Pakistani Christians: Do some math

pakistanI have been writing about the global persecution of religious minorities, especially persecuted Christians, for a long, long time. Sadly, there is no sign that I will be able to stop writing about this subject any time soon.

The Divine Ms. MZ dug into this topic the other day and, of course, there has been a major outbreak of violence in Pakistan as well. After young master Brad’s post on that subject, frequent commenter Julia raised some excellent questions:

What kind of Christians are the target in this event? Are they long-time Orthodox or Eastern Catholics? Are they recent converts? Have these people always lived in the colony? Are they forced to live in the colony if they convert? …

The motive could be different depending on who these Christians are; especially if they converted from Islam.

It’s a good sign that coverage is continuing.

It’s a bad sign that most of Julia’s questions remain unanswered, even in a fine follow-up report such as the Los Angeles Times piece that ran with the giant double-decker headline:

Attack on Christians a further crisis for Pakistan

A mob in the city of Gojra, angered by rumors that the Koran had been desecrated, set fire to Christian homes. Seven Christians died, and Pakistani officials are pledging protection.

The goal of this story, obviously, is to fill us in on the political fallout after the attacks — with a heavy emphasis on the pledges by Pakistani officials that justice will be done and that the rights of religious-minorities will be defend. We are also given some background on the role of the tiny Christian minority — singular — in this tense nation.

First, there is this framework on the larger issue of religious minorities:

Perhaps the bigger problem for Pakistan is the harsh light the riots have shone on the country’s dismal record for protecting the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

Minority Rights Group International, a London-based watchdog organization, ranks Pakistan as the world’s sixth-most dangerous country for minorities. Along with Christians, groups under threat include a variety of ethnicities, such as Pashtun in the northwest and Balochis and Sindhis in the south, the group says. Minority Shiite Muslims have also been victimized by Sunni Muslim radical groups.

You also have to ask how more moderate, modern Muslims are doing, as well. Often, Muslim-on-Muslim persecution of this kind is overlooked.

However, what about the “Christian” — singular — minority?

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called the riots “a comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities.” Pope Benedict XVI said he was “deeply grieved” by the “senseless attack.” However, Christians do not hold out much hope that attitudes will change any time soon. Representing less than 2% of the nation’s 175 million people, Christians historically have occupied the lower rungs of society, largely relegated to menial jobs. A law against making derogatory remarks about Islam or desecrating the Koran is often used to settle scores against Christians.

“We are marginalized, that’s a fact,” said Cecil Chaudhry, a Christian human rights activist. “And a big cause for this marginalization is the use of discriminatory laws like the blasphemy law.”

OK, let’s break this down for a moment.

Pillar7-Society-Universal-Declaration-of-Human-RightsWe have a reaction from the pope. So, how many Catholics are in Pakistan?

At the same time, think about the history of Pakistan and this region’s ties with the British Empire. How large is the Anglican Church in Pakistan? Are we to believe that the Anglicans in Pakistan are part of the “lower rungs” in this society? Really?

Or, are the Anglicans in Pakistan cooperating with ministries to the lower levels of society and, thus, threatening the status quo? Years ago during a Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, I had a chance to talk with a Pakistani bishop or two about their behind-the-scenes roles in what amounted to an underground railroad to protect people who had converted from Islam to Christianity. The testimonies offered by the bishops were stunning.

Thus, note the report’s emphasis on the blasphemy law, which is part of the fabric of Sharia law in Pakistan. It is literally illegal — forget article 18 in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights — to convert to another faith or to say anything critical of Islam.

Thus, we really need to know one or two facts. As stated earlier, we need to know something about the make-up of the Christian community in Pakistan, in order to find out more about who is being persecuted and why.

This raises a second question: What groups are daring to do Christian evangelism in Pakistan? Is missionary work legal? Are these attacks on the impoverished Christians actually attacks on small, powerless, marginalized groups of evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians who are openly trying to spread their faith? Are they being backed by Anglicans, Catholics and others?

In other words, we need a paragraph or two of facts. Obviously, this is not a simple story. Obviously.

Photo: A small band of Pakistani Christians celebrate Easter in 2007.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    We also need much more coverage of the Middle Eastern Christians who have fled to our country to get away from
    Moslem deadly zealotry—and to protect them from our own American zealots.
    Virtually no Americans are aware of the huge number of Middle Eastern Christians who live in some areas of our country —they are written off as Moslem possible trouble-makers. Yet they live in more fear of Moslem fanaticism than most other Christians here.
    According to one of the few stories I have seen (probably in the Catholic Press) those “Moslems” running all those Quick Marts in Metropolitan Los Angeles are all Egyptian Christians (Copts)and refugees from Moslem terrorism.
    Right after 9-11 a “Moslem” was beaten to death somewhere in the Southwest supposedly in retribution for what Moslem fanatics had done. But the “Moslem” was really a Christian refugee from Moslem fanaticism.

  • John Newton

    To answer the question how many Catholics are there in Pakistan: our of roughly 2.5 million Christians just over 1 million are Catholic. I cannot say which rite or rites (Latin or one of the Eastern rites). Catholics have been a sizeable minority in the country since its formation.

    Having spoken to priests who witnessed the attacks on June 30th in Bahwani Wala, where 54 Christian homes were detroyed a significant number of the families targeted were Catholic. Catholics were also among the 8 killed this month in Gojra.

    In both cases the blasphemy law was at the root of the attacks. Both events followed accusations that the Quran was desecrated, or the Prophet insulted. In both cases tensions between a Muslims and Christians, largely unrelated to religion appear to have been the root cause.

