The first challenge to Pakistani Christians was to assert their identity as Pakistanis. As one Bishop said at a press conference after the attacks: "Our President is Parvez Musharraf, not George Bush; our Prime Minister is Zafarullah Khan Jamali, not Tony Blair; our flag is the Crescent and Star, not the stars and stripes!"
A second challenge, which has recently intensified, involved the targeting of nationally famous Christians and pressurizing them to "embrace Islam". The famous cricketer, Yusaf Yohanna, converted and is now "Muhammad Yousuf". People in Lahore who know him think that his conversion came about because of the triple motives expressed in the Persian proverb: "zar, zan, zamin" meaning "money, woman and land". They claim that he had a business partnership (zar) with his converter, that it concerned real estate (zamin) and that he was involved with his sister (zan).
The fallout from this is that several Christians, who work with Muslims in various fields, are being told to "convert like Yousuf Youhana". The latest target is the famous Christian singer A. K. Nayyar, who was beaten up and is still threatened on the phone to convert. Several Christian nurses say that they are told: "You are such a good (or pretty) person, you should become a Muslim." Obviously this is not official government policy, but the work of zealots inspired and trained by Tablighi Jamaats (proselytizing organizations).
Recently some medical college Christian students and nurses in Peshawar were converted to Islam. But this proselytization is not limited to just famous Christians or to those enrolled in higher education. Even in the urban slums, where both parents are at work, and their children do not go to school, proselytizers visit the homes and play "naats" (praises of the Prophet) and sometimes give them to the children.
The usual trouble caused by misuse of the Blasphemy laws became intensified after 9/11. Fundamentalists vigorously pursue any (even false) accusations and are prepared to carry out the death penalty even before the police arrest and the courts decide on the case. Even when acquitted by the courts, the accused is still in danger of death.
The recent Danish cartoons led to violent protests and loss of life and damage to property. But Christian schools and churches were also attacked in Sukkur, showing how anti-Western feelings have become anti-Christian feelings.
How has the community met these challenges? Firstly, the bishops and members of parliament contacted the Prime Minister. One result was the government's decision to pay for or to repair the damaged institutions (schools, churches, hostels).
Another response was to form peace committees at every level, whose members would be officials, minorities, and Muslim religious leaders, who would regularly meet to prevent attacks on minorities. The recently elected Minority Minister of State, just after being sworn in, was told to set up these peace committees and make them functional.
It has been noticed that whereas poor Christians are vulnerable, those with high academic or professional education can generally fare better. But whereas Protestants have five colleges in the north and only two in the south of the country, the Catholics have only primary, middle and high schools, which are not enough to empower them to stand on their own feet and meet the challenges. From September 2006, the first Roman Catholic Degree College will be opened in Rawalpindi, next to the capital Islamabad. Here students of all communities will be able to study together and learn respect and tolerance and work for peace and harmony for the welfare and progress of all citizens of the country, giving equal respect and learning to appreciate people of different faiths.
Having seen these challenges, and the responses to them, the question is what about the future. The foremost challenge is the need for widespread and intensive Faith Formation. Whereas the Catholic clergy resides far from the people, and has to be paid by the Church, lay pastors work and live at their own expense and can be found in all Christian settlements in both urban and rural areas. So they are far more numerous and available for Faith Formation everywhere. We need a bible school to train our lay people who can return to their places of residence after a one year course and strengthen the faith of the people in their area
At the FABC Plenary Assembly in Tokyo on the topic of "Laity", Soter Fernandez, the former Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, said: "I sent some lay people to the Catholic Charismatic Bible School for a year and they have returned and preach better sermons than some priests!
Being numerically small (2% Christians and 2% Hindus among 150 million Muslims), the minorities realize they must unite, and also work together with the majority community. On 21 April 2006 the minorities (Christians, Hindus, Parsees, Sikhs) gathered together and formed the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. Their Charter of Demands gives a good summary of the challenges we face. Here they are:
1. The concept of religion and minority provided in the Constitution of Pakistan including articles 2-A, 31, 227 and 228 should be excluded and done away and politics in the name of religion should be prohibited forthwith.
2. The Government of Pakistan should ensure proper and adequate representation of religious minorities in the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies of the country on the basis of increased population and on the basis of a proportionate increase in general seats.
3. The religious minorities have been completely denied representation in the Senate of Pakistan through reserved seats. This is really a mockery with the system that the representation of religious minorities in the National and Provincial Assemblies is recognized but the same right is denied in the upper house of the Parliament. It is therefore hereby demanded that the necessary amendment in the Constitution be made, giving the proper representation to religious minorities in the Senate of Pakistan on the basis of equality before the Constitution.
4. Federal Shariat Court which is working as a Supra Constitutional body should cease to function because its verdicts add to already widespread institutionalized discrimination against the Religious Minorities of Pakistan. It nullifies the concept of Parliament as the Supreme Body of the Country.
