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Christians under attack - Radical Muslim groups target those who follow Christ

Published:Sunday | May 10, 2015 | 5:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
A Christian weeps after an attack on a church in Pakistan.

The assault against minorities in Muslim regions has made news almost daily with little tangible response to stem the bloodletting.

Christians from Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, and Egypt have been slain at the hands of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab, all organisations with a nihilistic agenda.

Little, though, is made of nations that promote a hostile environment against their own minorities. Pakistan is one such country, according to its native son, Shakeel Raphael, a Christian, and keen researcher on comparative religion. Raphael heads Pakistan Minorities Alliance in New York, a civil rights organisation formed in 2010 in Pakistan that boasts thousands of members.

 

blasphemy law

 

Recently, he accepted my invitation to address the board of Global Interfaith Council at its Brooklyn branch. His words pierced the quiet and moved attendees. Using graphic pictures of burning churches and bloodied victims of bombings and suicide attacks, Raphael detailed how his country's blasphemy law has been deceptively used to commit atrocities against innocent Christians.

"Purported defamation of Prophet Muhammad or the Quran could lead to a life sentence or death," said Raphael. "Personal grudges or business dealings turned sour can lead to falsified reports of blasphemy.

"What is more bristling is the violent action of vigilantes who pre-empt the legal process and exact individual or collective punishment. It is not uncommon for throngs of rabid protesters to fire-bomb houses of worship and raze villages," he added.

Raphael has seen a rise in what he called "horrific and senseless incidents against Christians". And those who have not paid the ultimate price for their religious convictions have been on the receiving end of discrimination, prejudice, and ethnic profiling.

Raphael, who now resides in Queens, worked for the state government in his homeland. He spoke of an inimical work environment that led to suspensions and his ultimate dismissal. He said many in his faith vouch that they have undergone similar treatment at their jobs.

 

escaping persecution

 

"Between 1987 and 2013, thousands have been accused of defaming the Quran. Thousands have also fled to Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia, escaping persecution at the hands of extremists. Poverty has prevented these refugees from seeking asylum in the West," explained Raphael.

But the statistics, he said, do not tell the whole story.

Other religious minorities have also been victimised, he noted, making special mention of Shia Muslims and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, both deemed heretical by Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority, but lauded by Raphael for their tolerance under withering circumstances.

Hindus and Sikhs were also said to be randomly targeted. Interestingly, Raphael cited a period of accommodation during the 2001-2010 leadership of Pervez Musharraf, who was a member of the Ahmadiyya sect. Minorities, Raphael said, still speak of his rule in nostalgic terms.

Painstakingly, he recalled the 2011 murder of Clement Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian, and the first Federal Minister of Minority Affairs. Bhatti was a vociferous critic of the country's blasphemy law. Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed responsibility for setting off the car bomb that claimed his life. "That no one has filled this vacant post is quite telling," the Queens resident stated.

Also significant was the death of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of a province of Punjab, and a Muslim, who was assassinated by a member of his security detail. Both men had presented initiatives to amend the controversial penal code relating to blasphemy.

"We need help from every quarter, especially from Pakistan's allies. Diplomatic pressure must be exerted to bring about change in this existential struggle."

The silence was deafening. The message was crystal, clear. It was heard.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is president of Global Interfaith Council Corp. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on twitter @glenvilleashby