Making up just 2% of Pakistan’s population, Christians are marking the country’s 70th birthday despite the hardships they face due to their religious identity. At Pakistan’s founding, Christians and other religious minorities were considered greater members of the country’s society. Since then, growing extremism and intolerance has led to widespread discrimination and Christians being relegated to the poorest parts of Pakistani society. Will this trend continue or will Pakistan’s next 70 years see greater religious tolerance and inclusion grow?
08/15/2017 Pakistan (Crux) – At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, British India became two different countries: India and Pakistan.
The awkwardness of their birth – with Muslim-majority Pakistan comprising Western and Eastern halves carved out of the Hindu-majority subcontinent – means their birthdays are celebrated on either side of midnight: August 14 in Pakistan, and August 15 in India. (East Pakistan became the independent Bangladesh after a short war in 1971, and observes its independence day on March 26.)
After independence, both countries had significant religious minorities, and promised to respect the freedom to worship of their citizens.
Speaking about the anniversary, Bishop Joseph Arshad of the Diocese of Faisalabad reminded Crux of the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan who said, “You are free to go to your temple; You are free to go to your mosque or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. To whatever religion, caste or faith to which you belong, there will be no discrimination or distinction. We are all citizens with equal rights.”
Arshad said he wanted to tell young Christians of the nation to work together to build a society that honestly reflects those ideals, and to promote peace.
“We are all equal citizens, and it is essential that our youth must work together for brotherhood and solidarity, justice and equality and work for religious tolerance and mutual respect,” the bishop told Crux. “I strongly believe that together with one thought, we can achieve a prosperous, peaceful and an advanced country.”
Christians in Pakistan represent just two percent of the population in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation, and one gripped for the last thirty years by a rising tide of extremism. They’re also largely poor and members of ethnic and linguistic minorities, so they’re doubly or triply at risk.