The Christian presence in the Islamic State: By Nadeem Zia, France

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The Islamic republic of Pakistan appeared on the world map on August 14, 1947. The struggle for independence started much earlier than official partition. The population of the country is about 148 million. The minorities form approximately 3% of the total population and the Christians constitute 1.8% of the total population. The purpose is to explore the opportunities and challenges that are faced by the minority Christians in the context of the majority Muslims with whom they have to interact in Pakistan.

The Religion of the Majority
To understand the opportunities and difficulties of the Christian minorities in Pakistan, it is essential to know about the religion of the majority. In order to understand the religion of the majority one has to familiarize oneself with the belief, worship, practice and their application in daily life. The kind of religion that has developed in subcontinent is intolerant and intransigent. Dr. Kamran Ahmed writes in the interpretation, “there is no room for doubt, no chance of multiplicity of truth-claims, no freedom for Muslims to convert to other religions and there is a very strong sense of duty to fight in the name of religion. Thus the doctrinal apparatus of formal Islam that has developed here is against the spirit of pluralism.” Although the Sufi tradition was quite tolerant but intolerance overpowered this tradition. In this context the Christian minority has availed itself of some opportunities and has encountered some difficulties as well.


Opportunities

Education
One area or field in which the Christians can interact with the Muslim brethren and sisters is the Christian school. The Christian schools, especially catholic schools, run by the nuns are considered the best educational institutes in the country, where moral, social, spiritual and religious values are imparted in the daily discharge of duties. They cater to the integral development of the students. During their entire stay in the school, the parents and students experience something of the Christian religion such as love, goodness, peace, concern, tolerance, honesty, hard work, discipline, responsibility and punctuality. They too in return influence them and they try to change their attitudes.
This is a place of dialogue where teachers meet from time to time not only to discuss the progress of the students, but also to interchange ideas on social and cultural affairs. This gives them an opportunity to meet other parents and exchange ideas. Thus schools become a place for a dialogue of life.
Another positive attitude that is furnished by the schools is active participation of all the parents towards the welfare of the weak and the needy. The people offer financial help to schools. This experience is also another way of dialogue of life.

Difficulties

In general the life of the minority Christians is a little hard. It contains some elements of violence, corruption, and revenge. It is therefore, very natural that this aspect operates in the schools as well. Since Christian schools cannot accommodate all the students of the area, at the time of admission, there comes a lot of pressure, threats, bribes, donations and recommendations. If none-of these work, then the heads of the school and even teachers become the victims of revenge in different forms.
Another difficulty, which is faced by our people, is the school Syllabi. The textbooks used in schools are politically and ideologically influenced and only provide a limited and one-sided viewpoint. This leads to student intolerance and prejudice. The remedy to this problem could be the introduction of universal and global issues in the textbooks and the contents of the course. The textbooks could be made more universal than local. The private sector is more open to this, but the Government policies encourage and foster the introduction of ideology.

Health

The Christian Hospitals too have played a crucial role in building up positive and good relationships with all the people. In these hospitals, the real dialogue of life takes place when the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff go beyond their role playing. The service of healing without consideration of caste, creed, and race and gender distinction creates an impact on the people. The dignity and self-esteem of the patient is hereby maintained. These hospitals are also models and examples of good care, discipline, good service and hygiene.
These Christian hospitals have also provided opportunities for training of nurses. Nurses trained in these Christian hospitals, are much respected and have more chances of jobs in any good hospital in the country as well as abroad.
One of the main difficulties faced by our Christian students is that the administration of many hospitals has been given to Muslim Doctors. As a result the number of admissions of the Christian students in these hospitals is very limited and it is much more difficult for them to get admission in Government run hospitals and nursing schools. Sometimes, the interaction between the Christian nurses and the Muslim doctors leads to a marriage, which creates a lot of social and religious problems.

