The Christians in our midst

Published: March 7, 2011

The writer is a partner at ABS & Co and a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and Lincoln’s Inn

A long time ago, I had read somewhere that one does not feel any pain when first hit by a bullet: The wound only begins to burn a few minutes later and, the longer it is left unattended, the greater becomes the pain. The news of the brutal murder of minister for minority affairs, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, hit me like the proverbial bullet: It was around noon on March 2, that I first heard that Bhatti had been shot dead in Islamabad, minutes away from parliament house where he was due to attend a cabinet meeting. I was shocked, even outraged, but was still able to carry on with my work. As the day progressed, however, the initial shock gave way to an unexplained sense of unease and, by the evening, I found myself engulfed in a profound sorrow that threatened to paralyse my ability to think and act.

A part of me whispered that I was overreacting. After all, Pakistanis are killed almost daily, at times by American drones and, at others, by the brutalities of their own countrymen. What, then, was so different about Bhatti’s death that I mourned so deeply? Clearly, it was not personal association: I had never met the man and was not particularly acquainted with his views. It was rather the fact that a Christian had been killed at the hands of Muslims, ostensibly to safeguard the dignity of Islam, that raised questions in my mind, not only of the place of Pakistani Christians in our society, but also about our own claim to being Muslims.

My earliest memory of Pakistani Christians dates back to when I entered St. Joseph’s Convent in Karachi as a mere five-year-old. For the next 11 years I remember being coaxed, cajoled and urged to discover and achieve my highest potential, not just academically but as a human being. After my parents, it was the nuns and many Christian teachers at St Joseph’s who shaped and honed my mind, personality and character and gave me many of the values that I live by even today. It was through them that I received my earliest lessons in discipline, kindness and tolerance and it was through their example that I first learnt to forge bonds on the basis of a shared humanity, above and beyond the boundaries of religion.

My experience and memories are not unique. Innumerable Pakistani men and women have received, and continue to receive, their formative learning at the hands of dedicated Christians selflessly serving the cause of education throughout Pakistan, even in its remotest parts. Pakistani Muslims appear, however, to have chosen not to return the favour. At best we have remained indifferent to their condition and have tacitly accepted the social divide that has relegated Pakistani Christians and indeed, all other minorities, to the sidelines of Pakistan’s economic and cultural life. At other times, however, we have not even been quite so tolerant and have attacked and burnt their churches and places of worship, condemned them for blasphemy and, it seems, now we plan to kill them in cold blood.

The greater tragedy is that we carry out our inhuman crimes in the name of Islam, not realising that it is our limited understanding that forces us to focus on protecting Islam from imaginary slights rather than propagating its message of compassion, tolerance and humanity. Bhatti’s death is an open wound in the fabric of Pakistani society and the pain we feel in its wake would only increase unless the wound is attended to with many acts of genuine gratitude for the great debt that we, as Pakistanis, owe to our Christian, Parsi and Hindu communities for enriching our lives and our society. The ultimate cure for our anguish, however, only lies in our own realisation that, as Muslims, we are expected first and foremost to be good humans — everything else is secondary.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2011.

Reader Comments (36)

  • Alizeh H
    Mar 7, 2011 - 10:22AM

    Well said Amber. You are absolutely rigt in saying that the Hindu, Christain and Parsi communities have contributed significantly to our society and we have failed to appreciate and protect them and give them equeal rights. The mere fact that we are Muslims gives us reason to walk around with a chip on our shoulder. There is a certain arrogance in our attitudes- we are worthier than you becuase we are Muslims. Sadly we, the worthy and superior Muslims, have been damned by our own ignorance and arrogance. Recommend

  • SharifL
    Mar 7, 2011 - 10:57AM

    If you call the country an Islamic Republic and call its capital Islamabad, you should not be surprised that the country is for Muslims and others are just tolerated, sometimes generously, but mostly with suspiction. So I am not surprised that Bhatti was killed or many Christians are called cleaners (Chooras). It is good to know that there are good souls like Ms Darr (or is it Dar) and newspapers like tribune, but idle dreams of a small minority of so called Muslims are not helping.
    All those living in the country are Pakistanis. calling them minority is already an insult. But that would be considered by many stretching the concept of tolerance a bit. We love to visit western countries, whioch are Christian and demand equal rights, allowed to preach and convert others to our faith. Back home the game of intoerance is continued without .pause. Thanks for your piece. I liked it. Recommend

  • Arindom
    Mar 7, 2011 - 11:15AM

    Why does Pakistanis wear their religion on their sleeves? Why does every Pakistani sports team have to wear green ( colour of Islam)? Why have all the arabic-Islamic salutations required in day-to-day conversation?

