The Immaculate conception of Mother Mary and the miraculous birth of Saint John the Baptist are almost identical texts in the Christian Gospels and Surah e Maryam.

 

“It is easy for Me; and We intend to make him a sign for humankind, and a mercy from Us.’ So the matter is decided.”

–Surah e Maryam 19:21

 

Islam’s affinity to Christianity is also documented in the Treaty of the Monastery of St. Catherine. It is the world’s oldest monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai in. In 628 AD Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) granted them a charter of rights. This charter is based on equality. Two articles of this charter are noteworthy for the words “covenant” and the “last day”.

First, “Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.”

Secondly, “No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

As a Christian living amongst Muslim majority, I have often wondered why Muslims and Christians cannot celebrate a joint religious festival on Christmas. They do so in Jordon, Palestine, Turkey and Syria. In Damascus and Bethlehem, successive prayers are held by Muslims and Christians in the same or adjacent compounds. The Syrian government took special care of the shrine of St. John the Baptist which was visited equally by Christians and Muslims. In recent Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt, Christians guarded the prayer lines when their Muslim countrymen offered prayers. Amongst the refugees from Iraq and Syria are hundreds of thousands of Christians. Lest the world forget, the tragedy of Aleppo is also a tragedy of Christian women and children.

In Pakistan, an initiative has been taken by Veterans of Pakistan, (an association of retired servicemen) whose security companies led by Wakenhut guard over 100 churches on Sundays and festivities. This arrangement made after the suicide bombings in All Saints Church in Peshawar is voluntarily and free of cost.

Ayesha Jalal, in her book ‘Self and Sovereignty’, writes that the practice of untouchability and the “Muslimised” culture of the Christians also played an important role in their support of Pakistan. The role of Samuel Martin Burke as election petitions magistrate in 1945 to raising of Pakistan’s foreign office and acquisition of nuclear reactor from Canada has no parallel. C.E. Gibbons as the Deputy Speaker of the Constituent Assembly vociferously presented Pakistan’s Kashmir case in United Nations. The contributions of Goan Christians of Karachi in setting up and administering this once beautiful port city, also called Uroos ul Bilaad, the ‘bride of cities’, can never be rivaled. Post partition, they set up refugee centers and education institutions. The scores of each instrument played in Pakistan’s national Anthem in a blend of Waltz and eastern music written by Tollentine a bandmaster in the Pakistan Navy. The gallantry of Christian officers and soldiers in the defence services are etched in gold. The first Pakistani soldier to die at Pandu in Kashmir War 1948 was Lance Naik Yaqoob Masih. The first PAF Officer to die for the country was Pilot Officer Novan Theodore FazalElahi. So far 8 officers and 72 soldiers are martyrs. There are at least 55 families that have a tradition of serving in the armed forces. In 1965 and 1971, Christian pilots formed the backbone of PAF. Services of Christian jurists like Cornelius, Constantine, PN Joshua and Mr. A P Gill are legendary. Can the roles of many Christian hospitals, schools and colleges be relegated? Eradication of leprosy from Pakistan is a sole Christian missionary effort.

But the tragedy is that these sparks of brilliance are dwarfed by unethical politics and greed. Meanwhile, majority of Christians are in secluded existence. Pakistani textbooks and official history neither glorify their contributions nor reflects this isolation.

It is Punjab where most atrocities take place. In 1947, over 400,000 Christian tenants of Hindu and Sikh landowners became the first group of internally displaced Pakistanis. The government had agreed to allot them lands but then the files went mysteriously missing from the Punjab Secretariat. As of now, over 1.4 million Christians from Central Punjab inhabit the slums in major cities of Pakistan. Their quest for a classless society became an albatross that shamelessly hangs around their necks. This is amply highlighted in the Quetta Commission Report. In the recent past there is a long trail from Shantinagar to Gojra, Kasur, Sambrial and Youhannabad where a particular sectarian organization has repeatedly attacked Christians. The twin church bombings in Youhannabad have been turned topsy-turvy wherein scores of Christians rot in jails.

Unfortunately, the role of Christian church leaders, politicians and NGOs is regressive. The community within, is deeply divided by politicians and nuclear churches whose main purpose is personal promotion and funds. The crisis of identity breeds social inbreeding. Christian politicians serve their political masters for short term gains. NGOs are all about profit making.

The issues confronting the religious minorities of Pakistan are much beyond the fanfare of a Christmas train. The train may depict a soft image for the ruling party but nothing beyond it. Church leaders are willing to be exploited for a few moments of fame and self importance. Not to forget that it is this group of Lahori Christian politicians notorious for grabbing church lands. Can such exhibitions erase the effects of Gosha-e-Aman and Youhannabad?

The mainstream churches of Pakistan comprising the Roman Catholics, Church of Pakistan, Presbyterians and Methodists have to rise in unison to stop the political and social exploitation of the Christians.

First, they have to form study groups to analyse the problems being faced by Christians since 1947.

Secondly they have to unearth the records of the Punjab Secretariat and enforce the allocation of land to Christian IDPs as promised till 1951.

Thirdly, they have to stop the exploitation of Christian votes by political parties. The present list system is sacrosanct to the sanctity of ballot. Legislations have to be enforced wherein all minorities of Pakistan are given the right of choosing their own representatives.

So why can’t the state of Pakistan play the mythical role of a Santa Claus to gel the Christian and Islamic messages of inclusiveness?

Haven’t Christians been part of the nation since its birth?

What holds back the government of Pakistan from fulfilling the many promises Qaid e Azam made to the minorities of Pakistan particularly after their definite role in the boundary demarcations of Shylet and Punjab.

Why don’t the Speakers of Punjab and National Assembles dust their archives to unearth promises made by the state to the people they made landless; the same people who rot in slums around mega cities and along filth drains.

Why does the Supreme Court not take notice of the many contradictions within the constitution on the fundamental rights of minorities?

And finally why do political parties shy away from being upfront on minority rights?

It needs a resolute government and not a train to synchronise the dynamics with the teachings of Islam and existence of Pakistan as a plural nation.

Merry Christmas to all Pakistanis!

 

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.

samson.sharaf@gmail.com