RLPB 512. Pakistan: Christians Vulnerable and Endangered
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 512 | 24 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AND ENDANGERED
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Speaking at EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday 25 June, Pakistani Foreign Minister (FM) Shah Mahmood Qureshi denied that persecution of Christians in Pakistan was in any way systematic. ‘Christians are welcome … we respect them and want them to be here,’ he said, while assuring his audience that any reports of persecution were merely ‘individual incidents.’ According to FM Qureshi, Pakistan is doing everything to protect its minorities and reports of persecution are merely examples of ‘Western interests’ which ‘want to paint Pakistan in a particular way’. However, as one analyst remarked, FM Qureshi might claim that Pakistan values its religious minorities, but ‘the evidence unambiguously indicates otherwise’. Indeed, at the time of partition in 1947, religious minorities comprised almost 23 percent of Pakistan’s population; today it is around three percent. As Wilson Chowdhry, founder of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) laments, FM Qureshi’s ‘delusional denial of Christian persecution in his country’ just illustrates ‘the top-down apathy that exists towards the treatment of minorities’ in Pakistan.
On Wednesday 17 July Shaan Taseer, son of the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (assassinated in January 2011 for his defence of Asia Bibi), addressed the US State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. While celebrating Asia Bibi’s freedom, he warned against complacency, noting that ‘there are 200 Asia Bibis in jail accused of breaking the blasphemy law in Pakistan today and these are only the reported cases.’ According to Taseer, of those who are in prison, ’40 are probably on death row’. According to Christian charity Barnabas Fund, at least eight of those on death row for ‘blasphemy’ are Christians.
On the evening of 29 June, Christians Sunny Mushtaq (19) and Noman Asghar (17) left their homes in Bahawalnagar, Punjab, to play cricket but never returned. The pair were arrested for receiving blasphemous sketches of Muhammad on their WhatsApp numbers. Though the sketches had been sent by Bilal Ahmad, a Muslim, he is not under investigation. Local sources believe the Christian boys were targeted by Muslim boys who had long sought to drive the talented Christians from the cricket competition.
On 4 July Christian advocacy group Jubilee Campaign requested urgent prayer for a Christian couple from Gojra, Punjab. Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were imprisoned for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. The couple, who have four children, were found guilty of sending blasphemous texts in English to an Islamic cleric. Both Shagufta and Shafqat are illiterate but are reported to have confessed under torture. According to Jubilee Campaign, ‘Both husband and wife are suffering greatly in prison. Shagufta faces decreasing mental and physical function, and her husband, Shafqat, is paralysed from the waist down.’ Saif-ul Malook, the lawyer who secured Asia Bibi’s release, has agreed to take up their case.
Since the 1980s, Pakistan’s Islamic fundamentalists have consolidated and expanded their influence over Pakistan, mostly through their Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools). As the Islamic radicalisation of the masses has advanced apace (creating a cultural crisis), so too has the systematic discrimination and violent persecution experienced by Pakistan’s Christians, creating nothing short of an existential Christian crisis. The persecution — which has essentially been normalised — includes assault, rape, murder, forced conversion, human trafficking, Islamic pogroms, terrorism and, of course, the routine misuse of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law. Comprising a mere two percent of the population, Pakistan’s mostly poor and downtrodden Christians form one of the most vulnerable, endangered and severely persecuted Christian communities in the world.
WATCH AND PRAY: MADRASA REFORM
On Tuesday 16 July a group of top Islamic scholars (ulema) met with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood to discuss the issue of madrasa reform. The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to ‘mainstream’ Pakistan’s madrasas (Islamic schools). The government’s plans include establishing 12 regional offices across the country to facilitate the transition. Madrasas will have to be registered with a curriculum that includes compulsory subjects such as English and Maths that will enable students to gain a certificate of matriculation (or similar) and provide career pathways. Madrasas that refuse to register will be closed down, as will those that foment religious hatred and sectarianism. Pakistan has more than 35,000 madrasas and while many have long been keen to ‘mainstream’, hard-line clerics have repeatedly derailed all efforts. As one analyst notes, hard-line Islamic parties have such ‘street power’ and ‘fear factor’ that whenever the state is faced with their demands, it invariably relents. Please pray.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* protect, sustain and bless all Pakistan’s Christians; may our loving Lord provide believers with all their needs — finances, security, wisdom, discernment and enduring faith — so they will not fall prey to exploitation or attack.
‘But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenceless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.’ (Psalm 141:8-10 ESV)
* sustain, encourage and intervene on behalf of all Pakistani Christians currently in prison on false blasphemy charges; pray specifically for recently arrested friends Sunny Mushtaq (19) and Noman Asghar (17) and long-condemned couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel. Lord have mercy!
* give the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan clarity of mind, conviction of spirit, courage of heart and determination to succeed, so that Pakistan — a volatile tinderbox of religious hatred and sectarianism — might be brought back from the brink of catastrophe. ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ (from Matthew 19:26 ESV)
* protect, sustain and richly bless all Pakistan’s Bible Colleges, churches, pastors and missionaries (formal and informal), for only by means of The Truth — God’s truth about sin, redemption and transformation — will Pakistan ever be free. (John 8:31-32; and John 16:3)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AND ENDANGERED
As the Islamic radicalisation of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority advances apace — mostly through Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools) — so too does the systematic discrimination and violent persecution experienced by Pakistan’s Christians. The persecution includes assault, rape, murder, forced conversion, human trafficking, Islamic pogroms, terrorism and the routine misuse of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law. Far too many Pakistani officials are willing to deny the Christian crisis, which is but a symptom of Pakistan’s existential cultural crisis. One positive is the government’s commitment to reform the madrasas. Expect resistance; watch and pray! Comprising a mere two percent of the population, Pakistan’s mostly poor and downtrodden Christians form one of the most vulnerable, endangered and severely persecuted Christian communities in the world. Please Pray for Pakistan and its suffering Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).