5. The provision of section 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code should be repealed forthwith by which the innocent citizens belonging to religious minorities are living in perpetual fear.
6. Hudood (punishments established by the Koran, such as the cutting off of the hand of thieves - translator's note)and other discriminatory laws should be repealed forthwith. This is also a longstanding demand of the women and human rights organizations since the promulgation of Hudood laws.
7. The Government, through public policies, include religious minorities in the services of Pakistan including in the operational services like Army, Police, Intelligence Agencies and services in Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. etc.
8. Legislation should effected to uproot the practice of discrimination in vogue in Pakistan against the citizens belonging to religious minorities of Pakistan.
9. The personal laws of religious minorities be thoroughly reviewed and changes should be made to personal laws of respective religious minorities and the same should be recognized through legislation to be enforced for respective communities.
There is a text used by fundamentalists (and terrorists) to justify their acts of violence. It comes six times in the Holy Quran. It reads: "O you who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians to be your allies; they are but allies on one another; and whosoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them. Behold, God does not guide such evil doers." (5:51)
In similar words, this text appears five other times in the Holy Quran. But the context of the first five texts shows that the resentment or warning is not so much against the religions as such but against various forms of oppression practiced by some Christians and Jews. The sixth time it comes without any context, but its use in history and the commentaries on it show that it is not used against Christians and Jews but only against oppressors.
This non-fundamentalist understanding of the text comes from the context of the joint struggle of South Africans (Muslims and Christians) against apartheid in South Africa. The experience of working side-by-side gave birth to a mutual appreciation of Muslims by Christians and vice versa. The exclusivist paradigm was changed into a pluralist one, where both Islam and Christianity were seen as partners in the common goal of liberation. A new hermeneutics arose which interpreted the text not as a rejection of other (non-Islamic religions) but as God's call (in both Holy Books) to reject injustice and to work for peace and harmony.
Some experiences in Pakistan are similar. One was the joint action by Christians (and other minorities) and Muslims to prevent a very fundamentalist interpretation of the Shariah from being enacted into law. This Shariat Bill had already been passed by the National Assembly (i.e. the lower house of parliament). At first the Muslims thought, being Shariah, it would be a good thing. But when the minorities lobbied with the Senators, and they understood that this Bill would make the Prime Minister above the President, above the Chief-of-Army Staff, and above the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in a word, that the Bill would subvert the whole Constitution, though presented as a mere "Amendment" to it, the Muslim Senators woke up and rejected the Bill in the Senate (Upper House of Parliament). As a result, this Shariat Bill could not become law.
Another example of joint-action by Christians and Muslims was to change the electoral system. Previously, elections were held by a system called "religious apartheid": Christians could only vote for Christians, Muslims for Muslims, Hindus for Hindus and so on. Being marginalized, the minorities could elect only members of their community who had no political or economic clout. Also, in the Lower House of over 150 members, four elected Hindus and four elected Christians could pass no bill to solve their problems. It was a case of 0+0+0+0=0. Minorities were out of the mainstream of national life.
Again, after lobbying with Muslims who realized the injustice, they struggled together with the minorities, and finally the Separate Electorate System was replaced by the Joint Electorate System. Now minorities, who had "no value" for Muslims (who could not benefit from minority votes), suddenly became valuable and much sought after by Muslims who had political and economic clout and could help members of the minority community, and bring them into the mainstream of national life.
A third example of joint action by Christians and Muslims was the de-nationalization of colleges. Schools were already de-nationalized, but two Catholic colleges in Sindh and four Protestant colleges in Punjab were not. By persevering efforts by both Christians and Muslims, the girls' college in Lahore was given an autonomous Board of Governors, and the Forman Christian College was denationalized. It should be noted that President Musharaf and Prime Minister Aziz studied in Catholic schools in Karachi and in Protestant colleges in the Punjab.
The fourth and final example of joint action by Muslims and Christians was in the relief and rehabilitation work done by local as well as foreign Christians. The people of Kashmir, before the earthquake, did not have a positive view of Christians. They had no cemetery to bury their dead, no land on which to build a church or school, and no land for housing. But after seeing the tremendous work done by local and foreign Christians in providing medical aid, shelters, field hospitals, tent schools, and food kitchens, Christians are now appreciated and they have been given land for a cemetery, church, school and houses.
When people of different religions face one another in fear, hostility and hatred, it can lead to violence and terrorism. But when religions together face the common enemy of injustice and oppression, poverty and sickness, and work together for education (at least for literacy) reducing expenditure on defense and nuclear weapons to struggle against environmental degradation and global warming, then the undoubted power and passion that comes from faith is channeled in the right direction, and religions can flourish in mutual respect and harmony. This is the way to go, now and in the future.