OP-ED HEARY MY PEOPLE’S CRY: Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min.

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The Global Community is shocked to watch on their news the horror scenes of the brutality of Islamic militants against Christians in the Gojra area. It is not the first time such heinous crimes have been committed; there is a long list of the systematic persecution of the Christian minority in Pakistan. The excuse is always to defend the honor of Islam and the Holy Prophet. I ask why you need to defend the honor of the Prophet and Holy Qur’an. Do you not believe in the power of God Almighty to punish those who shall dishonor God and His Prophet’s name? Do you consider Allah is so week that He cannot defend His own honor?
Pakistan is a Muslim majority country; so why, then, is there a need for a Blasphemy Law? The persecution of Christians in Pakistan is on the basis of the draconian Blasphemy Law section 295–B and 295-C passed in 1982. These two laws make anyone deemed to have insulted the holy prophet of Islam or dishonored the Holy Qur’an liable for capital punishment and life imprisonment and fines. In its selective application this law has provided a pretext for private vendettas, but its victims almost always have been Christians. Let me ask the Pakistani legislators and common man on the street to count how many innocent Christians have been killed, imprisoned and communities diminished since 1982. The excuse for such crimes is always that Christians have blasphemed against the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam. Is there one such example of Prophet Muhammad ever behaving in such vengeful fashion? The Islamic Society in North America (ISNA) has condemned these shockingly cruel acts stating: “The perpetrators have betrayed a brutal outrage and demeaned themselves as Qur’an describes asfala safileen (95:5),"the lowest of the low".
The passage of the blasphemy law has caused heartache on a grand scale for the Christian community. I beg the Pakistani parliament to repeal the blasphemy law which has been subject to be used for unfair persecution. Allah and His Prophet do not need human intervention to defend their honor. God Almighty has the power to punish the unrighteous. I beg Pakistani Muslims to speak against this discriminatory blasphemy law which hangs like a sword on each and every Christian’s head in Pakistan.
We are also grieved to observe how Provincial and Federal Government failed to protect her own loyal citizens who are members of the minority community. Punjab government delayed up to five hours to send help to prevent attacks of Muslim militants on the Christian Colony in Gojra. In fact, both Provincial and Federal government was well aware of the unrest that a day well before these militants torched, pillaged and looted 75 homes of poor Christians in Bahmaniwala. This happened only seven miles from Gojra. It was only after committing these crimes that the perpetrators filed a report with police in Gojra against Christians on the basis of the blasphemy law. They accused Christians to desecrate the pages of Holy Qur’an. “In fact the way to uphold the respect for the Qur’an is to show the Quranic respect for religious diversity and solidarity with the poor and the week” (ISNA August 3, 2009).
Later, when the victims of Bahmaniwala went to register their complaint in the police station in Gojra, the police refused to register their case with the excuse they were too busy at the moment; even then these same Police in Gojra were aware that Muslim extremists were planning another attack on Christians the next day. Instead, these police allowed it to happen, not asking for help from the provincial or Federal government. Provincial and Federal authorities remained spectators allowing the fanatics to vent their rage against Christians while, at the Christian colony mothers begged for mercy to spare them and their children. Police did nothing but watch from a distance as Muslim militants were shooting women and children and torching Christian colony homes.
Provincial, Federal and local governments and police forces are responsible for the loss of innocent lives and their worldly possessions. If there is any decency left in the system of our government then the elected officials and police should accept responsibility for their negligence.
Pakistani Christians are not “mahajars” who have appeared on Pakistani soil from somewhere else. They are the people of “First Nation” who have lived in the same area for centuries. Their land and their homes have been taken by others who settled by force or choice on their soil. Christians always have been a loyal asset to their country. They have worked in the service sector, and have given the best schools and hospitals to the Pakistani nation. Christians have honorably served in the Armed Services while patiently abiding the discrimination and oppression at home. The contribution of Christian communities in the progress of the nation of Pakistan has always been praiseworthy for which they have not received much credit. They have not caused any terror nor have they brought dishonor to Pakistan. Their record of honesty, hard work and as loyal citizens speaks loudly for them. Why, then, in our own homeland are we treated as second class citizens and have to daily live under the harassment of Islamic militants?

Do Muslims in Pakistan realize that Christian Churches in Europe and North America have offered generous hospitality to Muslims? Christian churches have sponsored refugees from Muslim countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq, and have opened their churches and social halls for Muslims to say their Friday prayers. Food, Shelter and warm friendship are always provided. President Obama in his speech to the Islamic world in Cairo recently said, “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.” The Archbishop of Canterbury is supporting Shari’a Law for Muslims in England. Muslims in other lands want to be treated well by other nations and faith communities. Why do they not offer the same hospitality and dignity to their own Christian citizens?
In the Province of North West Frontiers Christians have been given written notices to leave or convert to Islam. I recently talked with a man who recently came to the United States from Pakistan. He informed me that his family had to sell their ancestral home for a very low price and leave North West Frontier Province as they found their lives were in great danger. His family had lived peacefully in that home for more than100 years.
A tragedy of our time is that relief from the global tensions of the Cold War has revealed religious persecution on a scale not seen since the Holocaust itself. Vicious intolerance shattered the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians in Sarajevo when Serbia launched its brutal “ethnic cleansing” against the majority Muslim population of Bosnia in what had been Communist Yugoslavia. In the last 24 years two million, the majority of them Christians, have been killed in Sudan, and over four million were forced to flee from their homeland. Such persecution, wherever it occurs, diminishes us all, and demands more than finger-wagging in response. I beg you to hear the cry of the persecuted Christians in Pakistan and let them live in Pakistan with dignity and honor.
I pray that the majority community and the government of Pakistan will finally say enough is enough, and shall begin to protect and defend their minority community so that all can feel safe in their own homeland. Muslims in Pakistan must remember that on the Day of Judgment they shall have to give account for senseless killings of the innocent and negligence to defend the rights of the weak. It is my prayer that together our faith communities we all shall strive to live in harmony and peace.
The God of the Bible and Qur’an is the God of hope. “May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Even though heartache confronts us time and again, as the children of God we are the disciples of hope. Let us strive to build bridges of understanding and find new ways of fostering co-operation, understanding and above all peace

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