to any aspect of the Islamic faith. Indeed, in 2011 one Pakistani politician who spoke up for the rights of religious minorities was assassinated. In fact, he was martyred.
Why are we so pressed down to stay quiet in that country?
There have been many incidences of oppression of Christians, which kept me thinking why is it so? When I lived in Pakistan, from around the age of 16, I started to realize how defenceless we are as Christians. A combination of my personal experiences in Pakistan and watching how other Christians are treated at the hands of Muslim majority, kept me pondering, ‘whom should we turn to, what can we do?’
I could not do anything then as I lived in constant fear in Pakistan. Here, I don’t live in fear; not anymore!
Part of my intention in compiling this blog is to be the voice of those who have not yet found their voice. I want to stand up for those who have not yet been healed from the Pakistani Government’s abuse. Thus I speak out.
Thus let it begin with me!
As a Catholic, I believe that it is part of God’s plan that I have recently been assigned as the Holy Name Church parish representative for Aid to the Church in Need. I had the choice to reject this post, but accepted it. Along with other responsibilities that come with this role, I am looking forward to writing this blog and sharing my personal experiences of living as religious minority in Pakistan.
But where should I start? I am just overwhelmed with this freedom of finally being able to fearlessly speak out.
Back in 2007, I had my first few experiences of ill-treatment, when I joined a top-ranking public college for women in Khyber Pakhunkhwa, KPK. I was the only Christian girl attending the college at that time. The first week started with friendly introductory conversations, and the friendly chats continued for a number of weeks. However, as time passed, my peers noticed that I always painted my nails, implying I could not pray Namaz, where unpainted nails is one of the prerequisites of cleanliness to be qualified to pray Namaz. After noticing my painted nails, my Muslim peers raised suspicion as to how I could pray Namaz (being unclean because of my nail paint) and noticed that I did not participate in praying Namaz with them. When I confessed my Christian faith to them, their response was shock. After all, who would have thought that a Christian girl would be admitted to a renowned academic institute? Many of these people had never before encountered a Christian in their lives. They used to bring other friends to see what a Christian girl looked like.
What I never expected was that I would be alienated from then onwards, by those who discovered my Christian faith. The conversations ended, no one shared their lecture notes with me, and I ate alone mostly as no one would like to sit with me. That day, I experienced in a very personal way the hatred that many Pakistani Muslims nurture for Christianity and those who profess it. The pain is as strong today as it was back then: to be surrounded by hostile and hateful eyes every day.
In scripture, Christ teaches that those who are rejected and maligned on account of confessing him ought to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. They are ‘Blessed’(Matt. 5:10-12). I had hoped that I would be glorifying God by being a good witness to the (Catholic) Christian faith for these people who had never met a Christian before. Perhaps I was.
We, as Christians, are never respected as human beings in Pakistan. I used to wonder how it would feel if I was just treated as a human – nothing more or nothing less!
At the time, I accepted the suffering most of my peers caused me, though few stood by me. Did not Christ Himself have to suffer contempt and hostility at the hands of those who wielded power and dominated the vulnerable in His society? Like Him, the religious minorities in Pakistan are vulnerable and trampled upon by society, and ultimately, by the Government. We have bowed our heads to it.
To this day, however, I accept His will by sharing my experience with you all. I do not know where this sharing of my story will take me. I am simply taking His lead every day. For the moment it seems He wants me to make the world aware of the real struggles, discrimination, oppression and disgrace which Christians have to live with. I will speak on behalf of people who have no option but to remain silent.
I too, did not say a word when I was in Pakistan. After all, my mother strictly instructed me and my siblings, “Now that you all are going out in Muslim world, there will be occasions you will be questioned for your faith; mocked and hurt by what they have to offer. But you don’t have to reply. Do not say a word, just bow down your head and walk away silently.”
Mum, I listened to you that day, but now I will speak up! I will be a voice for you, for Christian women, and for the persecuted Christian community of Pakistan. Mum, I will do what you, and other Christians can still not do in Pakistan!
I will be your voice, my brethren.
My fellow readers and I stand together with the Christians in Pakistan and all those persecuted in different parts of the world.
I am the Holy Name representative for Aid to the Church in Need.