--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A PAKISTANI CHRISTIAN

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The following article appeared in The Minorities' View August 2015. and can be accessed through their website's archives.  This can be easily done by clicking on the image of the magazine displayed in the right hand column under the caption: The Minorities' View, and looking up for the required issue in the date windows.

The following article appeared in The Minorities' View, May 2015, and can be accessed through their website's archives.  This can be easily done by clicking on the image of the magazine displayed in the right hand column under the caption: The Minorities' View, and looking up for the required issue in the date windows.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Book Review: Sermon in Blood

Sermon in Blood: Sacrifice and Struggle of Bishop Dr John Joseph, a symbol of Christian-Muslim Harmony

Author: Prof Gulzar Wafa Chaudhry

Zafar and Mumtaz Publishers, Lahore, 1999

pp 130

On May 6 1998, at 9:30 pm, Dr John Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, Pakistan, committed suicide in front of a Court in Faisalabad that had sentenced a Pakistani Christian man (Ayub Masih) for alleged blasphemy. The Bishop's last words, just as he pulled the trigger of the gun held to his own temple, were addressed to him: "Ayub I am offering my life for you".

On 5th April 1994 Manzoor Masih of Gujranwala, accused of blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam was gunned down by unknown assassins. During the incident his co-accused Salamat Masih (a minor),  Rehmat Masih and  a mutual friend John Joseph (of Lahore) also received critical injuries. The funeral for Manzoor Masih was held in the Catholic cathedral of Lawrence Road, Lahore, on 7th April and was attended by people representing all walks of life,  and of various faiths and creeds. Bishop John Joseph at the conclusion of the ceremony had stepped forward to the coffin, kissed the feet of dead body of Manzoor Masih and addressing it said, "I wish, I had died in your place." The funeral procession then moved on to the Christian cemetery where he was returned, "dust unto dust".

In January 1995 twelve-year old Salmat Masih and his relative Rehmat Masih both co-accused of the late Manzoor Masih were sentenced to death in the session court Lahore. (Death sentence to a minor is against the U.N. conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory). After a dangerous and convoluted legal battle, the accused were acquitted of  the charges on 23rd February 1995. The acquitted Salmat Masih and Rehmat Masih were flown to Germany on asylum to save their lives from blood thirsty extremists.

On 14th October 1996 Mohammad Akram, a Muslim, registered a case against twenty-five year old Christian, Ayub Masih of Arifwala (District Pakpatan), accusing him of having said to him and his Muslim companions to read Salman Rushdi's Satanic Verses as well as uttering other blasphemous remarks. The real reason was that the Christians, as well as the Muslim residents, were given residential plots by the government and this was an easy and sure-shot way of ensuring that the Christians would vacate their rightful plots so that the Muslim land grab mafia could take their possession. It was the culmination of this case which lead the Bishop to lay down his life, in a manner described in  Sermon In Blood.

The author details the last ten days of the Bishop, beginning from 27th April when Rana Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sessions Judge of Sahiwal, awarded death penalty to Ayub Masih under  Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code. This unjustified verdict caused the Bishop to write a 19 page letter the next day, in which he narrated the events and  wrote "I shall count myself extremely fourtunate, if...Our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people..." (p 13 of the said letter). The letter was faxed to Father Seige at Rome on 29th April. There were ample hints in those last ten days that the Bishop was contemplating self-sacrifice though he never stated it in direct terms. And then when he felt the time was right he asked his chauffer to drive him to the session court where Ayub Masih had been sentenced, and scarified his life in protest, in pursuance of what he earlier had termed "The Final Step against the 295-C".

In addition to providing great detail of Ayub Masih's case, the book also catalogues many other atrocities committed against the Christian's of Pakistan. For example, on 5th/6th February 1997 Shantinagar,  a Christian village in the Khanewal district, was burned just after 48 hours after Pakistan Muslim League was declared the winner in the elections.  

In my view the title of this relatively short treatise is as powerful as the saga it has endeavoured to preserve for posterity. Being a powerful orator and an accomplished writer, the Bishop had preached many a sermon from the pulpit. But his very last sermon, which was neither written in ink, nor orated from a pulpit, was heard the world over.

When these events were unfolding this reviewer was in Pakistan, and can recall with acute vividness, the shock waves it sent through the nation and especially the Christian community including Catholics and the Protestants.