    The point is everyone is trying to prove who is “more Islamic” than the other. This can only end in a competition of “who can kill and maim non-Islamic people more”. This is already happening Recommend

  • John
    Mar 7, 2011 - 11:47AM

    Good article but sad ending. “the ultimate cure …is realization, as Muslims, we are expected to be good human beings first…”

    What is being a Muslim has anything to do with in realizing that one should be a good human being. Being good is a universal human value, a natural law. You know it when you are confronted with it, as one can see, smell and perceive the evil. No religious canon can spell it out. Always surprised how in Pakistan religion is entangled in everything including journalism.

    The article could as well end without the word “Muslim” in the sentence. It could have been powerful. Now, it is toothless.

    Regrettable.Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Mar 7, 2011 - 12:38PM

    Islam’s ‘dignity’ can never be protected by murders. The first revelation to our Holy Prophet (saw) had the words ‘read’ and ‘pen’ in it, and not swords and bullets. Islam wins hearts by its logic and reason. Murderers never win hearts.Recommend

  • Mar 7, 2011 - 12:44PM

    As you read this piece, Prime Minister Gilani is attending a conference of Islamic scholars from around the world. The author for all her soul searching talks about her role as a Muslim. I dont believe the solution lies in consulting the Ulema or beating yourself up for sharing the same religion as qadri.

    I can beat myself all I want about the fact that Hindus demolished the Babri Masjid and that Narendra Modi is still in government. But ultimately the solution lies in state action. Firm and consistent. I couldnt have been more happy when Sadhvi Pragya, Aseemand and others were caught. Just as the scoundrels who set the Godhra train on fire must be sentenced, the others should also be tried.

    As I said, leave the soul searching for another, more peaceful day. Pakistan urgently needs state action. Recommend

  • sameer a
    Mar 7, 2011 - 1:02PM

    How unfortunate we are that when ever somebody is killed we immediately blame Islam. Protection of Non-Muslims and their place of Worship in a Muslim country is farz on every Musalman living in the country. This is the teaching of Koran. This teaching is missing in our schools and homes. Let us all learn Koran with meanings in Schools and Homes. Recommend

  • Mar 7, 2011 - 1:33PM

    Amber,you have expressed our feelings as well.We all should be Muslim,Hindu,Christen etc at our home and outside of it should be only Pakistanis.Extremism as it is growing in our society should be nipped at its initial stage,otherwise we will get stuck with it like other menaces prevailing in our society.Recommend

  • ashok sai
    Mar 7, 2011 - 2:34PM

    Overdoing things can have a negative impact, that is what happening in Pakistan in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Mar 7, 2011 - 4:38PM

    This is just another illustration of why education and greater social interaction is an important part in helping to increase intolerance. Your views are shaped by your experiences, by interacting with individuals from a different faith. Sadly, we are increasingly living in bubbles, with little or no interaction with people from alternative backgrounds.Recommend

  • MAD
    Mar 7, 2011 - 5:06PM

    @Arindom:

    My dear friend every pakistan team wears green for the simple reason that that is the color of our national flag. Most teams in the world tend to wear their national colors. In the current world cup you may have noticed the Irish wearing Green to as are the Bangladesh team. The West Indies wear Red as per the flag that represents them.

    As far as salutations go all communities tend to use various words associated with their religion.Recommend

  • vasan
    Mar 7, 2011 - 5:46PM

    “The ultimate cure for our anguish, however, only lies in our own realisation that, as Muslims, we are expected first and foremost to be good humans — everything else is secondary.”
    Does the author assume that Christians/Hindus/Parsis are not expected to be good humans. No wonder religious bigotry rules Pakistan. Enough of bringing religion into everything, please please get rid of it from public life. Nobody should talk about their religion. PeriodRecommend

  • Brian D'Mello
    Mar 7, 2011 - 6:30PM

    Amber,

    I would like to thank you for putting forth such a wonderful piece on the role that the minorities of Pakistan have played in the progress and development of the country.

