The great betrayal: Christians the worst victims of Pakistan's Islamization project

Christian leaders and intellectuals played a remarkable role in the making of Pakistan. But the community is now the biggest victim of the Islamization project of the country's mullahs and generals.
Damaged furniture outside a burned church in a Christian neighborhood following an angry Muslim mob attack in Jaranwala near Faisalabad in Pakistan (File photo | AP)
Damaged furniture outside a burned church in a Christian neighborhood following an angry Muslim mob attack in Jaranwala near Faisalabad in Pakistan (File photo | AP)

Yet again, the bigotry-fangs of Pakistan are out. There was another violent mob attack against Christians in Pakistan, last month. Hundreds of Muslim extremists killed an elderly Christian shoemaker, Nazeer Masih Gill, after a cleric falsely accused him of desecrating the Quran. The mob filmed themselves kicking and beating him and then looting his shoe factory and posted the footage on social media. A mob of 400 took part in the attack on the Mujahid Christian colony in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, vandalizing churches and burning Christian houses.

Pakistan has become a bully state vis-a-vis its religious minorities. Mullahs, generals and politicians of Pakistan conspired for a step-by-step religious homogenization of the nation from its very birth. Ultimately this process threatens not only the religious minorities but the viability of the Pakistani nation itself. Pakistan’s Christian community is the worst victim of this Islamization project of the country's mullahs and generals.

Pakistan’s debt to Christians

Christian leaders and intellectuals played a remarkable role in the making of Pakistan. In 1941, when Muhammed Ali Jinnah decided to establish the daily Dawn to promote the Pakistan Movement, he selected Pothan Joseph, a Christian from Kerala, as its first editor. Another prominent Christian leader, Dewan Bahadur S.P. Singha played a vital role in the Pakistan Movement braving the severe threats posed by the militant Sikhs. Hailing from Sialkot, Singha was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1937 and emerged as a staunch supporter of the Pakistan Movement. Moreover, he forcefully used his position as Speaker of the Punjab Assembly to further the cause of Pakistan.

Some other Christian leaders who supported the Pakistan Movement were Chaudhry Chandu Lal, journalist Elmer Chaudhry (the father of Squadron Leader Cecil Chaudhry, celebrated Pakistani war hero) and B.L Ralia Ram. In 1942, the All India Christian Association assured unconditional full support to the founder of Pakistan and the leaders of the Church in the Punjab strongly endorsed the Pakistan concept and advised their brethren to move to Pakistan when it came into existence. Chaudhary Chandu Lal toured the Pathankot and Gurdaspur districts to obtain a resolution from the Christian populations there that they wished to be included in Pakistan. Cecil Gibbon appeared before the Radcliff Commission to demand that the city of Lahore be given to Pakistan. Jinnah thankfully acknowledged the support of the Christian community to the Pakistan Movement by saying, “We will never forget your favour as you have cooperated with us.”

In August 1947, S.P. Singha became the first Speaker of the newly created West Punjab Assembly in Pakistan. However, after the passage of the Objectives Resolution, he was obliged to step down as it was now felt that a non-Muslim should not preside over a Muslim House (The Objectives Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949, proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would be based on the ideology of Islam; and not on secular democracy as it had been promised by Jinnah). Here starts the great betrayal of the Christian community by Pakistan and their meandering Via Dolorosa in ‘The Land of the Pure’.

Invisible Holocaust

Twenty-three per cent of Pakistan’s population was non-Muslim at the nation’s birth. It has been diminished to a mere 3.5% today. Christians form a meagre 1.27% of the total population. In Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (2018), Farahnaz Ispahani states that the process of creating an Islamic Pakistan began soon after Independence, and it was Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime that started promoting an intolerant version of Sunni Islam at the expense of other denominations. Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis were badly hit by this aggressive Islamization drive.

On March 27, 2016, Christian families celebrating Easter in Lahore were targeted by suicide bombers of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. The bombing claimed 73 lives including 29 innocent children. The terrorists picked Christians as their easy target to convey their demand that Pakistani military operations against the Taliban in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan must be halted. The Easter attack had been preceded a year earlier by twin suicide bombings at churches in the Youhanabad neighbourhood of Lahore which killed around 15 people. Pakistani Christians are forced to flee to the US, Canada and Australia. Popular culture in Pakistan portrays the Christians as the fifth column of Western imperialism that infiltrated Pakistan.

On 16 August 2023, a Muslim mob set four churches and several homes ablaze in Jaranwala in eastern Punjab, after the rumours of two Christian men desecrating the Quran made the news. The mob was led by Muslim clerics and included members of the Islamic extremist party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. The notorious blasphemy law is systematically used to persecute the minorities mainly Christians and Ahmadis.

In 2009, the international community took notice of a high-profile case with regard to these laws. Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was arrested for blasphemy. She was later sentenced to death in 2010 but was acquitted of blasphemy and released in 2018 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. During Asia’s case proceedings, two high-ranking government officials, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Clement Shahbaz Bhatti who had advocated for Asia Bibi, were also murdered. “Unless laws are passed making it an offence to fabricate allegations of blasphemy, Christians and other beleaguered minorities will never feel safe in their own country,” Bishop Samson Shukardin, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, recently observed.

The ill-fate of Pakistani Christians has some resemblance with that of the African American community. During the American War of Independence, a black slave named James Armistead played a vital role in the victory of the revolutionaries. As a double agent, he fed the British false information while disclosing very accurate and detailed accounts to the Americans. But the American elite meted outrageous injustice to him and his fellow African Americans after the war. Likewise, despite the sterling contribution of Christian leaders to the Pakistan Movement, they have been brutally humiliated in the Islamic Republic. This episode would be marked as one of the most disgraceful betrayals in history.

(Faisal C.K. is Deputy Law Secretary to the Government of Kerala. Views are personal).

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