The champion of Christian-Muslim harmony had come to the end of a blind alley in his struggle and could no longer bear the pain of seeing innocent sheep of his flock being sent to the slaughter house. Along with the author, I believe, considering all the circumstantial evidence, as well as his passion for justice, his suicide must be seen as a self-sacrifice for a cause. The author enlists eleven other prominent personages in the chapter entitled self-sacrifice for Liberation, and ends it with these words:

And the last, thereafter, is the self-sacrifice for Bishop John Joesph. He, as hinted by him earlier "astonished" the government by offering the sacrifice of his own life, with his own gun, triggered by his own hand. With a fatal protest fire in his own head, he marked that the human rights situation was much worse, in Pakistan than it apparently looked. In his last meeting in a Catholic Church of Sahiwal (formally Montgomery) he said. "Christians in Pakistan are being held in  a "death-sentence blackmail" by the Blashpemy Law, under which their small businesses are being taken over and their property is being seized and the situation is such that there womem are not safe. (p83)

Socrates, in his own set of circumstances, before drinking the cup of poison  had said "perhaps then in this way it is not beyond reason that a man ought not to kill himself unless God send upon him some necessity, such as mine in my present position".

In addition to characterising the bishop, narrating his story, communicating his passion, the book also has a compilation of tributes offered at his tragic death. To counter balance these the athor also  enlists the responses from the government and her mouthpieces. The then Information Minister Mushahid Hussain Sayed, stated "The minorities are getting full protectin under law, constitution and under the Islam in Pakistan".

Strictly speaking the book is not written in any of the traditional styles of narrating events chronologically, or pursing an argument logically. This is not to say that it is historically inaccurate or that it is illogical, but to stress that it is more of a friend's tribute of sincerity and love, and as it is a work of overwhelming emotions more than of academic discipline, it does tend to be factually repetitious. Regrettably nor is it free from typographical errors. However, coming from a close friend, a fellow Pakistani Christian, and a partner in human rights struggle, it is an excellent  resource for sincere students of the plight that the Pakistani Christians find themselves in. Thus, in my view this book must be accepted in its totality in the spirit in which it is written (some might argue that 'compiled' might be a better description of this work). 

Akhtar Injeeli

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Review: The Christian Minority in Pakistan

The Christian Minority in Pakistan: Problems and Prospects
Asimi, A.D.

Word Alive Press,  Winnipeg, 2010
ISBN- 13:978-177069-005-9
 pp 181

The Christian Minority in Pakistan is a concise profile, as well as a compact socio-political analysis, of the Christian Community in Pakistan. The book can be divided into three parts (my divisions):
1.       Historical context (first three chapters)
2.       The problems (chapters four, five and six)
3.       Prospects and proposed solutions (chapters six and seven)

Asimi starts his thesis by doubting and/or outright denying the arrival of Apostle Thomas to India within the first Christian century. According to him, the first introduction of Christianity to the sub-continent was by the Roman Catholic Fathers in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century and did not succeed well even at this later date as, for all practical purposes, Christianity failed to take root in India.
The (more successful) reintroduction of Christianity, according to Asimi, is linked with the British Raj. In 1600 East India Company (EIC), owned by private citizens, started its operations with the sole aim of growth of trade and resolutely adopted a policy of avoiding any kind of Christian pursuit. The company’s activities gradually expanded into politico-military sphere. By 1857 it effectively controlled the political landscape of vast Indian territories. The (so called) Sepoy Mutiny of that year was the last concerted effort by the Indians to regain self-governance  and is recorded by their historians as The war of Independence, albeit a failed one. 

On first September 1958 India was placed under the direct rule of the British Crown and stayed so until 14th/15th August 1947, when the British left it divided into an independent India and an independent Pakistan. The political subjugation of nearly three and a half centuries by the British left a bad taste in the mouths of most Indians. Though India had enjoyed some benefits from the Raj, for the most part the natives resented it. The foreigners left behind them some permanent reminders of their domination in the form of tall-steepled churches, Christian hospitals and educational institutions, as well as a small minority of Christians who practised, mostly a western style, Christianity. Asimi notes: Most of the non-Christian population looks upon all this as an alien legacy left behind by an alien power. They were averse to this power then, and they are averse to its legacy today. (p 3).  The rest of the book discusses the plight of Christians in Pakistan through this resented image.
Asimi divides the problems of the Christians in Pakistan – who according to him, make up 1.9% of the population (p 113) – into the following three broad categories.

Firstly there is a serious lack of unity and cohesion in Christians. The main divide being between the Catholics and the Protestants, but then there are innumerable divisions within the Protestants, and this religious factionalism spills over into secular and national life.

Secondly, there is a ‘sickening lack of effective secular leadership’ and this ‘is the greatest weakness of Christian Minority in Pakistan’ (p 116).

Finally, there is a lack of integration of Christians into the socio-cultural milieu of the land, which according to the author, is the most serious part of the negative image of Christianity.

