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Asia Bibi Tag

 

Pakistan – The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about – ACN-News

16.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, Asia Bibi, Blasphemy Law, By Maria Lozano, By Marta Petrosillo, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Pakistan

Pakistan: “My husband is innocent!” –

The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about

 

In Pakistan, 224 Christians have been victims of the blasphemy law since the law’s passage in 1986, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan, told a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the Asian country.

The Colony Joseph. In March 2013, almost 300 houses and 2 churches were destroyed after the Christian Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

 

By Marta Petrosillo and Maria Lozano

 

Although the legal case against Asia Bibi finally came to a positive resolution on January 29th, 23 Christians were killed for blasphemy accusations between 1990 and 2017 and the Commission has documented a further 25 cases of Christians under trial, according to a study presented to ACN.

 

Specifically, there are two paragraphs of Section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code (paragraphs B and C) that can be understood as the “anti-blasphemy law”. Section 295B stipulates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Quran, while insulting the Prophet Muhammed carries the death sentence under Section 295C.

 

“The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means of personal revenge,” Chaudhry said. “And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”

 

This is exactly what happened in March 2013 in Joseph Colony, a Christian district in Lahore, after the young Christian Sawan Masih was accused of having insulted Muhammad. “On 9 March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf, NCJP President, explained to the delegation from ACN during a visit to the residential area. In the meantime, the district been rebuilt, thanks to funding from the government and returned to the Christians.

 

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

While the 83 instigators of the arson attack have all been released, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death in 2014 and is still waiting for the appeal proceedings to be held. “The hearings are constantly being postponed,” attorney Tahir Bashir explained. “The last hearing was scheduled for 28 January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27 February.”

National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. It provides services in the field of human rights advocacy. Since 1990 the Commission has defended cases of blasphemy against Muslims, Christians and Hindus, and has campaigned for abolition of the blasphemy laws. The team of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

Just as in the case of Asia Bibi, there are a lot of irregularities in Sawan’s case. The charges against him were brought by one of his Muslim friends, Shahid Imran, following an argument between the two men. Only two days later, two witnesses appeared who in reality had not even been present at the time Muhammed was allegedly insulted. “The charges against Sawan are being exploited,” Father Yousaf told ACN. “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”

 

In the meantime, Sawan’s wife Sobia is raising their three children all by herself. “I don’t know why they have accused my husband,” she said to ACN. “I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarrelled. Sawan is innocent!”

 


 

Release of Asia Bibi : “A Triumph of Human Rights”

30.01.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Asia, By Mario Bard, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Press Release, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

 Press Release – Release of Asia Bibi

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is relieved by the definitive release of Asia Bibi.

Montréal, Tuesday, January 30, 2019 – “This is a great day for the respect of human rights, for religious freedom and for justice. The Pakistani government didn’t allow the extremists who took to the streets with violence to influence them,” declared Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN).

The international Catholic charitable organization, which regularly provides information on the issue of religious freedom in the world, and particularly on the issue of Christians persecuted because of their faith, is celebrating today. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “Today’s decision is a triumph of human rights over religious intolerance, a victory of the law over the hatred of fanatics – and above all, personal happiness and great joy for Asia Bibi and her family”.

“Now, I would like the family to spend beautiful moments together and to savour the newfound freedom,” indicated Ms. Lalonde. She reminds us that, throughout the nine years of detention, many ACN benefactors prayed for her release. “Many prayed for her and this shows that faith really can move mountains,” she added, very moved by the events. “What’s most important is that Ms. Bibi is free, and that she can at last be reunited with her loved ones.”

At least 224 others accused since 1984

If Asia Bibi is free at last, there are 25 Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy who are still in prison, some of whom are awaiting execution. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “ACN will continue to pray and work for them with other organizations and project partners in Pakistan. We can only hope that the court’s decision will at least cause the government to rethink its position and that the blasphemy laws will be relaxed or better respected.”

Marie-Claude Lalonde is sad to say that, “in Pakistan, the blasphemy law can be invoked to accuse one’s neighbour in order to resolve an unrelated dispute. We hope that the signal given with the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court is a step in the right direction.”

