Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Listen the screams of poor Pakistani Christians

By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: Sehrish Ishfaq, 5, poor Pakistani Christian girl was drowned in the seasonal drainage; during the first moon soon rain in the federal capital. She found dead, the voice reiterated itself. How this could be possible? I shook my head in disbelief while speaking on the mobile phone. In state of disbelief I stood up, changed my clothes and went to see her. Her dead body was there, people around me were sad, her mother was crying. But this wasn't the first time. In fact, during the last years in the same days, two young Christians were drowned in French Colony, sector F-7 and I attended their funeral.
Couple of days before Eid (religious festivity after Ramazan), mob killed a member of a Ahamdi (who consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed) and two of her granddaughters and eight others were severely injured after another member was accused of posting blasphemous material on Facebook. The dead including a seven-year-old girl and her baby sister, the attacker after looting the valuables set 5 houses into fire.
Christians could count themselves among minorities that made up 15% of the population at pre-partition. Now minorities fall short of roughly around 5% of the country. The Christian community in Pakistan, roughly around 15 million, is the first largest religious minority present here. But the actual figure is never been given; because there is no census after 1998. Yet the minorities are being persecuted, targeted, slaughtered and killed, without mercy – just because our faith is not the same as that our killers’. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of Western churches. The silence has been nearly deafening. In this predominantly Muslim nation, religious extremism and resentment of the West contribute to violence against Pakistani Christians. We feel most of the time we are not equal. Not only equal, but the growing feeling is that we are not even wanted.
Some of the violence against Christians is directly related to the American-let war against Muslims in different countries like war in Afghanistan, Iraq and to some extant Israel war against Philistine, so has an expressly political motive. Months later the US-led coalition attacked Afghanistan in 2001, a grenade attack on a chapel inside a Christian Mission Hospital Taxila city killed four people.
If it is said that Shias are being attacked but the dynamic with that particular enmity is entirely different. Shias in Pakistan are seen as influential and high profile with positions in the ruling class and playing prominent role in the country. They are caught up in what many analysts call a proxy war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Pakistani Christians evoke public sympathy and are not tools of a larger sectarian and ideological battle.
My concern is; what is the future of Christians in Pakistan? In fact, the right question is, do they have a future here at all?
Majority of the Pakistani Christians are living below poverty line residing in the slum areas across the country and around the seasonal drainage in the federal capital especially. Living with low income, they cannot afford school fees and thus their children remain uneducated. Many Christians suffer from grinding poverty. Education and employment discrimination leave them only the lowliest occupations. Many of them spend their lives in brickyards, within perilous distance of blazing hot kilns. These families are close to being slaves – bonded laborers – never able to work off the outrageous debts laid on them by Muslim landlords. Others find work as janitors or sewer workers. Their employers barely regard their Christian employees as human. Christian sanitation workers are the first ones sent into sewer trench lines, and usually without proper protection. Every year many Christian workers die from exposure to the toxic fumes. And their young girls work as maid and been raped by masters and then were forcefully converted to Islam.
Hundreds of the Christians’ students have not been promoted to next classes for their parents were unable to clear the dues at the schools in the twin city only. There could hundred thousand in the country. Sister Abida, head of the Saint Teresa High School, Rawalpindi has reportedly expelled 17 girls’ students for the school for their parents had not paid their school fee during this semester. This is missionary school, which aim should be to encourage poor Christian’s students to study. It is unfortunate that none of the priest has taken notice to it till I am writing these lines.   
The situation becomes more terrible when so called social and religious reformers and Christian politicians living in and outside the country play with them. They receive huge funds from the West but deliver little and rests spend for their own luxury life. None of them has ever planned to bring economic and social revival for this most vulnerable community. Many talented young ones are wasting their lives with low income jobs and have no future. Shahroz Tabassum, son of Akram Masih, student of La Salle High School, Faisalabad was the top scorer securing 1073 marks in his Secondary School Examination this year. Many of the so called social activists like me have posted his picture on their timelines but no one has announced any scholarship to encourage him.   