In the concluding chapters of his work, Asimi presents a set of prospects and solutions, which are a welcome addition to the debate about the plight of Christians in Pakistan, but cannot be swallowed wholesale by this reviewer.
My own studies and the evidence available to me lead me to radically different conclusions about the earliest introduction of Christianity to the Indian sub-continent as well as to the history of its Christian Church. I also do not agree to the figure of 1.9 % as being representative of Christian population in Pakistan (I believe the figure to be significantly higher), but as these two issues are not the main substance of Asimi’s thesis, I will refrain from commenting on them further.

The main point of the book is about identifying the problems of the Christians in Pakistan and offering a set of workable solutions, and it is this part that I would like to peruse here.
That ‘Christianity in Pakistan must have a Pakistani face’ is a valid and in fact a laudable suggestion and no one wants to dispute it. And I, for one, can even accept that, ‘The kind of confrontational/evangelical Christianity that was brought to the Indian-sub-continent by the West should become a thing of the past’ (p 148). However, it needs to be firmly established that Christianity predates the state of Pakistan and that its followers hold on to certain non-negotiable tenets: the irreducible minimums of the Christian faith. These cannot, and must not, be sacrificed in an attempt to produce a so called ‘Islam-Reconciled Christianity’.   

For example it appears that Asimi, under the influence of modern western scholarship, is willing to reconsider the sacrificial death of Lord Jesus Christ. On p 154 he enlists three views of Jesus’s crucifiction;  the Jewish view was that  his close companions ‘stole his dead body, concealed it, and spread the false news that He had risen from the dead’ (emphasis is mine). The Christian faith’s declaration that he ‘rose from the grave on the third day; ascended into heaven, now sits on the right hand of God and, in the fullness of time, will come again to judge the good and the bad’ is labelled as ‘The tradition that was created and was strenuously promoted among His few diehard followers’ (emphasis is mine). What is crucial here is that Asimi after mentioning the two above versions of the crucifixion and resurrection events, states that the ‘tradition which the Muslims follow is that, Roman soldiers …mistakenly arrested a man who did, or had been made to, look like Hazarat Issa… and hung on the cross  a common man in place of Hazrat Issa’. The disturbing part of this discussion, for me, is the author’s assertion of this to be ‘The very plausible tradition’ (emphasis is mine).  As stated above, while there is no serious harm in claimants of Christian faith in dressing in local/traditional attire, and modifying their worship styles to adapt to more eastern traditions, we as Christians cannot compromise the most fundamental doctrinal tenets of our faith to produce an ‘Islam-Reconciled Christianity’. In fact, any form of so called ‘Christianity’ which denies the sacrificial mission of Christ is anything but Christianity.  Asimi asserts ‘The Jesus of old orthodoxy is being replaced by a Jesus of history and humanity’ (p164) and echoes the statement of Anglican Bishop Spong, quoting him in his book “Christianity must change or die”(p.165). This reviewer would like to add his own sentiments here that, in an attempt to change Christianity let us not attempt to change the Christ of history and the Lord of our faith, as doing so will mean we die!(that is in every conceivable way).
For the purposes of this review, having pointed out the most important of the theological concerns, I would refrain from discussing other less weightier matters in this regard. Asimi’s theology aside, he does have some practical suggestions about the ground realities faced by Pakistani Christians. His advice, based on 2 Corinthians chapter 5 to be faithful and obedient to the government of time and to practice a ‘works orientated Christianity’ to become more relevant to the national milieu as, ‘Islam itself is a religion of works’ is worth consideration. This reviewer believes that over time the emphasis on salvation by faith alone has not been misplaced; however adding a greater emphasis to pursuing practical Christianity by committing charitable acts is a laudable goal.  

Asimi while discussing the Challenges and choices facing the Christian community points out that ‘a prerequisite to any successful communal leadership is the development of clearly defined and achievable communal goals’ (This emphasis is author’s and this reviewer fully agrees). On p 127, he proposes the creation of a Christian Community Leadership Council (CCLC) ‘or something akin to it’. He also points out that competitive leadership has proven ineffectual, and suggests that this proposed body ‘should be the sole vice o the Christian community in all secular maters.  And that in his view one of the first concerns of the leadership Council should be to seek international recognition for the Christians of Pakistan as an “insufficiently protected minority” and set up a Christian Legal Defence Fund.   The broad methodology of proceeding with this framework is outlined in the rest of the chapter under consideration.      
This reviewer’s overall impression of the book is that it fails the litmus test for orthodox Christianity and kowtows to a theological mishmash to improve the Christians’ acceptability among the Muslims by adopting a somewhat diluted version of their faith, labelling it as ‘Islam Reconciled Christianity’.  The reviewer’s view point here would be to, instead, create an agreement to disagree document, and then work with whatever can be accommodated on both sides.

