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Welsh Christians recognised at the Senedd for their contribution to religious diversity

by Ros Mayfield

A group of Christians with Pakistani heritage have been honoured a gathering at the Welsh Senedd, in recognition of their contribution to society.  Before the event, Daud Irfan, who's one of those receiving an award, told Premier it's a big day: "We will be celebrating Christmas, along with some members of the Senedd and also we will officially be recognised as a community here in Wales."

Daud is being recognised for community action he took after dozens of Christians in his birth country had to flee the Jaranwala neighbourhood because of persecution which suddenly turned violent.

In August this year, homes and churches in the residential district were ransacked and burned by Muslim mobs in a matter of minutes, after a rumour circulated that one of the residents had committed a blasphemy offence.

The peaceful protest that Daud and his father Revd Irfan John organised on the steps of the Senedd in response caught the attention of Senedd member Darren Millar.

Daud's family know the realities of religious oppression only too well.  They came to the UK from Pakistan to escape persecution when he was 6 years old.  His father was a pastor in Faislabad, Pakistan's third largest city, but tensions were so high that Daud and his sisters were unable to play in their own front garden without bodyguards.  In the end their church advised them to flee the country for the children's safety.

The family settled in Wales, and Daud went on to become the first Asian Methodist Youth President in the UK.  But he says the presence of Pakistani Christians is not well known, which can lead to a lack of fellowship that many British Christians enjoy.  Daud says they're often mistaken for Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims, because British church-goers don’t realise there is a Christian community from Pakistan in the UK. 

He even raised the issue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, after the Rt Rev Justin Welby had returned from a visit to a Christian community in Pakistan.

"What we were talking about was the fact that when Christians come into this country, in their mind they think they're coming to a Christian country, but they don't see that lived out in the western world anymore.

"The biggest thing is that our churches, they need to be the first welcoming place for them... sometimes they need the local community to bring them in and give them that place of confidence that they can find a place of welcome - for people of all faiths."

The Archbishop spoke at an inter-faith rally in London last weekend, and called on the UK to 'clean up our doorstep' with regard to living peacefully alongside other faiths, in the wake of a dramatic rise in religious hatred, sparked by the war between Israel and Hamas.

Irfan tells Premier: "I think as long as we don't build those divisions between us and we try our best to live in harmony, then as society as a society we can all work together."

Daud says his experience of being a Christian in Pakistan taught him about the importance of protecting religious freedoms.

"Once we start building up the walls and creating these divisions between ourselves, that's where hatred grows... [and] grows really quick."

The Irfans' protest about the Jaranwala attacks led to a 'statement of opinon' being tabled at the Senedd.

They're hoping the Welsh Parliament will be the first in the world to actively condemn the violence against Christians there.

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