Pakistan is part of the sad list of 38 countries identified in ACN’s 2018 Abridged Report on Religious Freedom as a country where violations of religious rights are significant. The situation has even worsened for religious minorities in 2018, with the country’s President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops describing “an alarming increase in violence, intolerance and extremism.” *

Summary of the story

Asia Bibi is a Catholic woman who is now 51 years old. In the fall of 2009, she was in the fields with other women, harvesting the crops. During a break, she drank from the same well as the other women, but these women considered that Asia had just contaminated it since she is not Muslim.  Asia replied, the situation escalated and her colleagues accused her of blasphemy. After a hearing, she was found guilty of blasphemy according to the laws in effect in Pakistan. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Thanks to the persistence of the country’s Christian community, her lawyers and international organizations denouncing this situation, Asia Bibi was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31, 2018. A fundamentalist group wanted to appeal this decision, which forced Asia Bibi to remain in the country, in hiding, for her protection. Finally, on January 29, 2019, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the request to appeal and Asia Bibi is finally free.  

In Pakistan, only 2% of the population is Christian, with a population of more than 192 million inhabitants, which is in majority Muslim.

*Page 38, Abridged Report on Religious Freedom in the World, available at the address https://files.acn-canada.org/2018/11/ACN-Religious-Freedom-Report-2018_CanENGL_WEB-1.pdf

ACN Feature Story: Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

04.12.2018 in By Amanda Griffin, Pakistan, Religious Freedom Report, Shahbaz Bhatti

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, came under fire from Muslim extremists displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

Pakistan. A country where the Christian minority experiences terrible persecution and discrimination, simply because of their faith.

One tool of discrimination used against Christians or other minorities is the “Blasphemy Law”.  In 1986, the so-called blasphemy law was enacted in Pakistan. In principle, the law protects all religions from offences, but it provides for severe and draconian punishments to offences and blasphemies against Islam: and the 1,300 people along the way accused of transgressing the blasphemy laws since it was instated. A simple suspicion or a statement would be enough to imprison a person, and the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who is left to prove his, or her, innocence. So far, no one who has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death has actually been executed. Though one significant case that drew worldwide attention almost saw it through. It involved a woman named Asia Bibi.

 

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of five

Ms. Bibi, a Christian woman from a simple village, living a simple life as a mother of five children—and who in fact has never even left her small surroundings even to go to the capital of Islamabad—when one day a small action on her part would devastate her entire life, giving rise to accusations of blasphemy.  The accusation was followed by a mob attacking her in the streets along with her young daughter–they were beaten and finally Ms. Bibi was arrested.  Having no credibility, as a woman and as a Christian within the Pakistani legal system, she was found guilty of blasphemy and placed on death row where she remained in isolation and awful conditions for the better part of 10 years until very recently.

Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi during their October 2018 visit to the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need.

On October 31, 2018 – after her appeal to overthrow the death penalty was pushed back many times because judges were unwilling to hear the case, it is assumed for fear of reprisals.  She was finally and joyously for her family and supporters around the world–acquitted of the crime, found not guilty.  But she could not be freed from her imprisonment, not let out to be with her family because riots and unrest demanding she be put to death for her crime, ensued in the country.

Unfortunately, even if she is now out of prison, she has still not been able to be with her family for the threats of violence  persist.  Recent arrests of protest leaders have maintained the ongoing threat to her life.

Like in other moments of Pakistan’s recent history, this mass reaction to uphold the death sentence demonstrates the gravity of the situation local Christians in Pakistan find themselves in. In the past, and during Asia Bibi’s trial, other brave people spoke out for her freedom and minority rights. Many were silenced for doing so, and ultimately some were assassinated. This calls to mind a brave Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti.

 

Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

His courageous pursuit towards realizing his dream of religious freedom and equality for all led him in 2008 to being appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. Within a short time, he managed to introduce a law guaranteeing minorities a five-percent share of public posts, including parliament.  He became personally involved in difficult issues confronting ordinary people, and in particular sensitive to the two percent minority Christian community. He spoke out for the voiceless, and for among others, Asia Bibi. His open criticism about the misuse of the blasphemy law resulted in an ever-growing number of threats and although conscious of the mounting very real danger, he very bravely did not back down from his commitment to help discriminated religious minorities.

On March 2, 2011, his car was sprayed with gunfire outside his Islamabad home. Twenty-seven bullets found their target.

 

A cemetery in Gojra, diocese of Faisalabad – grave of Shahbaz Bhatti -Pakistan 2011 Photo: Magdalena Wolnik

 

Two years before his death, in yet another quote from a book that has become his spiritual testament, Bhatti wrote, “My human body is wounded but these wounds are not physical wounds, they are the wounds of worry, of grief, of the sorrows and pains of the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, of the needy and the oppressed Christians. We are one family with the people who are in need. Thus as a family we should share the sorrows, the griefs and the sufferings of each other.” I am deeply convinced that these words remain equally relevant today, as much to me, as to us all.