Asimi, does raise some very valid points about the wordings used in Pakistan’s constitution and the way the so called blasphemy laws are effecting the lives of Pakistani Christians.  His overall assessment of the quantum of the unfairness meted to his people and his socio-political insights are both incisive and deep and I feel that the intellectuals of the Christian community of Pakistan would do well to give his proposals a fair and comprehensive consideration. As clear from the above review, this reviewer has serious reservations on the author’s historicity, statistical analyses and theological interpretations but has found that his identification of the problems and proposed solutions do add significantly to the debate about the Pakistani Christians’ future.
Akhtar Injeeli                             

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Book Review: A People Betrayed

A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian community of Pakistan
Sookhdeo, Patrick
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications and Isaac Publishing
Ross-shire (Scotland) and Wiltshire (England) 2002
PP 454
As apparent from the title A People Betrayed is a story of betrayal, broken promises and injustices committed against one people by another. The former are the Christians of Pakistan. The latter, the betrayers are majority Muslim sect, the rulers, the religious elite and the law makers and the law enforcers of Pakistan.  The book is a catalog of historical injustices, social, economic mistreatment, expedient political U-turns as well as premeditated willful acts of systematic marginalization committed against the largest religious minority of Pakistan, the Christians of Pakistan, my people.

These indigenous Pakistani Christians are the sons and daughters of the land, and have contributed in her creation, with the (mistaken) hope that they would be considered its equal citizens. Despite the historical injustices these people continue to consider Pakistan as their rightful homeland, even though they find themselves rejected in their own land and at best tolerated as second class citizens. The perpetrators of these shameful activities and atrocities targeting these vulnerable minority are the members of the majority faith ruling class themselves, who when they were a minority, feared the mistreatment they might suffer after the British Raj’s coming to an end. The systematic narration of the grievances and a scholarly analysis thereof is the subject matter of the book.

The author’s aims include creating awareness about the Christians and their plight in a country which in the international consciousness is almost exclusively associated with Islam.  Very methodically the author first establishes the historical context of Christianity’s presence in India (and present day Pakistan). He begins with the arrival of Thomas (one of the twelve disciples of Lord Jesus) who reached India around 50/60 AD and made earliest converts to Christianity, the spiritual progeny of whom, the “Thomasite Christians” are still thriving in South India. Using various historical, traditional (based on oral traditions), and non-canonical sources i.e., The Acts of Thomas, the author attempts to establish the possible presence of Christians in Northwest of the present Pakistan (present Taxila) during the mid-first century. The discovery of The Taxila Cross (1935) and its adoption as the symbol of the Church of Pakistan in 1971 is discussed in this context.

The fast moving events based on very complex phenomena and the amount of detail might make the work difficult to follow by those not acquainted with the complexities of the subject matter.  This however is deliberate as the author adheres very closely to the academically accepted style of referencing almost everything he states.

The Second major area of discussion is Pakistan’s political landscape starting from its creation in 1947. The vision and promises of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, of and about a secular nation have to successfully all but buried in the tides of time. The final all the way down to the time of General Zia ul Haqq who attempted, many times quiet successfully and Islamised everything and created a very difficult situation for the minorities. Jinnah’s vision was for a secular state in which everybody would be treated equal, as evidenced by his speech of 11 August 1947. The ideological development of the state of Pakistan is well argued by referring to various intellectuals who have contributed to the process. The laws, conditions that need to govern non-Muslims living in a Muslim state (the concept of dhimmitude) is also expounded.
In the sections entitled ‘De facto discrimination against Christians’ and the one  about blasphemy and apostasy, the social, economics well as legal and political  pressures exerted on the Christians are exposed and explained. The legal and social bias used against Christians is clearly demonstrated by the various so called ‘blasphemy cases’ which are listed and discussed. The more prominent of these are those of Denial Scot (the first Christian against whom a case was filed under 295 C), Gul Pervaiz Masih (First Christian to be convicted under the Blasphemy law), Tahir Iqbal (a Muslim convert to Christianity who was the first to be allegedly killed because of a Blasphemy charge), Niamat Ahmar and many others.  In protest, against the pronouncement of death sentence against Ayub Masih, Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph committed suicide on 6th May 1998 in front of the court.  There are far too many cases detailed in the book to be listed, let alone be commented upon, in this short review. Laws of apostasy regarding Muslims changing their religion are also discussed at some length. Apostasy in Islam is punishable by death. The abuse and misuse of these laws to stir communal violence against Christians was seen in the shameful incident of burning (on 6th February 1997) of the twin Christian villages, Shanti Nagar and Tibba colony.

