Five years ago, I lost close friends in one of the most gruesome terrorist attack on Pakistani soil. In twin attacks on two Mosques in Lahore, 88 Ahmadi Muslim worshippers were killed at the hands of the Taliban. It was a painfully bloody day. This last weekend, I woke up to sad news from Pakistan that made me relive some of that pain.
Fourteen worshipers were killed, and more than 70 were injured, when two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up outside churches in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan.
These attacks on Pakistan's Christian community are not a sporadic event. They are a part of a very tragic trend. Just over a year ago, another suicide attack at a Peshawar church claimed 78 lives. Not long before this, an angry mob torched over a hundred houses in Lahore's Joseph Colony, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man. Another Christian couple -- Shama and Shahzad -- were recently lynched and burnt alive in a kiln on similar blasphemy charges. As in the Joseph Colony rampage, this mob violence was also led by a local cleric.
While Pakistan's minority communities are frequently attacked by religious extremists, the state does very little to protect them. Even in the rare instance that the perpetrators of such attacks are caught alive, they get away with a mere slap on the wrist. Pakistan's ruling party, the PML-N, is especially notorious in sponsoring hate against minority communities in an attempt to appease extremist elements that serve their vote bank. In fact, we now know that the Punjab Government under Mr. Shahbaz Sharif reportedly carried out negotiations with al Qaeda.
The reaction from the masses in Pakistan is not very encouraging either. The majority continue to remain apathetic to the ongoing persecution of minorities. The few that speak up are threatened and intimidated into silence. All this, while the Islamic faith requires that all Muslims stand up to such injustice.
Islam repeatedly mandates the protection of minorities. So much so, that one of the few times the Holy Quran permits fighting is to uphold religious freedom -- including that of fellow Christians, Jews etc. -- with specific mention of the protection of churches and synagogues. Extremists who act to destroy these places of worship act in complete opposition to the Quran.
Prophet Muhammad expressed great contempt for a Muslim who mistreats a non-Musim. He warned:
He who unfairly treats a non-Muslim living in a Muslim State, or undermines his rights, or burdens him beyond his capacity, or takes something from him without his consent; I will be his opponent on the Day of Judgment.
What a strong warning!
It is well-known that Islam equates the killing of one person to the killing of all humanity. In addition to this generic prohibition of murder, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have specifically forbidden paradise to those who hurt non-Muslims. He cautioned:
Whoever kills a non-Muslim citizen under a Muslim government shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise.
Yet, in their own perverted understanding of Jihad, extremists act against these clear injunctions of Islam. Even Muslims from minority sects are not spared of their wrath. Pakistani Muslims must stand up to this ongoing injustice and extremism. They must stand in solidarity with their Christian community, just as Prophet Muhammad stood by all Christians for all times to come.
In his covenant with the Christian monks of Saint Catherine's Monastery, he declared:
Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.
The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. No one of the Muslims is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day.
He clearly warned in the covenant:
Whosoever shall annul any one of these decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.
Whenever a Christian is persecuted in a Muslim land, this sacred covenant is broken. Those who willingly remain silent on this persecution contend with such violations of God's ordinance. In this regard, Pakistan, an "Islamic republic," has an added obligation to lead by example. If it claims to be the slightest bit Islamic, it has to raise itself to these basic standards of Islam. The government must protect its Christians and stop trying to make under-the-table deals with those who seek them harm.
As for Pakistan's silent majority, how many more times will they witness the covenant of God being trampled before finally speaking up?