Christmas in Maryland
Many Christian families have relocated to the US after facing threats in Pakistan or becoming victims of persecution.
Ijazz Yousaf was born in a church in Anarkali, Lahore, the year of Pakistan’s birth. A resident of Maryland since the mid-80s, he has worked in a government job with mentally challenged citizens. Living in a suburb in Maryland with his wife and children, Yousaf invited me to interview him and his family about their life in Pakistan and Christmas preparations.
As we stand in his front yard, surveying the twinkling lights of the Christmas decorations in the garden, he says:
“ It was a different time, no one cared what your religion was.”
In a year when the blasphemy law has been the subject of intense debate, and Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, lost their lives trying to campaign for it to be changed, Yousaf's stories remind one of the persecution that has been going on for many years.
He talks about several Christian families, originally from Punjab who have relocated to the US, and have sought asylum here after facing threats in Pakistan, or becoming victims of persecution. His son, Ashar, remembers being discriminated against during his college years,
“It would be in small ways – being told to drink water in a separate glass, or being harassed on the streets.”
One of the last of his family to move to the US, Ashar says he began noticing a change in the early 90s. Despite the discrimination they faced, Yousaf and his family still miss and pray for Pakistan. Yousaf’s wife Aneela, also originally from Lahore, says that while her immediate family is in the States, she misses her friends and family back home.
“We would have events in the church, have parties and attend functions at the church.”
"Life is good here, but its not the same,” she says as we sip tea in their house in a Maryland suburb.
“Every Sunday our pastor says a special prayer for Pakistan and we remember our nation. We were born there and its our country, but we’re also worried, because you know what the conditions are - we always worry about our relatives, we pray that God shows our brothers and sisters better days. We pray for the people of Pakistan and that God helps them,” adds Aneela.
Aneela and Ijazz live in the States with their three sons and daughter. Interestingly, despite being Christian, their family only eats halal meat.
“We don’t eat out, even though one of my sons runs a pizza franchise, you can get any kind of fast food there. We drive out to Pennsylvania to one of the farms, and get the animal sacrificed like we saw it being done in Pakistan, and get the meat cut in front of us.”
For Aneela and Ijazz, it is apparent from their words that they are nostalgic about home, Pakistan. But fears for their personal security, mingled with concern about their loved ones back home weighs heavily on them.
As we left their house, we were left with a bittersweet feeling. The Yousafs spent their lives in and for Pakistan. Here in the US, they have integrated into society, but their family conversations on days like Christmas are solely about Pakistan. Tales of asylum on religious grounds, or incidents of persecution, make one wish that perhaps 2012 will be different.