    In my personal opinion, Pakistan was founded in order to ensure that its citizens, irrespective of their cast, culture or religion, enjoyed equal rights and privileges, a feature that was not so common in the indian sub-continent at that point in time. But unfortunately, India has since then moved ahead whereas we have turned to the opposite direction. Today people in India term themselves as Indians, whereas we have divided ourselves into factions. We’re first Punjabis, Balochis, Pathans, Sindhis etc then Pakistanis.

    We, as a nation, have somewhat grown to become intolerant and inconsiderate towards the views and opinions of other kind. If you just take stroll on the streets of our beloved country you will only witness people of a single kind, an indication of the fact that we have isolated ourselves from the world, perhaps the root cause for our nation’s backward progress. The situation is very different on the streets of the other major Islamic countries e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, UAE etc.

    My conclusion is that if we accept and respect the differences and difference of opinion of others, we will receive the same treatment in return. We simply cannot do without the world and the only and only way for us to progress is if we move along with the world while maintaining our culture and traditions. We need to attract the world towards us but promoting our true selves through the essence of peace, tolerance, love, forgiveness and cohesiveness.

    Having said the above, I come from a catholic Christian background and have lived all my life in Pakistan. With conviction, I can say that I have been given equal opportunity at all fronts and have been considered on merit, be it in school, university, profession etc. Over the years I have been treated with utmost respect by my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. Majority of my social circle comprise of Muslims; in fact my best friends are Muslims. There have been times when we even eaten food from the same dish.

    The events of discrimination against minority communities are the acts of a handful of evil people and we cannot brand the entire nation as intolerant because of such people.

    All we can do is pray that these people are guided towards the right path and God willing this nation will flourish like no other. . Recommend

  • Akmal Wasim
    Mar 7, 2011 - 7:18PM

    Amber, A very good article here. I often wonder what happened to that white strip on our flag. I assume it was a symbol of the rights of the minorities. Since long it been soaked so deep in blood, that its apt time we started thinking about making it red permanently:( Recommend

  • Cautious
    Mar 7, 2011 - 7:40PM

    Why is anyone surprised at this murder? This isn’t the first and won’t be the last – just like your blasphemy laws the vast majority of Pakistani’s would rather sit back and say/do nothing while a significant number think this killing was justifiable. Your religious and political leaders promote xenophobic behavior and this is the logical consequence of indoctrinated intolerance. Recommend

  • Babar
    Mar 8, 2011 - 11:29AM

    Great. Its timely article and every body have condemned the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti.Babar AdvocateRecommend

  • Anoop
    Mar 8, 2011 - 11:59AM

    You are not addressing the root cause. The very idea of the Pakistani nation was built on a lie. The 2 nation theory is wrong. There are no divisions in Man- Jinnah was wrong, That you have to rectify, not ask individuals to correct themselves.

    When the system is designed to churn out fools after fools, you are concentrating on one fool at a time. Bad strategy.Recommend

  • sameer a
    Mar 8, 2011 - 12:35PM

    Mr. Anoop are you giving equal opportunity to all other religions in INDIA? You think INDIA is secular?

    I think if the Christian community is 100 million in India then they should have a separate country lets say GOA.Recommend

  • ram
    Mar 8, 2011 - 2:14PM

    @Brian D’Mello
    India’s moving ahead is not unfortunate and therefore may I request you to correct the sentence ““But unfortunately, India has since then moved ahead whereas we have turned to the opposite direction.”

    An average Pakistani always benchmarks Pakistan with India where as we Indians don’t. Barring few, most Pakistanis don’t have good opinion about India and therefore your opinions will always be biased. Malaysia and Indonesia are also Muslim countries and you should compare with them to set standards of achievement

    . Recommend

  • Syeda
    Mar 8, 2011 - 3:00PM

    Thank you, thank you, Amber. You have echoed so well what I think and feel and believe. You are part of the silent majority who are helping us all not be silent any more. We are all Pakistani and we need to remember that the white strip on our flag is representing the minorities amongst us who are just as precious and dear as the majority. Islam exhorts us to not only be respectful but also empathetic and humane towards them as we should be towards all human beings.

    Thank you also for acknowledging and highlighting the great service that our teachers, including Christian ones, did in honing a sense of humanity, tolerance and respect in us. I am forever grateful for the great teachers we had.