The book is more than just a compilation of facts, events and cases. It is also an incisive and analytical critique of the root causes of the problems faced by the Pakistani Christians. In the ongoing mistreatment and marginalization of these people, the deeply entrenched and therefore lingering presence of Hindu caste system cannot be overlooked. The role of the missionaries too has had many facets, and Sookhdeo uses very calculated and precise language to describe, (quite accurately in my view), their positive contributions as well as negative influences to the cause of Christians in Pakistan.  The term “Mission Compound” Christians is an example. This phenomenon highlights how some missionaries inadvertently were created a subset of Christians who did not (have to) engage even with the general Pakistani society let alone with its politics. And of course, all along the political forces were gradually, systematically and irrevocably closing in on the freedoms, properties, legal status and economic well being of the community. The Christian political leaders have either suffered from the system’s flaws (like separate electorate system), have been too short sighted or have lacked the political insights and will to prevent the tides that have carried their people further down the socio-economic status.

In the section entitled Christian Responses, the author takes a panoramic and critical look at how the Christians in general and their religious leaders in particular have used the situations wisely or otherwise and the ensuing mess these have created.  He identifies apathy born of self-pity, and missionary influence as well as disunity as the main self-imposed handicaps in dealing with the problems.

A People betrayed is an in-depth root cause analysis and a historical proofs exhibition   of the injustices suffered by the Christians in Pakistan from the time of its creation to the 2002. It is ruthless apportioning of the blames and credits where they are due.  This no holds barred approach in stating facts and drawing unpleasant yet accurate conclusions makes this work worthy of high regard. It also has sections on the way forward like inter-faith dialogue, and raising international awareness of these issues.

The author has painstakingly established the presence of a significant number of Christians in Pakistan; their not-to-be-ignored role in its history, and their significant contributions to the creation and development of Pakistan. They, however, have been betrayed by the state and its various institutions and governments.

This volume is a welcome addition to a handful of serious studies on the subject of Christians in Pakistan. Even though it is well researched, amply referenced (448 references), logically laid out and academically sound, it does betray a polemical passion. And, at least I, as a Christian from Pakistan, cannot fault such a passionate approach, as nearly all other studies on this topic, by Muslims, and a few Christians too, are nothing but a series of rosy myths propagated about the supposedly equal and wonderfully fair treatment that the minorities get in Pakistan. It is to Dr Sookhdeo’s enduring credit that he has very systematically and successfully exploded this myth, and earned a PhD, as well as, a place of honor in the hearts of people like this reviewer.

Akhtar Injeeli

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Book Review: Faith Under Fire

Faith Under Fire: A report on the second-class citizenship and intimidation of Christians in Pakistan
Nasir Saeed
Copyright 2002 CLASS-UK
Southall: CLASS UK, 2002
PP 54

Faith under Fire is a fifty-four page report presented as a desperate attempt to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Pakistani Christians. It consists of a short Glossary, a Forward, five chapters and three Appendices.

Having read and reflected on the report many times over, I felt compelled to share my critique and appreciation of this worthy service rendered to a hard-pressed people. These are the people Nasir Saeed belongs to and these are the people I belong to: the Christians of Pakistan.

The section entitled Glossary is a list of abbreviations and various other technical terms used in connection with the subject matter. It is a useful resource, as most of the abbreviations and non-English terms used in the report would be unfamiliar to his Western readers.

In the Forward John Hayward, who himself has first-hand experience of Pakistan, after commenting  on the panoramic landscape of constitutional law-enforcement and socio-cultural issues impinging on the Christian community of Pakistan sums up his view as, ‘This is a thorough report that provides a good basis for understanding the human rights situation and attendant problems in Pakistan’.

In the Preface, the author outlines two reasons for Christian persecution in Pakistan. Firstly, the laws enacted following the amendments made to the Constitution of 1973 have dealt a serious blow to the minorities in Pakistan. ‘Most of these laws are based on sectarian interpretations and distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims’.  Secondly, is that of Christians in Pakistan being considered as ‘foreigners’ by the fundamentalists.  This mind-set leads to retaliatory persecution of the Pakistani Christians if/when any Western country takes a strong action against any Muslim country or individual. Saeed decries such ‘revenge’ for presumed responsibility based on mere commonality of religion, ‘It seems that people and governments in the West do not know the price Pakistani Christians are paying for Western policies’. (emphasis supplied). 

Chapter 1, entitled ‘Introduction’, comprises only of three short paragraphs commenting on one of the most quoted passages of a speech by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. On 11th August 1947, just three days before Pakistan officially appeared on the world-map, the Quid-e-Azam (the Great Leader) stated:
You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan; you may belong to any religion or cast or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state.