Now Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said of him that he was “a man with a dream, with a vision, that people of different faiths can live here together.”

 

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab

Another brave man assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

 

Pakistan, May 2017  Women and children during Holy Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

The abduction and rape of women as a tool

Another tool used to discriminate and persecute Christians, Christian women in particular, according to the Religious Freedom in the World Report released recently by Aid to the Church in Need International*, the abduction of women in minorities is also on the rise in 2018. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, because of threats against other women and girls in the family.

 

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death. For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

 

Mr. Bhatti’s call for prayers for freedom of religion and equality along with so many other brave souls have finally made a difference for Asia Bibi and her family who have never ceased advocating, fighting and praying for her. Reunited, but still awaiting a firm invitation from a safe country, like Canada.

 

Pakistan, May 2017 – At the St. Joseph’s Colony. Visit of the St. Joseph’s Colony, located in a Christian-dominated neighborhood of Lahore, where an enraged mob torched dozens of houses following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man in March 2013. It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy.

To learn more about the volatile and increasingly dangerous situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Pakistani penal code and the “blasphemy laws” introduced in 1986, please consult the full length Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 with extensive data on the subject compiled on the international website where you can view by country: Pakistan.

By Amanda Griffin, ACN CANADA
Sources: ACN Religious Freedom Report 2016 and 2018, the Catholic Register and various ACN Press articles
*Other sources: Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan

ACN NEWS: ASIA BIBI CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

30.11.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan, Religious freedom

Pakistan

ASIA BIBI IS CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

“WE ARE AFRAID!” SAYS JOSEPH NADEEM, THE MAN WHO IS SHELTERING HER FAMILY TELLS ACN: “IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THE ISLAMISTS HAVE SHOT AT THE GATEWAY OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE. WE HOPE TO BE ABLE TO FIND A PLACE OF SECURITY SOON, PERHAPS EVEN IN ROME FOR CHRISTMAS.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018
Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi)

“We are afraid. In the last few days they have shot at the gate outside the house where we were living. We face constant threats, and more than once I have been followed.” Such is the frightening situation being endured by the daughters of Asia Bibi, as reported to ACN by Joseph Nadeem, the man who has been sheltering her family ever since this Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Given that Asia and her husband are practically illiterate, it is Nadeem who has been helping them with legal support and accompanying her husband Asihiq and younger daughter Eisham in their travels abroad, giving testimony of their experiences.

Today Joseph Nadeem and his family are themselves in danger and living in hiding together with the daughters of Asia Bibi. “Just as soon as Asia was acquitted, we were forced to flee,” he recalls. “Asia and her husband are currently in a place of safety, protected by the government, but we could not remain with them,” he explains. Ever since then Joseph Nadeem and his family, together with the two daughters of Asia, have had to keep on the move, changing homes four times so far. “The Islamists keep hunting us down, and every time we find we are in danger, we have to move on immediately. We cannot go out openly to buy food. I only ever go out by night and with my face covered,” Joseph Nadeem tells ACN.

Daily talks on the phone

Asia is aware of their difficult situation. “I met her as soon as she was acquitted, and every day we speak on the telephone together. She is very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” The two girls, Esha and Eisham, have not even have the chance to embrace their mother since her acquittal, but finally, even if only by telephone, they have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her daily. “I will never forget their first telephone call,” Joseph recalls. “Esha and Eisham wept for hours for sheer joy and relief. Asia cannot wait to see them again, and I am still hoping we can all leave the country very soon, together with Asia and her husband.”

Pakistan: A man sits in a Christian quarter of Multan, the town where Asia Bibi was held prisoner.

Nevertheless, their nightmare is still far from over. Asia Bibi has shown extraordinary strength and courage. “She is a remarkable woman! She has retained an unshakable faith and infinite trust in the Lord. It may sound strange, but it is she who has supported us in these difficult moments. She urges us not to get discouraged and tells us that in comparison with what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”

Nadeem and the two girls are well aware of the flood of information and interest that her mother’s case has aroused around the world, and they have been able to talk to Asia herself about it. “The international attention and solidarity are a source of comfort for us. Eisham was profoundly moved when she saw her video message projected on the buildings of Venice, illuminated in red light. All of us, Asia included, are grateful to all those who have raised their voices in protest about our situation.”

