A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Christianity in Pakistan

Christianity has been persecuted throughout its history by many different groups, at times even persecuting one another. Sadly, this remains true today. In the West, Christians are witnessing a steady degradation of the moral and spiritual foundations it struggled and died to build for two thousand years, having brought Europe and the rest of the world out of darkness. While much of the explicit violence against Christians has receded in the West, taking more the form of marginalization and defamation, it has continued strongly in the East, especially under the violent intolerance of extremist sects in the Middle East and elsewhere under the fa├žade of feigned piety.

Unfortunately, Islam has been abused and perverted into a tool to persecute Christians for some time. Wealthy, corrupt despots and cultists pervert the innate piety and devotion of Islam, very good things in themselves, into devices of deception and brainwashing. Taking advantage of the poverty of many Middle Eastern peoples, they set up the West as the emblem of debauchery and Satanism, the antithesis of Islam and their way of life. They foster hatred and fanaticism in these followers, sending them on missions of murder, terrorism and propaganda, all under the guise of holiness. The deeply inhumane and tragic lie of using religion for terrorism, a good thing for evil, is an all-too-common human weakness, one which many of these sectarian leaders are willing to use.

Often, the sentiments propagated by these so-called "Muslim extremists" stretches beyond the limits of cultic terrorist sects, becoming popular in the general masses and favored, even funded by the governments of many Middle Eastern nations. Throughout history, many countries in this region have had a rich Christian culture and population, and this proximity of contrasting groups has caused much tragic conflict.

One of the most visible predominantly Muslim nations afflicted by this problem in today's world is Pakistan. Being the second-most populous Muslim-majority nation(1), the conflict of Pakistan's roughly 173 million Muslims and 2.8 million Christians(2) is very volatile.

Simply being Christian and adhering to it faithfully is a frequent source of trouble in Pakistan. A recent example of this is the imprisonment of a woman named Asia Bibi. A Christian who formerly worked in a factory, she was one day with a group of Muslim women. They began to accuse her of blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammed, and so a group of extremists found her and beat her repeatedly. The local police incarcerated her on charges of blasphemy and she was in prison for a year, until a judge ruled in favor of giving her the death penalty. This story has received some news coverage, though not to the extent it deserves. Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minorities, and Governor of Punjab Mr. Sulman Taseer then took action for her release and both appealed to the President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and to the Prime Minister of Pakistan. While the case was in process, extremists across Pakistan began to incite rallies against the Minister of Minorities and the Governor of Punjab, saying that if Asia Bibi was released, they would murder both of them. By late January 2011, Governor Sulman Taseer was assassinated, and on March 2, 2011, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered in Islamabad as he was going to his office. Although the Pakistani government is considering a pardon of Asia Bibi, the case remains very much open and the people of Pakistan are in an extremely volatile situation, the Christian citizens feeling afraid to even leave their homes. The courage of these Christians, their devotion to God and remaining good and faithful, is truly inspiring.

Another recent instance of Christian persecution in Pakistan was this Easter. One week before Easter, a group of Muslim priests accused Christians of burning Korans. Announcing this accusation over Mosque loud speakers, Muslim citizens rallied and attempted to burn down the homes of Christians. Fortunately, the Christians acted quickly, managing to move to distant, safe sanctuaries, such as the Aziz colony. That night, the Christian leaders, political leaders and social workers of that region called a meeting with the local government and police. Although the police took over and effectively got the situation under control, they arrested four of the persecuted leaders who had met with them earlier. The Muslim priests then asked for custody of these four leaders, saying that the Prophet had ordered them to kill the prisoners as punishment. The police rejected the request, saying they would have their own legal trial for the prisoners and the claims made against them by the Muslim leaders. The priests continued asking for them, but the meeting was dismissed. Nearly two-thousand Muslim priests were involved in that meeting. This was simply a continuation of an earlier Muslim rally against Christians on Good Friday, when almost five-thousand Muslims were shouting "burn the Christians and their houses". Police were required to keep the peace until finally the rally dispersed. The four persecuted leaders remain in custody, their fates yet to be decided and, if tried in court, would likely be little different from the punishment asked for them by the Muslim priests: death - according to the methods of Pakistani courts reported by my source.

The impact of religious violence and persecution between religious communities is far-reaching and devastating, distorting the public perception of religion itself until the attitude of many modern citizens of developed nations completely disregards religion and even sees it as a definitive source of evil. Without religion, they say, we would simply focus on the necessities - survival, health - and would try to be happy while respecting one another's happiness in a utopian paradise. If nothing is worshipped, nothing believed to be worth living or dying for, we would do only what is necessary or enjoyable, causing no problems. This is a delusion, one witnessed by the atrocious Communist regimes of the 20th century. Rather than learning from the inherent lack of morality and concern for human life necessitated by an irreligious system, society after Communism simply removed its violence and retained its atheistic socialist principles. Hence the extreme debauchery, abortion rate, lack of marriage and irreligion of China, Japan, modern Europe and, increasingly, North America, spreading its confusion slowly across the world. Indeed, to be considered a "developed" nation, one must adopt this atheistic, liberal creed - otherwise it is seen as fascist, primitive and irrelevant, if not evil.

However, a good cannot be abandoned because of negativity deriving from it. Religion cannot be considered based on the actions of those who violate its very principles - to judge this way is to verge on absurdity. If someone commits an immoral act and in so doing violates the very religion this act is performed in the name of, such as a terrorist bombing in the name of Islam, how can this be attributed to the religion? Only if bias against the religion exists beforehand. We must strive to move past bias, ease, preference, power and pragmatic success to rejuvenate an interest in true, profound love, recognition of the intrinsic, personal love of the Creator of the Universe, and pursuing this love without fear. As Pope John Paul II said repeatedly throughout his pontificate, "Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"

I am unable to source most of my material taken from current events in this article, by the request of my source, who out of fear for survival and the survival of loved ones. However, I can attest to the truthfulness of this source, who is personally involved in these issues and reported them to me firsthand, asking me to write about the cause of Christians in Pakistan to raise world awareness and for the prayers of the Faithful across the globe. I hope and pray that I may accomplish this task through this article. May God protect and guide Christians in Pakistan, and give cleansing, renewal and forgiveness to the Muslim population there as well, showing to them His Infinite Love and Mercy for all, even those with whom we may disagree.



Endnotes

1 "Muslim Population—Statistics About the Muslim Population of the World". About.com. http://islam.about.com/od/muslimcountries/a/population.htm. Retrieved 27 July 2009. Referenced from Wikipedia article, "Pakistan".

2 -"Country Profile: Pakistan". Library of Congress Country Studies on Pakistan. Library of Congress. February 2005. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/Pakistan.pdf. Retrieved 2010-09-01. "Religion: The overwhelming majority of the population (96.3 percent) is Muslim, of whom approximately 95 percent are Sunni and 5 percent Shia."
-Miller, Tracy, ed (October 2009). "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population". Pew Research Center. http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population%286%29.aspx. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
-"Pakistan, Islam in". Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e1809?_hi=1&_pos=1. Retrieved 2010-08-29. "Approximately 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim. The majority are Sunnis following the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Between 10 and 15 percent are Shiis, mostly Twelvers." Referenced from Wikipedia article, "Pakistan".

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