The positioning of chapter 2, Recommendations, is anomalous in my view. It would have been better placed at the end of the discussion just before the appendices. I will postpone my comments on its contents till that point in this review. Having noted, right at the beginning, the assurance and guarantees of religious freedom for all citizens of Pakistan articulated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Chapter 3: Legal Context, logically follows discussing the issues of constitution, legal systems, and penal codes based on the fair and far-sighted vision of the founding father.

Chapter 4: Findings/Issues, is the main body of Saeed’s work. In here the author exposes the true nature of the Blasphemy law which is part of the Pakistan Penal Code.  It includes a brief chronology of Blasphemy Laws:
1860 –The original law (Section 295) was introduced by the British Government and was aimed at providing protection to places of worship of all classes of religions living in the subcontinent.  It did not contain any discriminatory clause against followers of any religion or of none. 

1927 – The Section 295 was amended to include 295-A, which extended the law to include deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. These acts included malice expressed by word, either spoken or written or by visible representations insulting or attempting to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any class. The law also stipulated punishment with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years or with fine or with both.

1982 – A further amendment to the law (Section 295-B) was enacted under the Presidential Ordinance 1. It read: defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an. Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life. (Unlike the laws of 1860, and 1927 which were inclusive of all religions this amendment related to the holy book of only one religion, that of Muslim – reviewers note).

1986 –A further amendment was made to this law by the judgment of the Federal Shariat Court, through Criminal Law (amended) Act III, making the death penalty mandatory on conviction for the offence for desecrating the name of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Here for the first time religious qualification was added to the Pakistan Penal Code, so that only a Muslim judge may hear the case under this section (Section 295-C).

Saeed rightly notes that both amendments B and C seem to protect the embodiment of faith of only one community, the one in clear majority and constituting the ruling class, in a multi-faith society. As these laws do not provide any protection to members of other religions, they are discriminatory. According to the majority sect, Sunnis, in Pakistan, in addition to Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, Ahmedis, Shias, Bahais, Zakirs, Ismailies etc. are also non-Muslims.

Included in this chapter are short discussions on other discriminatory laws like the Hadood Ordinance: Rape and Adultery, Qanoon-e-shahadat: Laws of witness and Qasis-o-diyat: blood money.  The Section on Abuses against Minorities highlights the dire situation regarding issues of religious freedom, proselytization and forcible conversions. Any interfaith marriage is also a weighted issue, as from a Muslim perspective a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman but not vice-a versa. This is an area ripe for all sorts of social and legal problems.
Chapter 5 Responses to Human Rights Abuses, is a discussion of ‘responses’ by the Government of Pakistan, by fundamentalist groups, Pakistan’s Human Rights NGOs and International Agencies and Governments. In short: the Government of Pakistan has failed to react effectively to the issues, the fundamentalist groups like Jamat-e-Islami, Sipah-e-Sihaba, Lashkar-e Taiba etc., have provided confused responses stating on the one hand that Islam provides full and equal rights to the followers of other religions and simultaneously on the other clamouring for total Islamization of the country in which only Islam should survive as the sole religion. The local churches and church organizations have put up a brave front of resistance both at grass roots level as well as national and international level.

In the chapter entitled Recommendations (placed as chapter no. 2) Saeed divides his recommendations into three categories, namely: those pertaining to Legal Issues, those pertaining to Capacity building / Institutional Strengthening, and the need for Further Research.

Regarding Legal issues, the recommendations include at the very least an appropriate definition of blasphemy and a proper procedural guideline for registration (of any cases) under this law. Laws like Hadood Ordinance against women, and death sentence against children should be abolished.

The following, I feel is one of the golden nuggets Saeed has put his finger upon: adequate training is needed for the organizations trying to better the lot of the Christians; priests need to be given awareness on such laws, incidents and situations and support for work to be able to protect their communities from abuses.

Appendix 1: Sources of information & Bibliography is self-explanatory.
Appendix 2: Case Examples, is a listing of actual, name-by-name, cases of people (who have either suffered greatly or died as a result of misapplication of the laws under discussion) divided into thirteen different categories. This tragic list includes the following cases: police torture, cases desecration of churches, false accusations, land disputes, forced labour, violence against domestic servants, blasphemy, Hadood, religious freedom, proselytization, abduction and forced conversions, abuses against women and children and those relating to inter-faith marriages.

The author presents each case providing basic, essential information and reading each case has caused me to stop many times and think of our/my unfortunate brothers and sisters who have been targeted because of their faith and their low socio-economic status.

