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ICC Note:

A different mood was felt by Pakistan’s Christian minority this Christmas season. Weeks after a church in Quetta was bombed, top political and military figures in Pakistan reached out to the Christian community to show them their support. Historically, Pakistan’s political leadership has done very little to recognize the Christian community. So when the Chief of Army Staff showed up to a Christmas service at Christ Church in Rawalpindi, it gave many Pakistani Christians a sense of hope. Will this recognition by Pakistan’s political elites continue into 2018 and lead to Christians gaining more respect?

12/30/2017 Pakistan (Daily Times) – On December 25, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa took part in Christmas celebrations and attended the service at the Christ Church in Rawalpindi. General Bajwa wished a merry Christmas to the Christian community of the country. He also ‘acknowledged the role of Christian brethren not only towards creation of Pakistan but also towards its progress’.

As far as I can recall, the only other Muslim dignitary of comparable stature who visited the church on Christmas was Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Hector Bolitho in his book Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan notes, “August 17, 1947, was a Sunday, and the Anglican Archdeacon had arranged for a special service of prayer and thanks-giving, in Holy Trinity Church, the Anglican Cathedral, in Karachi. The Archdeacon had also composed a special prayer, in which the Quaid was mentioned. When Jinnah heard of this, he asked that he might be allowed to attend the service’.

Over the past 70 years, political space has shrunk in the country for religious minorities. Recent fiery speeches by barelvi cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, also created a sense of insecurity, and then a suicide bombing in the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta only days before Christmas further heightened the environment of fear for the community.

Christmas greetings have been a popular topic of discussion on social media platforms. A young Christian woman posted a status on her Facebook wall, saying, “Happy Christmas just to my Christians fellows … I cannot wish Muslim fellows. It will offend them.”

Twitter and Facebook remain abuzz with messages, telling people that it is unlawful for Muslims to greet Christians.

However, many political party leaders have greeted the Christian community on the occasion this year.

Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cut Christmas cake in Karachi, and tweeted, “Pleasure spending another Christmas with the Christian community in Karachi. Inshallah we will have an egalitarian, progressive and peaceful #Pakistan.”

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan tweeted, “Wishing our Christian citizens a Happy Christmas, full of peace and joy.”

Punjab’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also tweeted on the occasion, saying, “Heartiest congratulations to the Christian community around the world on the festive occasion of Christmas! My gratitude to the Pakistani Christian community for their amazing public service.”

The Pakistani Christian community here and abroad has felt a different mood on this Christmas. Mohsin Rafiq, a Christian engaged for minority rights, told Daily Times, “This time I felt a good change in our society about Christmas. I hope people are ready to respect each other.”

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].