Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pakistan Govt. to Recognize and Protect Christians

Post 13

Pakistan is a Muslim country with a very small percentage of Christians. At one time, it was held up as an example of healthy inter-religious interaction and its legal system was considered an example for other multi-religious nations. But so was Sudan! During the time Nigeria was preparing for independence (1960), a group of Nigerian and British specialists were sent to these two countries to observe how they managed their inter-religious situation. Today, neither of these two nations are thought of as shining examples of religious tolerance, if you don't mind a slight understatement! We are all aware of Sudan's atrocious and cruel wars. Many people are not so aware of the high level of anti-Christian discrimination practiced by the Muslim people of Pakistan. I tended to think it was the Muslim citizens who were guilty of this religious outrage, rather than the legal system. However, recently a newly-appointed Minister for Minority Affairs--not sure I have the correct label here--, a Muslim himself, admitted to the prevailing legal discrimination against Christians and promised to correct the situation.

Apart from a final "P.S.," the rest of this post consists of an article by Sheraz Khurram Khan in which he reports on the new dynamic Minister Shahbaz Bhatti is trying to introduce. Now that article was published in February, 2009, a year and a half ago. I invite readers familiar with the Pakistani situation to write in and tell us about whether any real improvements have been made and experienced by Christians. Here's Sheraz Khan:--

"NCCP awards Pakistan Government Minister Shahbaz Bhatti."

The award was presented to Mr. Bhatti in a ceremony the representative body of all churches and missions in Pakistan held in his honor.

The reception was largely attended by Church leaders from the various denominations including Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence Saldanha, Mr. Victor Azariah Secretary NCCP, Dr. Arthur James, the Principal of the Gujranwala Theological Seminary, Colonel Yousaf, Salvation Army, Sister Pillar, Principal of the Convent of Jesus & Mary, Azera Shuja, Advocate, Lahore High Court, and other eminent people from the Christian community, who admired Shahbaz Bhatti's level of "dedication and appreciated his unfaltering commitment to attain equal rights for religious minorities in Pakistan."

"In the fields of health and education the services of Christian community are meritorious and in the social sector too Christians have been second to none," said Bhatti.

"In the Armed Forces of Pakistan outstanding performances and exceptional levels of professionalism have been attained by Christian officers," he maintained.

He said previous governments had neglected the rights of religious minorities, discriminatory laws were imposed in the past and under the rigidity of these draconian laws the minorities have suffered tremendously.

He said that safeguarding minorities' rights was the present government's top priority. The government, he claimed, is committed to the vision of Qaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to empower the religious minorities and is working towards their uplift.

The Minister went on to say that the government has announced a 5% job quota for religious minorities.

He told the audience that religious festivals of minorities will be celebrated on a national level.

"Minority prisoners will be provided with separate place for worship within the jails," he went on to say.

"All laws that discriminate against minorities especially the blasphemy laws, under which numerous minority members have wrongly been implicated would be reviewed in consultation with minority representatives, religious clerics and scholars."

Mr. Bhatti said that these laws have hampered the efforts of interfaith harmony and national unity and he stated that the blasphemy laws have been misused by the extremists to victimize the minorities.

The Federal Minister said that the bill has been drafted for minority representation in the Senate and increase of reserved seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies, which will soon be tabled in parliament.

Commenting on the current security situation of the country, Bhatti stressed that "terrorism can be defeated through tolerance, national unity and interfaith harmony."

The Federal Minister for Minorities said he has devoted his entire life for the oppressed and marginalized religious minorities of Pakistan and is committed to raise a voice for the voiceless and does not seek any personal benefits or privileges.

His only objective is to bring "justice and equality to the downtrodden suffering minorities of Pakistan."

The Archbishop of Lahore said he appreciated the efforts of the Federal Minister and praised his "courageous and bold stand" on minority issues.

He said that the Churches and Christian community stand by him in his efforts to uplift and empower the minorities of Pakistan. He also mentioned that the discriminatory laws were creating disharmony in the country.

Mr. Victor Azraiah said that minorities have always served the country whole heartedly but in return they have always been neglected. He stated that some of the countries top leadership has been produced by Christian institutions.

He appreciated the Federal Minister's efforts for the rights of Minorities and assured him complete support of all the churches and Christian community of Pakistan. He emphasized the need for Christian representation in the Senate.

Azra Shujaat, advocate, said that the Federal Minister as Chairman APMA has been advocating the cases of victims of the discriminatory laws and has always stood by the oppressed and marginalized, he appreciated his commitment dedication.

===========End Article

PS--Vancouver's daily, The Province, reported on Nov. 12, 2010, that a Pakistani court in Punjab has just "sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman. As the story goes, Asia Bibi "went to fetch water and Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as non-Muslim, she shouldn't touch the water bowl. From there the incident somehow convoluted into a blasphemy charge. Hmm.

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