Appendix 3 is a compilation of reactions to the protest suicide of Dr John Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, on 5th May 1998.  On this day the Bishop took his own life using a revolver. Even though, through this act, he succeeded in drawing the world’s attention to the ever deteriorating plight of Pakistani Christians, the Pakistan authorities and some of her so-called intellectual elite refused to acknowledge the fact let alone try to understand his frustration or offer a sympathetic ear to his mourners.  Some, like Mr Kunwar Intizar Muhammad Khan, a senior lawyer, shamelessly went on to claim that Dr Joseph had been assassinated by the Christians to intensify their old driver (sic) against the blasphemy laws. Reading through these absolutely ludicrous reactions left me in a strange position where one has neither the strength to cry nor the will to laugh. 
Regrettably, the report is not totally free of typographical errors and one case; 2.11.10 (p 48) Robina James, has been mistakenly duplicated as 2.11.11 (p 49). I sincerely hope that these minor details will be appropriately attended to in subsequent editions.

Nasir Saeed, a freelance journalist, a passionate human rights lobbyist, an ethnic Pakistani and a Christian by religion, is fully qualified to write the above reviewed report. To add authenticity and ensure the accurate portrayal of ground realities the author in keeping with the true journalistic traditions, made a special trip to Pakistan to double check and verify his facts and figures before committing them to the public domain.  I, as a member of the same community, deem it a privilege to offer a critique of the work for my readers. I further hope that it will be read by many more and sincerely hope that those in echelons of power and domains of influence will take some notice of the facts presented in it.

It is worth noting that in Pakistan prior to 1986 only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported; however between 1986 and 2010 an estimated number of 1, 274 people have been charged under these laws. (Source Dawn.com).

(URL: http://dawn.com/news/750512/timeline-accused-under-the-blasphemy-law)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Book Review: The Little Hero

The Little Hero - One Boy's Fight for Freedom (Iqbal Masih's Story 1983 - 1995)
Andrew Crofts
Vision Paperbacks, London, 2006
ISBN:  13:978-1-904132-84-4
ISBN: 10:904132-84-7
PP 246

The following review has also appeared in The Saawan International magazine
(Sept. 2014 Vol. 26, No. 09, published from Lahore, Pakistan)

Few children in the world have affected their nation’s conscience in the way Iqbal Masih, a little Christian boy of Muridke ( a village near Gujranwala, the Punjab) was able to do for Pakistan. His humble beginnings, undaunting courage and his extra-ordinary oratorical skills provided him the opportunity to represent millions of Pakistani Children in Europe and America. These very qualities also made him a marked boy. To Europe and America he became a symbol of Pakistan’s poor children who never have, let alone enjoy, their childhood. His steep rise from abject poverty to the spotlight of western media and the centre stage of human rights organizations made many highly successful ‘business men’ very nervous. The question was not if, but when would these slave traders, money changers and thugs, masquerading as business elite of Pakistan, get him.  When they finally did, he was only twelve years old. The deafening bang of assassin’s shot-gun that ended our little hero’s life on April 16 1995 in the open fields of the Punjab has not been able to end the mission for which he paid with his blood.

Iqbal Masih, like hundreds of thousands of other poor Pakistani Children started his working life, as a slave (though no one in his community or country uses this term in such contexts), at the tender age of four, weaving carpets which kept families like his at bare survival level while making the likes of his masters richer with each successful sale of craftsmanship highly sought after in the effluent western countries.

Through the story of Iqbal Masih the world learned how costly in reality these cheap Pakistani (often sold in the west as Iranian) carpets were. Unfortunately his legacy seems to be fading away fast in the glitter and glamour of headline grabbing, politically expedient, fast moving media events. The vacuum created by the role-model image of innocence and courage will undoubtedly be filled by others.   His own people have neither had the courage, nor the conviction, to give this modern day David the due which he rightfully deserves for challenging the Goliaths of this age. And I, being one of his own people feel that pain, and shame for the lack of decency exhibited by our leaders and intellectual elite to secure a rightful place for this fallen hero in the pages of history. The author of his story, Andrew Crofts (a ghost-writer), has thus rendered an invaluable service to Pakistan, as a whole, in general and to the Pakistan’s children, in particular by piecing together in a skilful narrative the story of Iqbal Masih. His labour of love, I hope, will help the readers’ focus their attention on the value of each of the millions of children employed in the carpet making industry in countries like Pakistan. He has also preserved for future generations a story which should not be forgotten, but instead should be narrated over and over again to instil pride and courage in a people who have a habit of forgetting their past giants in short-sighted attempts of chasing the  looming shadows of their present dwarfs; often claiming to be their leaders.

Iqbal came from a typical village family, son of illiterate parents, Inayat Bibi and Saif Masih, a manual farm-hand who, due to lack of livelihood, had started using drugs.  Iqbal’s little sister, Sobya, appears several times in the narrative and adds a dimension to his caring nature. Whenever, Iqbal saw younger girls being mistreated he always thought of Sobya. There are thousands of such Iqbals, with thousands of Sobya’s in Pakistan working in unspeakable situations.

