Bearing the Cross of Christ in Pakistan

Editors’ note: 

On October 31, 2018, the highest court in Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, the Christian woman mentioned in this article who was sentenced to death under the country’s blasphemy law.

As a little boy I used to play in a small field in front of my home, part of the largest mosque in the area. With huge speakers installed on the minarets of the mosque, the sound was so loud that it felt as if the speakers were installed inside my house. Early in the morning I’d wake up at the Muslim call to prayer. Though I never had any fear of being in the mosque field, I was often instructed to be careful. But I didn’t really understand; getting up at call to prayer and playing in the field were regular parts of my childhood.

When I started schooling, I was surrounded by a vast majority of Muslim students. During recess some boys would grab me tightly, put a stick sword to my neck, and force me to recite Kalima, the Muslim creed. I wouldn’t say it, but I could see the anger in their eyes. With each new day, my realization became stronger and stronger that they treated me like this because I am Christian.

With time I only sensed more rejection, hatred, and discrimination because of my Christian faith. Walls were being constructed around the field, the minarets were getting higher, and the call to prayer became louder than ever. It felt strange to see things change so rapidly. Even people on the street were stern toward me, turning every conversation to religion and posing questions like “Is the prophet of Islam mentioned in the Bible?” I’d answer, and then they’d throw me on the ground. They’d shout “Isai” (a follower of Isa, the name given to Jesus in the Qur’an) and make remarks used to insult Pakistani Christians’ ethnicity and roots.

Out of concern, some of my extended family members said I should keep my distance. Of course, this is impossible; 98 percent of the country’s population is Muslim. Shopkeepers would ask my name and add Muhammad before it, assuming I was Muslim simply because of my name. One day a Muslim technician came to fix the electrical cable in our home. He appeared thirsty and exhausted, so my mother offered him a glass of water. First, though, she informed him we were Christians so that he wouldn’t get angry if he later discovered he drank water from a Christian home. For some reason, I started feeling inferior to people in the majority community. It became an intense struggle in my heart and mind.

Hanging Sword

In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the blasphemy law is implemented with full force. Believers in Christ regard this law as a hanging sword, liable to fall on anyone at anytime. Hundreds are behind the bars because of it. A few weeks ago, a local court upheld false blasphemy charges against a Christian lady named Asia Bibi. An equivalent of $5,000 is on her head while she’s in prison for four years. A liberal Muslim governor expressed sympathy to this lady; he was then shot by his own security guard. The murderer became a hero, and his posters are now visible in marketplaces throughout Pakistan.

In addition, radicals gunned down a Christian leader after he suggested dialogue on the blasphemy law. Some Christians under accusations of blasphemy have been killed in the courts’ premises, with their murderers never even facing trial. And then a young girl named Rimsha Masih with Down syndrome was falsely accused of burning pages from the Qur’an. A local imam unhappy with Christian presence in the area planted the evidence. Thankfully, his assistant exposed the plan to the media. The Christians who fled their homes fearing a mob attack never returned, but the imam was freed from jail after a few months and is now back in the area. It’s normal for Christian-owned localities to be set on fire and for people to be burned at the stake. Not long ago a double suicide attack on innocent Christians during Sunday morning worship resulted in more than 100 Christians being martyred. Just a few weeks ago, a young Christian couple was beaten and burned in a brick kiln after being falsely accused of blasphemy. The wife was five months pregnant.

Disparity and Danger

The constitution of Pakistan and its laws do not give equal rights to all citizens. Christians are easy targets, and thus profoundly vulnerable. Radicals threaten believers in some parts of the country to either convert to Islam or pay jizya (taxes to protect non-Muslims). However, this dhimmi status (recognizing non-Muslims in an Islamic state) makes little sense, since Pakistani Christians were not conquered by Muslims, and they did not migrate to the country. In fact, they were there even before the creation of Pakistan, and ended up in Pakistan only as a result of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Despite being local, though, they are routinely treated as strangers and foreigners because of their beliefs. Especially in rural areas it can be dangerous for Christians to eat and drink in public places since they are considered untouchables.

Needless to say, Pakistani Christians are the victims of brutal mental, emotional, and physical persecution. Every day Christians are reminded that they aren’t following the right religion and that they should forsake the faith. Such invitations to conversion are often offered politely at first, but if one refuses to convert it will turn into a threatening forceful conversion before long.

Amazing Grace

My family had to flee on the account of our faith upon receiving serious death threats. Three Muslim women had converted to Christianity after lengthy discussions with my wife. Conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited, and these women brought shame on their families. Changing locations within the country didn’t help; radicals discovered our hidings. They attacked our home and followed us.

By his amazing grace the Lord made it possible for us to escape to the United States, and at some point I’d like to share the story of God’s wonderful provision through intense conditions. It is important to mention that, regardless of the brutalities I’ve mentioned, the church in Pakistan is growing. Despite difficult circumstances, Christians are proud of their faith and wherever possible share it with others. They are not ashamed to call themselves Christ’s. Pakistani believers identify with the apostle Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (Rom. 8:35).

Please pray that the Lord would strengthen Pakistani believers who continue to witness in extreme situations and, most of all, that the name of Christ may be glorified in and through his persecuted body in that land.