“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place. ACN was the first organization to offer us hospitality. And we are hoping that our two families will be able to spend this Christmas in Rome, together with you all.”

 

ACN News: Pakistan Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

19.10.2018 in ACN UK, Pakistan

Pakistan

Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

United Kingdom, October 2018
Interview with Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi) and Ashiq Masih (husband of Asia Bibi). Invited to the UK by the AED, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to share the story of their wife and mother.

Nine years. That is how long Asia Bibi has spent in prison and on death row for an alleged blasphemy – which she has always denied. It is also how old her daughter Eisham was, back in June 2009, when she witnessed an enraged crowd beating her mother. Now 18, she met with ACN on Saturday 13 October in London, accompanied by her father, Ashiq Masih.

 

«We last saw Asia on Monday 1st October, before coming to the United Kingdom. She is well, physically and spiritually », her husband, Ashiq Masih, told ACN on Saturday 13 October in London. « After being accused of blasphemy, she has suffered, her whole family has suffered, for almost 10 years now. But by the grace of God, we hope she will very soon be set free », he added.

 

Invited to visit the UK by ACN, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to come and share the story of their wife and mother. « Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now», Ashiq recalled. « It’s a terrible thing for a husband and for a child. We have come here today to bear witness, to speak up and be a voice for Asia Bibi, who has been falsely accused of blasphemy. She has asked me to urge you to remember her in your prayers, to pray that she may very soon be set free. » Asia was accused of having « insulted » the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with two Muslim women from her village, who had refused to drink water from a glass that she had just used. Asia Bibi is the first woman to have been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s draconian anti-blasphemy laws.

 “Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now”, recalls Ashiq. “It’s terrible for a spouse, for a child. We are here to testify, to carry the voice of Asia Bibi, wrongly accused of having blasphemed.”

Unwavering fidelity

Now that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which is Asia Bibi’s last hope, has stated on Monday 8 October, that it intends to « reserve its decision for the moment », her family members remain, are determined to remain, resolutely optimistic. « We believe that the Supreme Court judges intend to find in her favour », they insist. It is a conviction that is bolstered by a solid legal case and also on the astounding and unwavering hope of this family, who confess that they draw their strength « from the Lord Jesus Christ, who hears the prayers of those who suffer ».

 

Yet there are all too many reasons for despair for this family, who have been forced to live in hiding in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject. Mere allegations of blasphemy regularly end up with the lynching of those accused, and Christians are frequently targeted, as a persecuted minority.

 

Ever since its statement on Monday 8 October, Islamist fundamentalists have been demanding that the Supreme Court carry out the sentence pronounced against Asia Bibi by the two lower courts, namely death by hanging. An absolute wave of violence has been unleashed on social networks: « If you free Asia Bibi, prepare yourselves for more Mumtaz Qatris », is their sinister threat. Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in 2016, was the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, on 4 January 2011, for having publicly spoken up in defence of Asia Bibi and for criticising the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. These laws were introduced by the British at the time when the British Indian Empire included what is today the country of Pakistan. Since 1986, under the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), this controversial legislation has made blasphemy punishable by the death penalty.

«We cannot remain in Pakistan»

Besides, Ashiq is quite lucid in recognizing that « everyone is afraid; everyone is facing threats – the supporters of Asia Bibi, her lawyers, her judges. » Nevertheless, one can see that he is proud of living in Pakistan, among the Muslims, who represent almost 96% of the population. He goes on to add, « not all of them are in favour of the execution of Asia Bibi. There are many people who understand that we are suffering. But the extremists, and the fundamentalist organisations are also very numerous. » Numerous, and extremely vindictive, as Father Emmanuel Yousaf, the president of the Justice and Peace commission of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, emphasizes.

 

And so, it is with a heavy heart that Ashiq acknowledges that his family can no longer remain in Pakistan. And while he is not revealing the place of their exile, he nonetheless continues to trust in providence: « God will take care of Asia Bibi and her family. He will find us a peaceful place. God will choose for us. » A peaceful place, from which her daughter Eisham is determined to continue her studies in law in order to become a barrister, and so to be able to help the poorest and those accused of blasphemy.