Iqbal, on his second attempt, successfully escaped from the clutches of his masters and wanted to do something for the children in similar circumstances around Pakistan. Someone in Lahore had been thinking on similar lines but in a much more organized and pragmatic manner. Ehsan Khan, had during his studies at a local university envisioned an organization for this purpose and had founded Bonded Labour Liberation Federation (BLLF) in Lahore. It had its office and a Freedom campus where children were kept safe, looked after and educated.  While on the streets and scrounging for food Iqbal had serendipitously encountered Ehsan Khan, who was addressing a rally promoting freedom from bonded labour based on a bill the government had recently passed; this meeting was to change the destinies of both. Iqbal found shelter under the mentorship of Ehsan Khan and went to live, be educated by, and work for BLLF in Lahore. 

During his stay in Lahore Iqbal learned to read and write, and to speak to people with radiance and confidence that marked him out for greater things in the future. He also picked up courage to articulate his convictions and participate in raids on several illegal factories, carpet houses and brick kilns. He became instrumental in encouraging hundreds of children to break free from the life of bonded labour. It was little surprise then that his mentor Ehsan Khan took him to Stockholm, Sweden, to represent and speak for these slaves.

The invitation to represent BLLF at the Stockholm meeting had its roots in an earlier event which Ehsan Khan had attended in Vienna. It was here that while promoting the work of BLLF, he had caught the eye of Doug Cahn form the Reebok Human Rights Foundation based in America. This short encounter, followed by a along-drawn correspondence between the two men eventuated in Iqbal Masih not only attending, but also addressing the conference in Stockholm.  This conference was organized by various interested parties to raise awareness in Europe that slavery still exists.   Our Iqbal addressed the audience of several thousands holding up the beating comb and the pen. He eloquently and persuasively impressed the audience about where he believed the future of his nation’s children lay.  He thus did not only win the Reebok Human Rights Award, which is awarded to young people who have made substantial contributions to human rights in non-violent ways, but also a scholarship to study at the Boston University. But above and beyond all this he won the hearts of many who would always admire and love him. These well-wishers arranged for him to visit America and address several school assemblies to raise awareness of slavery which still exits in many parts of the world under various guises and pseudonyms.  He had also been promised in form of a scholarship a future to help change all that.

That was the bright future for which Iqbal now lived, a future which he did not live to experience. While in Sweden he was examined by the doctors who, judging from his x-rays, concluded that he was only eleven or twelve years old. This fact became a crucial matter, when after his tragic assassination; the carpet mafia claimed baselessly that he was a midget of nearly twenty years, whom Ehsan Khan had cleverly used to his own ends.

Our little hero, Iqbal Masih, was sent back-breaking labour in exchange for the money his half-brother needed to get married. Unfortunately, loans acquired through such arrangements and intended to be paid off by children’s labour, can never really be paid off. Poverty, illiteracy, incompetency of law enforcing agencies i.e. the local police, and fear of hired thugs to settle scores on every conceivable physical level, create a socio-economic environment in which the carpet mafia and the brick-kiln owners thrive by intimidation and use of brute force,  denying even the most basic of human rights to their workers, thus systematically robbing children of their childhood, women of their honour, men of their dignity and successive generations  of their chances of ever breaking free from the shekels of slavery. Like the bricks they make, these slaves are treated as nothing more than lumps of clay to be baked and used to pave the roads and be trodden upon like the foot paths they make or like the carpets they weave. Their skill and craftsmanship definitely brings wealth to their masters and grace and comfort to the homes where their handicrafts finally end, but nothing but misery, heartache, and even sudden death to them, the craftsmen; such are the ground realities.   Reading The Little Hero makes these ground realities come to life and administer a ‘reality slap’ to the reader. A reality slap that I hope will bring Iqbal Masih’s message to thousands more through this masterly narrated saga of an extra-ordinary, not-to-be-forgotten boy.

I am aware of the baseless arguments and unsubstantiated claims that have been put forward to discredit Iqbal Masih for his astounding accomplishments. Of course, the carpet industry, the brick kilns owners and the manufacturers of cheaply produced high quality sporting goods have had their businesses effected. These groups, with vested interests have proved historically not only to be bad masters, but also bad looser.   Instead of licking their wounds and reflecting upon and being ashamed of their antics, after his tragic death they have taken to every means at their disposal to rob him of his legacy. 

For me as a Pakistani, I would always remember of two Iqbals in connection with Pakistan:

Firstly Dr Mohammad Iqbal, the  revolutionary poet-philosopher, who dreamed of a  free homeland but did not live to breath in its freedom, and secondly Iqbal Masih who dreamed of a brighter and fairer Pakistan with equal opportunities to all its citizens, who unfortunately also like his name-sake did not live to see the day.