    Very well written. Keep it up! :)Recommend

  • abdullah nizamani
    Mar 8, 2011 - 3:47PM

    Madam, by writing few words of sorrow you have done a great job. If moderate and literate people like you come forward and condemn and criticize the inhuman acts then the day is not so far when the country will prosper and would be progressing in the right direction. I have observed that many writers keep criticizing the religious people without having their information, by their that act, the hatred against minorities increase. Well, I wish you very best of luck and hope that you will be writing more on core issues of our society in future too.Recommend

  • edgarm
    Mar 8, 2011 - 4:18PM

    @Sameer.
    The Indian constitution gives full rights to the minorities to run their institutions. Successive judgements by Courts have since confirmed this. Yes there have been issues in Gujarat , Orissa with minorities , but this is not something systemic. As a minority I am proud to be an Indian.Recommend

  • Fawzia Zehra Kara-Isitt
    Mar 8, 2011 - 4:22PM

    Qayamat is coming..Recommend

  • Anoop
    Mar 9, 2011 - 6:53AM

    @sameer a,

    Considering our Prime Minister is a Sikh and the leader of the largest party in India and currently in power is a Catholic and our Defence Minister is a Catholic, I think we are doing pretty well.

    If you look at 2 biggest past times of India – Bollywood and Cricket, the Minorities are over-represented. They are so because of, not just equal opportunity, but excess ones.

    How Minority Cricketers are playing for Pakistan? Or, for that matter name a single politician from the minority community who is in the Pakistani cabinet, which is almost double the size of the Indian one. There was only one and he got killed; he wasn’t even provided with a bullet proof car!

    Minority in India have better prosepects than even the Majority in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Arindom
    Mar 9, 2011 - 11:48AM

    @sameer
    @edgarm

    also note that by law a non-muslim cannot be PM or President of Pakistan. Recommend

  • ram
    Mar 9, 2011 - 12:36PM

    @Arindom

    How sad. India had Muslims as Presidents – Dr Abdul Kalam and Dr Zakhir Hussain. Current Vice President Dr M. Hamid Ansari is a Muslim. Our former Chief Justice of India was a Muslim. Many of the prominent Bollywood personalities are Muslims – Salman Khan, Sharuk Khan, Amir Khan, Katnina Kaif, AR Rehman, Javed. Many cricketers are Muslims – Zaheer Khan, Irfran, Mansoor Ali Khan Nawab of Pataudi, Azaruddin. The third largest IT company WIPRO is owned by Azim Premji richest Indian Muslim and a philanthropist.We remember and feel proud about them as Indians and not as Muslims.

    We are a secular state and meritocracy is important regardless of the religious back ground. India has more Muslims than Pakistan yet we live peacefully. There are problems here and there but they are insignificant. Post partition, even Britishers didn’t expect this much of harmony in India. Had they known, probably they wouldn’t have divided the undivided.Recommend

  • mohammad ali
    Mar 9, 2011 - 1:27PM

    sad and unfortunateRecommend

  • Brian
    Mar 9, 2011 - 2:44PM

    @ram:
    Mr. Ram, brother, u have misunderstood my sentence. What i meant was that it is unfortunate for us, as Pakistanis, not to have moved forward. Recommend

  • Mar 9, 2011 - 9:27PM

    The policies made by law makers and leaders are coming back to haunt them. They should understand, they dont live in a bubble, you can paint it anyway you like but the law and order is government responsibility not peoples.

    Other law makers take heed now or get ready what man on the streets is getting for decades.Recommend

  • joel
    Mar 10, 2011 - 2:35AM

    i am shocked to find that no one from minorties in pakistan can be prime minister,president, speaker of na, or general of army. We south africans lived in aparthed under whites and called them racists but i think u pakistani muslims are greater racists and still u guys come in christian countries and demand equel rights. Shame on u people.Recommend

  • DIG
    Mar 11, 2011 - 10:56PM

    @joel: This is all thanks to the Christian/Jewish media my joel why you want Pakistan too? America played and still playing dirty politics and called it ‘Crusade’. Hitler was a what? A Muslim? Japan paid the price for America! Now Pakistan has CIA, MOSAD(Israel), RAW of India trying so that Islam’s image could be tarnished but Islam is not my home cooked religion we are not specialist of Islam we may have deficiencies just as other humans but this is the religion which God has sent for humans. All Prophets pbuh are linked togather, its our beleif that Hazrat Isa (Jesus) peace be upon him and Hazrat Musa (Moses) pbuh were Prophets of God but we follow Hazrat Mohammad pbuh who brought with the will of God final shape of religion and called it Islam.
    Why you chose to target by singling Muslims out? When USSR was in Afghanistan trying to fulfil their interests, America played this dirty politics and expert of propaganda war and people like you fell as their prey. I regret using your tone but you must find facts and then wage such wars.Recommend