The US, EU and UK government funds seem directed to the Muslim regime to supporting the raise of Islamic militants to power. Even when aid is given to Pakistan, none ever reach the beleaguered Christian community. And sad to say, even the Christian human rights groups working in Pakistan seem to focus to hire Muslim employees. I wonder; what is future of the poor Pakistani Christians? Do they have any a future here? Is there anyone who listen the screams of the poor Pakistani Christians? 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Enforcing respect of Ramadan by ordinance

ISLAMABAD: Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a sovereign country in South Asia with a population exceeding 180 million people, came into being as a result of the Pakistan movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is the second most populous Muslim majority country and has the second largest Shia population in the world. After Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are the largest religious minorities in the country. Religious minorities are around 5% of the total population. Pakistan is a democratic country but a common man remains deprived of the basic human rights, which is sheer violation of the constitution.
During the General Zia’s regime “Ehtram-e-Ramzan ordinance 1981” was introduced and with the rise to power of PML-N, they brought back to some extent, the same straitjacket religiosity of dark years. This ordinance is one of the many incomprehensible laws that General Zia ul haq’s unconstitutional and illegal regime inflicted upon Pakistan. It is perhaps very similar to the Sabbath laws of Jews and Christians, which at one point enjoyed state sanction in many secular western nations including the US. But most of these states have since then repealed these laws or have made them redundant. But this ordinance is there and the government reminds the public that it is unlawful to eat, drink or smoke publicly during the month of Ramazan. The law states that any person who is under obligation to fast is not allowed to eat drink or smoke in public.
Now this in itself creates two exceptions: the first would be a person who is not under obligation i.e. a person who is either a non-Muslim, sick, elderly or is a woman who may be menstruating. However, the application of this law has more often than not targeted non-Muslims because, in practical terms, it is impossible to tell whether a person is ‘under obligation’ to ‘fast’ just by looking at the person. The second exception is for those people under obligation to not eat, drink or smoke in public. So, in other words, it is okay for a person under obligation to fast to eat, drink and smoke so long as he or she does it privately. Now the logical extension of this would be that a person not under obligation can eat, drink or smoke as he or she pleases. It goes without saying that this legal freedom is not honored by the police who target the poorest of the poor in enforcing this law. It is quite the sightseeing laborers being hauled into jail for a mere drink of water during these extremely hot months of June and July. Then there is the obvious question of whether or not the state has any right, constitutionally, legally or morally to determine who is under an obligation to fast or not. Pakistan’s constitution, in terms of its relationship with Islam, is an enabling and not an enforcing constitution. The state is required to enable Muslims to live Islamic lives but not to force them to do so. No article of the constitution empowers the state to force people to pray, fast or live according to the injunctions of Islam. Hence the question of whether a person is under any obligation to fast or not be a matter between him and God, and not between the state and the citizen.

Surely time has come for the people of Pakistan plus the government to realize that religious observance is usually personal matter but not insurance plan one. It really is time for you to bury Zia’s legacy along with his remains in Faisal mosque. The 1st step would become to scrap his illegal ordinance given cover from the eighth amendment. 
By – Shamim Masih 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Reformers need self reformation

ISLAMABAD: I along with many others have been desperately looking for someone who could conscientiously lead the Pakistani Christians with conviction, determination and above all love and care. In my most recent article, I mentioned that we are not demanding for an ideal situation but there should be a balance and fair condition. I presented the lack of political visionary leadership among Christian in the country. In this episode I wanted to mention the religious leadership is also responsible to care the community. When religious leadership at any level are accused, discredited, denounce and charged with failure the word “impeach” begins to emerge. If a leader unable to do what he was placed in office to do, he becomes worthless and useless; this is when in my view “public impeachment” should be considered.
It could be wrong, but majority of the priests are self-centered. Reforming and leading the nation is not a game for armatures, it needs solid commitment, professional attitude with accredited degrees from recognized universities or seminaries and ability to represent the masses at all levels. I don’t challenge their calling, but self-esteem is important most of them overestimate themselves. Thus they misguide the masses. I don’t judge them but they think for a while in a good faith; what they are doing is exactly according to the teaching of Christ.    
Let me give you an example, I personally know many of the priests, who have hardly passed their matriculation in third division and some have been graduated from “single room university”. Now when I see writing them Dr. or Professor so and so…. I fail to understand about those degrees and people proudly using these titles. When I Google the eligibility for Ph. D, most of the universities defined the criteria having 1st division throughout and minimum 3.5 GDP in M. Phil…… so how come these matriculate uses Dr. ……. These priests teach wrong theology and practice false doctrine to people. This should be discouraged.
Secondly; see the word of God; Deuteronomy 14: 28 -29
Deuteronomy 26:12
Nehemiah 10:39 and 13:5
And 1- Samuel chapter 8
If we carefully observe; how many of the Pakistani priests observe this teaching. Do they pay tithe to stranger, widow, musicians, or to those who serve at gates, simply no. Instead they keep on asking bring, bring and bring. See Ezekiel chapter 34; the prophecy against shepherd
It said woe is to the shepherds that do feed themselves…… the same is here in Pakistan. Do our shepherds care for their sheep? How many Christian students are there in missionary schools? How many Christian employers are there in Christian based organizations like Church World Service – CWS in Islamabad?  
It’s good to obey the great command as mentioned in Matthew 28:18-20
But one should remember 1- Timothy chapter 3:1-13