 

by Pierre Macqueron (ACN France)

 

 

 

 

 

ACN INTERVIEW – FATHER JAMES CHANNON OF PAKISTAN

24.07.2015 in ACN USA, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

ACN INTERVIEW

In Pakistan, the Church is pursuing the path of love—even in the face of violence

Father James Channan, O.P.—the former Vice Provincial of the Dominican order in Pakistan—is director of the Dominican-run Peace Center in Lahore, Pakistan, which is committed to deepening the knowledge of the faith of laity and clergy in the service of building interfaith ties with Pakistan’s Muslim majority, which accounts for 96 percent of the population of 196 million; the Christian population is just 2 percent, including 2 million Catholics.

 

The Friar was at the UN recently to receive the “Global Ambassador of Peace Award” from the Institute of International Social Development. He spoke July 23, 2015 with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision to hear the appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 under the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

 

 

Will Asia Bibi’s life be spared?

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has made a great move as her death sentence was put aside. The Supreme Court is going to review the entire case, including her death sentence. I firmly believe that justice will be done, that she will be proven innocent and that she will be released.  The blasphemy law was used to settle a personal score—the accusation was an act of revenge.

If she is freed, will her life be in danger?

Yes, unfortunately yes. Fanatics are determined to kill once someone is accused, regardless of the legal outcome of a particular case. Bibi won’t be able to stay in Pakistan and has to settle abroad. This of course has happened in a number of well-known cases in the past. Our people need to be educated and come to respect decisions of the courts of law.

 

How many Christians are currently in prison accused of blasphemy?

According to my estimate, there are 130 Christians whose trials are proceeding. But people will be surprised to learn that there are about 950 Muslims currently held under the law. The law is far more enacted against Muslims, and very often it is a tool to settle business disputes or personal vendettas.

But there is a big difference between accusations of Muslims and Christians: if one Muslim is accused, just one Muslim is accused. But in the case of a Christian being accused, an entire community, an entire neighborhood is accused. And in several cases the entire Christian village or a Christian neighborhood has been burned to ashes.

 

Do you have hope that Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law will ever be repealed?

That will not happen. It is a very delicate and sensitive matter; extremist groups are very attached to it. But certain safeguards can be put in place. The misuse of the law should be stopped, such as its use to settle personal scores or to further business purposes. Those who bring false accusations should be punished—and this idea is also being supported by a growing number of Muslims, including some top leaders.

 

What is your most important mission in Pakistan today?

To promote peace, build trust and mutual respect between Christians and Muslims. The goal is equal rights for all citizens—and we are making some progress. For example, several key Muslim religious leaders and scholars have become part and parcel of . These include two prominent Muslim religious leaders in Lahore: Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulama Council—which oversees 60,000 mosques and 10,000 Madrasa schools throughout the country; and Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, Grand Imam of the fifth largest mosque in the world, the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. These men also support the punishment of those who bring false accusations under the anti-blasphemy law.

Our joint efforts are bearing forth much fruit—it is a path of love—but we need to do much more and enhance our dialogue activities throughout Pakistan. Without dialogue there is no future of the Church in Pakistan.

Do you believe then in a moderate Islam?

Yes, I do. Pakistan is an Islamic state, but the rights of all minorities should be respected. We have to work toward that—Christians alongside Muslims. The government could also do a lot more in terms of revising the Constitution and striking those provisions that relegate Christians—and other religious minorities, such Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and Baha’i—to second-class citizen status. Government should use the media to change the people’s mindset—to promote tolerance.

Today, however, Christians live in a state of fear because of all the recent violence. And they have no option of emigrating anywhere! Therefore, we need to somehow find a way to work with the Muslim majority—hence, building bridges between the communities is of vital importance, however long it takes. And Pakistan’s Catholic Church is on the forefront of this process.

 

What about the freedom of a Muslim to convert to Christianity?

It is a very sensitive issue. A Muslim who converts to the Christian faith comes under enormous social pressure.  Conversions are dangerous if they are publicly known—the convert’s life is in danger and so is the life of the priest who oversees the conversion, for example.

 

ACN-20141107-15923

Pakistan, Clarkabad November 2014 On Nov. 4, 2014, A Muslim mob severely beat a Christian couple accused of burning pages of the Koran in eastern Pakistan and then incinerated the bodies in a brick kiln. Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih were bonded laborers at a brick factory in the village of Kot Radha Kishan in the Punjab province, 28 miles south of Lahore. Father James Channan, O.P., (Father James Channan, URI-Pakistan Regional Coordinator, is a Catholic Priest and Director of the Peace Center of the Dominican Order in Pakistan) wrote to ACN: “I visited the grieving family of this couple in Clarkabad and offered my condolences and prayed for the grieving family. I met the elder brother of Shahzad – his name is Shabaz. I also went to the graves and offered prayers there along with two other Dominican priests; Fr Marcus Daniel OP and Fr Akhtar Naveed OP. …” Here: Father James Channon visiting the grieving family of the couple in Clarkabad and praying with them.