Faith Education

The early Missionaries in general and those in Pakistan in particular made many conversions to Christianity in the subcontinent. The converts were mostly from the lower class or the scheduled class. Being originally from low class Hindu and Muslim background, their attitude towards life and people were very passive and submissive and without self-esteem. Conversions did not change their attitude. Most Christians are sanitation workers in Pakistan. And they are looked down by people of the majority and those holding high offices.
The Muslim community in the subcontinent has always been a ruling class. They have not forgotten their role as rulers and therefore they carry this complex in normal life. On the other hand, the majority of Christians has always experienced discrimination. The Christians have never, in the history of the sub-continent, played any key role at the Government level. Even illiterate and uneducated Muslims consider themselves superior to the educated Christian.
The janitors and those who work in the houses of Muslims are humiliated, maltreated and degraded in many ways and forms. The women and young girls who go to different houses for laundry and cleaning are many times raped and sometime forcefully converted to Islam. Many times when there is no other reason to fire them, the owner will simply accuse them of theft, knowing that there is no one to back them. Therefore, it has become imperative that these people have to be conscientized and restored to dignity and self-esteem. Inter-faith dialogue has to begin after addressing these issues.
There is no doubt that there are many educated Christians and many educated Muslims who are working for the harmony and mutual understanding of both faiths, peace and tolerance. But this is confined only to the intellectual circle, whereas the majority of the people are uneducated. We are not denying the great impact of the dialogue maintained at this level, but this does not fill the gap, which lies between the common people of two religions.
Common people are always involved in the dialogue of life in their daily routine work. At the level of ordinary life people are quite open to extend a helping hand to their neighbors. This dialogue operates at the level of exchanging food at the time of feasts and other celebrations; borrowing foodstuff, requesting favors from children to perform petty jobs. The children of the same street become friends and maintain this friendship even after they are grown up.
Another need that requires careful attention for people of both religions is to reconsider and reevaluate the concept of sacred and profane. The notion of sacredness plays an important role in the lives of Muslims. In the name of religion, one goes against the sacredness of life. It can create chaos and people can unintentionally hurt the religious and sacred feelings of their brothers and sisters. To deal harshly with such cases, there exists a law in the penal code of Pakistan known as "The Blasphemy Law." 29SC.

Popular Devotions

The common people usually follow popular devotions. It provides spiritual, psychological and social satis6dion to the people of both religions at the national Marian shrine at Mariamabad one can meet Muslims as well as Christians paying their homage to Mary. On the other hand, Christians go to the shrine of Bahauddin Zakariya or Bhaga Sher at Multan and Data Darbar at Lahore. Many people return to Mariamabad every year to thank God for the favors received. Most of the time, Muslim women visit the shrine in order to ask for the favors of a child. The Holy Quran mentions Jesus, Mary and other prophets as worthy of reverence.

Social, Legal and Political System

The religion has been the cause of discriminatory laws in the country. It is the society, which interprets it for its own benefits. The subcontinent had experienced caste system; feudal system in India and Pakistan, and some elements of the colonial mentality is still prevalent.
On the other hand, the poor are humiliated, discriminated against, degraded and punished even for a minor fault. Because of this experience, the social, cultural, moral, and religious values of both the groups differ from each other. To fill this need we need to provide education to the poor to help them begin the upward mobility. And avail them of the economic progress.
The Process of Islamization and the legal and political system are a threat to the Christians. The most serious and deeply felt threat is that they are not included in the main stream. Thus they are considered “second-class citizens”, and this means that they are deprived of many basic rights. The blasphemy laws, quota system for admission in different professional institutes, and family and marriage problems are some of the instances of discrimination. This is against the wishes of the founder of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who in the charter of the rights on 11th August 1947 said: “we are all citizens and equal citizens of the state. You may belong to any religion or caste and creed that have nothing to do with the business of the State. You will no doubt; agree with me that the first duty of the Government is to maintain law and order, so that the life property and the religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected”.

As Pakistan is considered an ideological state based on religion, all non-Muslims are treated as religious minorities. It is the government’s obligation to protect all the rights and interests of the non-Muslims. We have already entered into the third Millennium. We earnestly wish that the world may become the place of peace for all who are discriminated, suppressed and oppressed. It is believed that Christianity is a religion of Law and Islam is the religion of peace - law and peace brings harmony. And harmony means bringing a faith dialogue. A human being has to develop himself into a man of hope, faith and love. And “Love alone can heal the world”.

Nadeem ZIA
Paris Arch-Diocese
jpmarie1977@gmail.com

28/08/2006

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