The Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan has appealed to end what he describes as 'apartheid’ violence against Christians in his country.
Bishop Azad Marshall was speaking to Premier Christian News after churches were attacked and hundreds of Christians forced to flee their homes by an angry mob in the town of Jaranwala near Faisalabad last week.
It follows reports of incitement to violence from local mosques after two Christians were accused of blasphemy.
Critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law say it is often misused against Pakistan’s tiny minority groups and that even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad can lead to murder at the hands of vigilantes.
Bishop Azad, who has been visiting Jaranwala over the past few days, told Premier: “The situation is very bad. We met women and children and men who were absolutely lost. Women crying, children without food after losing their homes, women without clothes, the same clothes they'd been wearing when they were driven out of their homes..."
But Bishop Azad said that despite this, many Christians came together at a united service on Sunday at the town’s Salvation Army church – despite the absence of water and electricity.
“It’s amazing resilience that people came, and they wanted to be part of the worship service. But we also had government officials and the Chief Minister of Punjab visiting. He came and met with Christians and declared support financial support for those who had lost their homes.
“But I think we all have a bigger question. It's not to provide financial support immediately but to completely find a way forward to end this kind of apartheid, this kind of discrimination, this kind of behaviour. It is not the first time that this has happened. In Pakistan, we have seen many times Christian villages and community areas attacked simply because there was, allegedly, one person who said something about Islam or desecrated the Holy Quran. But why punish the whole community, women and children in their homes? That’s our concern.”
Bishop Azad continued: “Christians and Muslim scholars have come together; we have started a team together, where we will be able to negotiate and talk to the government because we feel that the laws are not equal.
“The application of laws on the Christian population is different from the same laws which apply to the Muslim population. That’s why some of these problems arise. As a Christian community in Pakistan, we have played a very significant part in the development of the country in the areas of education and medical work and other institutions that were started by Christians. But we feel that over a period of time, because we are small in numbers, we have been ignored in law-making and important areas of government development. We feel that we are not given our equal share.
“There’s always a small minority of extremists, people who want to destroy harmony in society. Those who want to destroy relationships are in the minority. We need to really pray for those who are destroying unity, who want to destroy the harmony of Christian-Muslim co-existence in this country. We’ve always lived peacefully. We are known to be peaceful citizens of this country. So one thing I will request you to pray for is that this hatred, which a small group is trying to spread, will go away. Pray, too, for increased awareness and education.
“We need to really see that the laws are amended, which will help and support the minorities as equal citizens.”