Special to ASSIST News Service
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistani Christian leader, has told believers of his country that there is a lack of unity in the Christian community, and stressed the importance of education.
Christians protesting in Pakistani led by Joseph Francis from CLAAS
Joseph was one of many speakers at a six-hour seminar on the “Challenges faced by the Christians in Pakistan and their solutions.... How religious freedom and human rights can be ensured in the present scenario of Pakistan,” a well-attended event organized by overseas Christian Pakistanis and held in a local hotel.
Christian political parties, clergy and human rights activists all participated in the event.
Pervaiz Rafique, a Member of the Provincial Assembly, spoke about the lack of “political and spiritual leadership” in Pakistan telling those there, “We have to stop looking at others and instead do something ourselves. The spiritual leaders should make our Christian community spiritually strong, rather than trying to participate in political activities. We need to unite on our national issues, when was the last time a 100,000 Christians gathered to raise their voice?”
Mumtaz Qadri after his arrest
He then raised the case of Mumtaz Qadri, who on January 4, 2011, assassinated Salmaan Taseer, the 26th Governor of the Province of Punjab, after disagreeing with Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law and his support of Asia Bibi, a mother-of-five who had been sentenced to death for alleged apostasy.
One of Taseer's bodyguards, Qadri shot him 27 times with an MP5 sub-machine gun at Kohsar Market, near his home]in Sector F6 of Islamabad, as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch
“Qadri is supported by over 2000 lawyers who are willing to fight the case for free, and thousands have shown their solidarity with him. It is a shame that no Christian lawyer is willing to fight for the Christians for free, [and that] no Christian lawyer is even willing to take the initiative for the community,” said Rafique.
The church being demolished
Another speaker, Bishop Ijaz Inayat Masih of Karachi, who is said to be the only Bishop of the Church of Pakistan who is openly campaigning against sales of church properties in Pakistan, said, “The Church Property Ordinance 2002 needs to be amended as it is not being implemented and Church properties are being sold unchecked. Recently the church at Gosh-e-Aman in Lahore was demolished [and desecrated) with claims that it was sold to… [a Trust). We need to make laws that would ensure the protection of the Church Properties.”
Father Anwar Patras from the Catholic Diocese of Rawalpindi said, “It is nice to see that we have the major political parties, the clergy from the Catholic, the Anglican Church and the Presbyterian Church under one roof. We all share the same faith, such seminars must be encouraged. I feel that this initiative should have been taken by the Catholic Church. We support an amendment in the Church Property Ordinance and it should be implemented.”
Joseph Francis from CLAAS (Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement) then said, “Pakistan was founded by the decisive vote by S.P. Singha, a Christian. That letter is still available at the national library Lahore. The minorities have been facing constitutional discrimination, they are not been given the rights they deserved. The Government talks about religious freedom and rights, they make minority parliamentarians but in reality the minorities are titled as rubber stamps and have no say in their parties.”
Professor Salamat Akhtar added, “Rawalpindi is a city of the martyrs. In 1971 the Christians of Rawalpindi fought for their lives and gave their lives for the cause. The Christians should demand dual vote for themselves, the Muslims in the subcontinent were given the right of dual vote in 1910, 1941 and 1946 as they were a minority. Now why can’t the Muslims give us the right of the dual vote. We need to focus on education and get our children in the public services so that that can be in position for policy making one day and be able to make a difference.”
Albert David, an activist from the British High Commission said, “We all agree on Jesus Christ, and so we need get united. I do agree about the idea of sending our children in public services that is where the policies are made. I wouldn’t encourage going after the political parties, instead do something about the policy making.”
Cornelius Mohsin from the Pakistani Christian Alliance USA said, “Today’s event was made possible by the overseas Pakistani Christians who are away from their homeland, but love their country and want to do something for the Christians in Pakistan. One of the major challenges we face is that we don’t even know our exact population. Some say its 1.5% , 3% or 5 %... do we have anything documented? Have we ever stressed on having a census?
“As far as I know, there are around 17-20 Christian populations where the Muslim politicians win on the Christian votes. Why don`t we demand election on a general seat for our candidates instead of getting them selected. If we have 17-20 strong candidates we will be able to have a voice in the parliament. If MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a liberal-secular political party of Pakistan] can make a government with 17 seats, then why can’t the Christians become strong by having seats in the parliament?”
Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.