  • vasan
    Mar 12, 2011 - 6:38AM

    DIG: Your ranting about Islam, US , MOSSAD/ RAW etc has nothing to do with what Joel said in his post. Totally unconnectedRecommend

  • Abdul-Mughis Rana.
    Mar 13, 2011 - 6:10AM

    @vasan: I appreciate your concern.
    Bigotry is a negative term whereas religion is heavenly. A Muslim stands for farmanbardar of ALLAH SWT (God) & his Rasool (Prophet pbuh) SAW.
    Do you think Islam is only for Muslims, initially yes, infact its for humanity if majority is not on Islam then the Muslims will automatically be in difficulty but if they keep their eyes on ALLAH SWT and keep following Islam than only Muslims will shine. Muslims will never be in majority its like day and night but this day will become longer before Qayamat. It is ofcourse the responsibility of Muslims, Sahaba e Kiram R.A.A (companion of Prophet Pbuh) used to think of their own self at fault where we start analysing the deeds of others? Its not the duty of only Talibans to present Islam or Molvi sahib’s, or Allama this is the reason why in the original Muslims there were those who excell in knowledge, and excell in warfare, namaz, roza, Hajj etc but they never tried to keep names haji sahib or namazi, only Muslim and trying to be Momin whereas we? People when at war or anger do call each other irritating names so the opponant loose patience and make a mistake. Muslim is everything but nice. Thats why all Prophets of God confirm each other.
    This discussion started when Americans supported Afghans when USSR was in Afghanistan and Pakistan joined America. As long as their target was socialist USSR it was okay, but the moment their interests split! Recommend

  • Islamphobia
    Mar 15, 2011 - 9:17PM

    The credit goes to idiotic America and conspirator jews trying to control the world. And making religions fight amongst each other. Always Muslims have tried to act responsibly, when Pakistan got separated from India Hindus & Sikhs killed and what not for fun and anger and Muslims had to respond in defence. Being a Muslim requires much more care than any other religion. I remember we had minorities as students and teachers with us and I for one used to feel as a minority member that my act must not bring any distaste and they used to reciprocate. Mind you it takes two to start a fight. Recommend

  • Edward S.
    Mar 19, 2011 - 12:09PM

    I can say a few things i can say is as a Christian,

    its hard to recognize the idea that regardless of what the Doctrine of Pakistan is and was we are still considered 2nd grade Citizens.

    People forget how Pakistan Came to be and they look away from what its going to be.. they live today by their social values and continue to use that value on all of us.. regardless of minority or Chirstians. (a forced value)
    Mr. Bhatti (shaheed) died because he felt it was right to save a Soul?

    Even in Islam its provided to save a soul rather threaten and Kill.

    But that don’t matter here why cause we are talking about Mr. Bhatti..a Pakistani.. killed by a Pakistanis. who’s Murders are roaming free.. they judged him as they saw it was right..under the banner of Religion.
    any body who don’t see that..is making themselves feel Special that they are above all of it and is above all laws that govern this Independent State…and the real blame goes to America and the western world. Their Bookish sentiment (good for books and published media) they should keep to them selves.
    Had Mr. Bhatti been a Muslim.. there would be rallies and protests and anti govt marches for weeks.. Many laws broken and amended even nullified. but he ain’t and there ain’t any of that. In the end all i can say is.. the faith and brotherhood of Minorities depending on majorities is coming to an end in Pakistan. Sure there will still be people (both Majority and minority) who believe that there is still a solution to rectify the given problem/s but, this Act-295C and 295D has caused too much trouble for everyone. It should not be revoked but it should not be used to threaten minorities of Pakistan.
    Recommend

  • pl/sql
    Mar 19, 2011 - 12:52PM

    @Author

    “….as Muslims, we are expected first and foremost to be good humans — ”

    That is the root cause of all your problems. Your unenlightened narcissism.

    Good luck working on that muslims.Recommend

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