    But, we should not forget that many Muslims have also been charged – or attacked by angry mobs – under these laws. It is not just Christians who feel the brunt of the law – but Christians can be very vulnerable when there are inter-community tensions because of it.

  • kjc402

    Minority Rights Group International, a London-based watchdog organization, ranks Pakistan as the world’s sixth-most dangerous country for minorities. Along with Christians, groups under threat include a variety of ethnicities, such as Pashtun in the northwest and Balochis and Sindhis in the south, the group says. Minority Shiite Muslims have also been victimized by Sunni Muslim radical groups.

    Pashtuns under threat? Pashtuns are the threat, the bulk of the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are of the Pashtun ethnicity.

    Yeah that’s good, let’s ramp up the Tali ban’s twisted view of the world, that they are some sort of “freedom fighters” because they are under threat. Feed their paranoia and than wonder why they won’t negotiate or surrender.

    Those poor little “threatened” Pashtuns sure gave the Paki government a lesson about threatening in the Swat Valley, didn’t they?

  • MisterDavid

    I believe it is the case that, when Pakistan was still a part of India, the various Protestant churches merged as a ‘united church’, now called the Church of Pakistan. It is a part of the Anglican communion, but also includes Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans, adding to the problems of defining what sort of Christians these persecuted Pakistanis may or may not be.

    If these affected groups were ‘Church of Pakistan’, they could legitimately be called a whole range of things, although Anglican might be easiest. But as John has mentioned, Catholics were among those affected, whilst seemingly not accounting for all of those affected. Therefore, ‘Christian’ is probably fair enough, although ‘Christians of different denominations’ might be preferable.

    Also, TMatt, why would you be so surprised to find that Pakistani Anglicans are amongst the poorest? You seem to have a large assumption hidden away somewhere!

  • tmatt


    Simply the assumption that Anglicans in a British colonial culture would have strong ties to the West and to the major professions. Exceptions would exist, of course. But check out India history, for example.

  • danr

    John wrote: “In both cases tensions between a Muslims and Christians, largely unrelated to religion appear to have been the root cause.”

    MisterDavid wrote: “Therefore, ‘Christian’ is probably fair enough”

    Precisely. Normally I sympathize with this blog’s complaint of lack of details in media religious reporting. But it seems maybe we’re looking for more details than necessary? And presuming that there were motives and specific targets by the attackers when there may well have been none other than “Christian”?

    One has every right to want more of the story, I’m just struggling mightily to understand. As a Christian, when I hear about persecution and martyrdom of other Christians, considerations of “which denomination were they” and “were they recent converts or longtime believers” etc. are way way WAY down my list.

    My first (really only) thought, is “what a tragedy”.

  • Nadeem Massey

    I understand how an American can think, for Muslims there is no any difference in Catholics, Protestants, Adventists, Jehovah Witness. Christian are identified by their birth. As I have been sharing many times, most of the Christians(nominal) Christians don’t know much about New birth and Salvation through Jesus Christ. They think Jesus is their prophet as Muhammad is Muslim’s prophet. They are not born again Christians.

    You need to understand that when Christians don’t know such things yet, how a Muslim will know. For Muslims all how are born again or nominal, protestant or Catholics are the same. Even Christians don’t make any difference between Catholics and protestants. You see many Catholic priests, bishops and other pastors are protesting together. Therefore for us is not a question that what kind of Christian are targeted, Muslim target anyone who is Christian by birth whether he is born again or nominal, Catholic or protestant, even Jehovah Witness also.

    For Muslims, anyone who put on a cross in the neck is Christian. Most of the men (Christians by birth) have “MASIH” as their second name. Masih means Christ, it is to identify people in this country that one is not Muslim. Christian are then treated on low level.

  • marryasunni

    Nice article. There is nothing in every religion except peace. Why not they adopt path of peace

  • Julia

    It’s not the denomination per se, it’s whether the colony people are descendants of indigenous Christians who refused to convert to Islam back in the day – they are various kinds of Catholic and Orthodox or Copts, etc. Historically, they were tolerated but subject to taxes and discrimination as dimmis. On the other hand, more recent converts to Christianity from Islam, who more often tend to be Protestant, come under different Sharia rules and Koranic hadiths – such as killing due to apostasy.

    Historically, Muslim governments did lump all existing Christians together, but Christian converts from Islam were prosecuted and executed.

    Also, are all the folks in the Christian colony historically Christian and have lived there since time immemorial or are some recent converts who were forced to live there? Can people leave or do they choose to live there? Do Episcopalians live there? Why or why not?

    I understand that a reporter can’t put encyclopedic information in every article, but I haven’t seen any article that addresses whether the colony is all former (or current) dimmis or if Pakistan is now allowing (or forcing) Islamic converts to Christianity to live there, too.

    History has consequences. Witness the Balkans.

    The Jewish people who were murdered in Mumbai were not generic Jews – they were running a Chaba-Lubavitch House which has outreach projects.

    I don’t think the Pakistani Christians who live in the Christian colony are generic Christians, either. I’d like to know who they are.

  • Julia

    Forgot to say that I googled “Christian colony” and found that there are others around South Asia, but I couldn’t find any information about exactly who lives there and if they band together for protection or if they are socially forced to live in something similar to a ghetto.

  • Eternal Truth

    Christian missionaries exist to spread their faith. They are often funded by the people of developed countries and have funds at hand which could be used to influence poor people and eventually convert them. Unfortunate part is that due to missionary zeal of few christians, the entire community has to suffer.