Let us be practical, our bishops are involved in land grabbing and our missionaries are found in corrupt practices. In unlikely places in recent months I have heard people talking about the disappointment in their priests. People are worried, fearful and troubled with those who pretend. An appropriate sign might read, “Leaders needed, Dictators need not apply.” Needed leaders are men and women who by example, intelligence and wisdom are willing to forget about their personal gain and seek to lead to a better kind of life. (Continue ….)   

Monday, 7 July 2014

We need visionary leaders

Let us not talk of an ideal condition but there should be a balance and fair situation. We fool ourselves if we think we can hide behind masks and maintain a double personality. All insincerities will kick back.  They will come back to haunt us and make our true intentions plain for the entire world to see. Since my school life, I have been following former federal minister Julius Salik, when he was elected member of the parliament for the first time. I ran his election campaign, seeing him as a revolutionary leader but once he became a legislator, he neither brought reforms nor took solid steps to strengthen the community, so I stopped following him.
Currently there is a battery of Christian social and political leaders on the horizon currently, some have been there for decades but with a blank list of achievements, some from the most recent past have a tainted record with vested interests, and some are emerging as fresh blood, energetic, clear vision and not only aware of the socio-political issues of non-Muslims in the country but also a intellect approach towards their solution. Healthy self-esteem is important because some of us think too little of ourselves; on the other hand, some of us overestimate ourselves. However the key is an honest and accurate evaluation. When our leaders at any level are accused, discredited, denounce and charged with failure the word “impeach” begins to emerge. If a leader unable to do what he was placed in office to do by election or appointment, he becomes worthless and useless, this is a situation when public impeachment should be considered.
I could be wrong, but what I have seen during the last decade, majority of Pakistani Christian leadership political, social or religious is self-centered. Reforming or leading a nation is not a game for armatures, it needs solid commitment, professional attitude combined with a national and international exposure and ability to represent the masses at all levels. When I look around there are a very few personalities that fit into the above criteria and one of the example I would like to share is Albert David MBE, Chairman of Pakistan United Christian Movement – PUCM. Albert has a proven and accomplished professional background, national and international exposure and experience of dealing with human rights issues, strong grip over and awareness of socio-political issues whether related to the religious minorities or country's national issues and above all a vision and road map for non-Muslim Pakistanis to integrate into the national main stream, political and social. Albert strongly believes in social harmony and cohesion and advocates nationalism. I had a chance of going through his profile and would like to share a few of his achievements:
o   He is the first Pakistani Christian to be conferred MBE (Honorary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition for outstanding services and contribution on issue of forced marriages.
o   He was invited by the White House as representative of Pakistani Christians for breakfast with President Barak Obama, an annual event to promote interfaith harmony between different religions in Feb, 2014.
o   A speaker and panelist at News Week’s conference “Women in World”, New York 2012, where he shared the stage with Foreign Secretary, Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie.
o   He was also the speaker and panelist on a debate jointly organized by BBC World service trust and BBC Urdu on the issue of forced marriages, honor killings and Gender Equality.
Locally he has served as the Member of the Provincial Minority Advisory Council, actively involved in the campaign against torture, a vibrant role in the promotion of child rights and leading on the advocacy campaign for Pakistan to accede to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Child Abductions. Another of Albert's achievement was his role in signing of a Protocol between Judiciaries of Pakistan and UK on the issue of Child Abductions.
Along with the above mentioned and a very clear political agenda of prosperity coupled with intellectual thinking and prolific speaking skills in a number of languages, In my opinion he is emerging as one the more capable non-Muslim political leaders in Pakistan.
America and the west have a policy of ignoring the persecution of the Christians claiming it to be an internal affair but for some reason focus on individuals, however these individuals do not present a true picture there. Some local Christian politicians, civil rights activists and religious leaders have been making money on the pretext of safeguarding minority rights but these financial resources are being used in getting positions in other political parties and for their vest interests instead of spending those funds for achieving Christian prosperity.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