 

GIFTS FOR SOME AND THREATS FOR OTHERS

02.12.2013 in ACN Canada, egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Prayer, Syria

PHOTOS RÉUNIES

While parents here run to buy Christmas presents for their children, parents over there, in far too many countries, run under threat to protect their children from danger.

The arrival of Christmas is good news! – So the hymns tell us – news which bears the promise of peace and of love.  However, Christmas has become a threat in innumerable countries for many Christians, some of which are in the very cradle of Christianity itself.  Though it is difficult to do an exhaustive assessment of all the countries where conflict is being lived, or whose dramas have taken the stage at Christmas time, we cannot silently over-look any of them.

MARTA - AZIZ

Let us think about the conflicts in Syria which forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee to safer areas and leave behind all of their belongings.  What kind of future do you believe Syrian children are destined for? What kind of Christmas will they have?

And what of their neighbouring country Iraq – 10 years ago they Christians numbered 900,000, and today their number has dwindled down to 200,000.  Perhaps you recall the massacre of a Syrian church in Baghdad, on October 31, 2010 last – which left 46 dead, and among the fatalities, two priests.  This also foreshadowed events that would follow. Another attack was to take place during the Christmas season, and numerous bombs were placed close to Christian homes in Baghdad killing two people and injuring dozens more.  This year, will these children be surrounded by gifts or surrounded by threats?

295- copieWhat shall we say of Nigeria, where Christians became the victims of murderous attacks three Christmases running, for these, the Islamic sect – Boko Hararm- claimed responsibility for the last two.  In 2010, bombings left at least 32 dead and 74 injured in Jos, in 2011 – Boko Haram perpetrated several attacks against churches killing dozens of the faithful; and in 2012, armed men attacked a church in the North during Midnight Mass, killing six people – a priest among them – before setting the building aflame.  Do you believe that these children: Yakubu, Murtala and Olusegun will be surrounded by gifts this year?  Or rather, is it more likely they will be surrounded by threats?

20121011_002In Pakistan, 50 extremists Muslims armed with sticks and axes, attacked church buildings in Chak while a film was playing called ‘Jesus’; and while in Pakistan – how can we forget Asia Bibi? This woman stagnates imprisoned in a confined space, her only visitors being her lawyer, her husband and her five young children.  Add to this list: the Philippines. In the chapel of the Sacred-Heart in Jolo, a bomb explosion injured 11 during a morning Christmas Mass. And in Sri Lanka, again on Christmas day, bombs fell from the air destroying a Christian center which cared for orphans and disabled girls. Do you believe that these children will be surrounded by presents of by threats this year?

20130208_034In BosniaHerzegovina, the faithful saw the Orthodox Cathedral’s flag burning on Christmas Eve by unidentified arsonists.  Do these kinds of acts allow them to believe that they will be surrounded by presents or by threats this year?We could extend our list with a situation in Egypt, when at the end of Midnight Mass – several Copts were gunned down. And in China, while a wave of persecution swept over Christians of Uyghur and Han ethnicity, between Christmas and the New Year – or again in Bangladesh, when the popular Democratic Front ordered Church leaders not to hold Christmas celebrations.

THEIR FAITH DOES NOT PROTECT FROM THEIR SUFFERING

PHOTOS RÉUNIES 1

If we are to rejoice for children for whom Christmas will bring presents in a joyful way, perhaps might we all, all the same, commiserate with those for whom Christmas might transform into threats, injustices and sadness?  Let us take of leave of the vengeance wishing to take up residence in our hearts, and let us call on forgiveness to assuage the pain.

Certainly, this requires a living faith to traverse the challenges of persecution.

Similarly, if Christians are people of faith, faith does not protect from suffering.  Each action posed on their behalf signifies to them that we are thinking of them, and that they are not alone.

Does this accompaniment not give them access to forgiveness and to allowing for an opening on to the path towards hope?

Pray for those, everywhere, who are in need of YOU, to stay true to their faith;

Inform all those here who wish to help THEM too, they who fortify us in our faith;

Let us give, to all those who are in need of US, hope for a better life.


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