UN and U.S wake up to protect Ahmadiya

ISLAMABAD: We learnt the story from The Bible, when Abram heard that his brother (Lot) was taken captive, He brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. Genesis 14: 14-16 (KJV) 
When Abram learned that Lot was a prisoner, he immediately tried to rescue his nephew. It would have been easier and safer not to become involved. But with Lot in serious trouble, Abram acted at once and rescued him. US basedorganization “The Human Rights Watch” reportedly asked Sri Lanka not to deport members of Pakistan’s minority Ahmadiyya community until the UNHCR had full access to them and determined their need for international protection. At least 142 Pakistanis, mostly Ahmadiyyas, arrested in police sweeps in Sri Lanka in June 2014 are being detained and are at risk of deportation, the Human Rights Watch said. “Sri Lankan authorities are threatening Pakistani minority group members with deportation at the very time when persecution of these groups is escalating in Pakistan,” said Bill Frelick, refugees’ director at Human Rights Watch.
It is good to know in the prevailing situation when the persecution on the bases of faith is reaching at high degree, US organization raised its voice to protect Pakistani minorities, but why they particularly mentioned Ahmadiyya. Let me clear this; it is not the first time that US people raised their voice Pakistani minorities especially Ahmadiyya not Christians. It’s common practice that UN and U.S ignore Pakistani Christians, Christians from Gojra, Kurian village, Joseph Colony, Lahore, Peshawar and other cities seeking asylum in different countries but their applications were rejected. Despite registering with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, these Christians have been given a shut up call. Most of them went there or willing to save their lives and avoid future persecution. During the Gojra and Joseph colony, Lahore incident none of the survivor was given protection or IDPs status from UNHCR, neither U.S has raised any voice for this poor segment of the society. On the other hand, hundreds of the Shia Hazara community and Ahmadis are travelling to Europe, Australia, America and UK on regular bases. Hundred of the families were displaced during Rimsha blasphemy case and many of them are still living in tents in Islamabad slum area. They were not given the IDPs status at that time.
I have given the example of Abraham; he went there to save his nephew Lot, we as Christian are brothers. When we accept Christ as savior thus we become the sons of Abraham (father of the nations). But U.S Christian (especially taking about the ruling class) has never been lenient towards Christian. U. S government and USAID have always been adding aid to Muslim world, which means adding fuel to fire. While poor Pakistani Christians are still in pitiable conditions. In response these radical Muslims in shape of Taliban are attacking on them. Let me make it clear that all US people are not in favor of Muslims; recently US congressman Rohrabacher has asked to ban aid to Pakistan for persecuting Christian.
Pakistani Christians have been facing discriminatory laws and persecution for the last two and half decades. Law and order situation is getting worse day by day. One can imagine; when Pakistan has failed to save its own sensitive installations from the hard-core terrorists, how come they protect the weak segment of the society when they are not willing even. The situation become more pathetic when foreign office disowns refugees “detained” in Sri Lanka. Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam was unsympathetic to the plight of the detained refugees in Sri Lanka, saying: “These people (asylum seekers) obtained asylum in Sri Lanka by badmouthing Pakistan. If they are in trouble, I have no idea.” “I don’t know of any operation being conducted by Sri Lankan authorities against Pakistani refugees,” she added.    

In this situation, Christian countries should know and realize the sensitivity of the issues Pakistani Christians are facing. UN, U.S and EU should honor its international obligations and allow their institutions to ensure that no Pakistani Christian is deported to face the risk of persecution or torture. Sometime we must get involved in a messy or painful situation in order to help others. We should be willing to act immediately when other need our help.