A Wretched Existence: Christian Life in Muslim Pakistan

The savage persecution Christians experience in just one month.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute

The U.S. State Department lists only nine nations as “Countries of Particular Concern” – a designation for those nations considered to be the worst violators of religious freedom. These include governments that “engage in or tolerate” systematic, ongoing, and unspeakable violations of religious freedom.

According to many human rights activists, this list is far from complete: “the State Department has seemed unwilling to recognize the grave unspeakable abuses of religious freedom in a number of Muslim-dominated countries that the USCIRF [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] considers CPCs: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Tajikistan.”

Accordingly, on October 21, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a press release calling on “the State Department to further expand its CPC list to reflect the severe violations occurring in other countries, such as Pakistan, which USCIRF has called the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs.”

To understand why Pakistan was highlighted, consider the following 10 accounts, all of which took place in the month of October—the same month that the U.S. State Dept. was being urged to include Pakistan and other countries in its list.

On October 23, a deaf, married Christian woman was gang-raped after three Muslim men broke into her home while her husband was out working.  Despite her screams, no one came to help her. Although one man was arrested, rights activists say he will eventually be released.   According to Pakistani activist Sardar Mushtaq Gill, “Often in these cases the police take no action or, worse, side with the rapists.  Christian families or witnesses are pressured to withdraw complaints.”

In fact, on October 15, eight days before the deaf woman was raped, two Muslim men, both named Muhammad, who had earlier raped two teenage Christian sisters at gunpoint, were acquitted in court. Not only did a key witness change his statement after receiving a bribe, but according to the girls’ father, “The lawyer didn’t fight the case very well and with commitment. Mostly, he stayed absent from the hearings of the case during the proceedings. The lawyer didn’t even participate in the cross-questioning with the culprits in the court….  We face serious life threats from the culprits now, as they are being released from jail.”

Another report from October 5 cites three separate incidents in which five young Christian girls were abducted and sexually abused:  Two were kidnapped and gang-raped by a group of Muslim men; a 13-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped and raped; and two other Christian girls were abducted and abused by a group of human traffickers who forced them into prostitution.

Nabila Bibi, a Christian woman who had been engaged to a Christian man for a year and was preparing to marry him in a few weeks’ time, was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married to a Muslim man named Allah Rakha.  After discovering her whereabouts, her fiancé went to the kidnapper’s home on October 15 and demanded to see her.  Rakha, who had 15-20 other Muslims with him, refused, and warned the Christian that because his fiancée was now Muslim, he must never seek her out again, or else suffer “dire consequences.”  The report adds that such Christian abductees “may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse or discarded from home after passing some time.”

On October 23, Sonia Bibi, a 20-year-old Christian woman, was set on fire and almost burned to death after she refused to marry an ex-boyfriend, a Muslim.  According to the woman’s testimony, when she turned down his proposal, Latif Ahmed sprinkled her with petrol and set her alight.  Burns covered nearly half of her body.

On October 5, Saddique Azam, a Catholic teacher appointed headmaster at a primary school in a small village, was beaten and tortured by a group of three Muslim teachers who resented being under the authority of an “infidel.”  The Muslims barged into Azam’s office and ordered him to resign. When he refused, they beat him so severely that he needed to be hospitalized.

According to an October 14 report, rights activists said they were concerned for the life of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been on death row since 2010.  A Muslim woman, apparently with a personal vendetta against Bibi, had accused her of speaking blasphemy against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad.  “She could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful,” said an official. Bibi was put in solitary confinement, where her health has been steadily deteriorating. “She was vomiting blood last month and having difficulty walking.”

An October 19 report tells of a Christian family— a father, mother, and two daughters— who have been on the run since 2006.  Their “crime” was that the woman, formerly a Muslim, converted to Christianity and married a Christian man. This prompted threats and attacks from Muslims, including her family: “Jobless and desperate, they are unable to meet their own needs, as they continue to be threatened, hounded, and attacked because they want to live a Christian life and raise their children in accordance with Christ’s teachings,” notes the report.  Due to the stressful experiences and unsanitary conditions they are forced to hide in, the woman has miscarried their third child.   The father was shot in the leg and run over by a motorcycle.   Even so, “Attempts to file a case against their tormentors have fallen on deaf police ears.”

An October 23 report titled, “Christians required only as sweepers” notes that “Christians make up most of the non-Muslim minority in central Punjab and account for 1.5 per cent of the total population. Their representation in sanitation work, however, is above 80 percent.” After noting that Pakistan was named “Land of the Pure” in reference to its Muslim identity (as opposed to that of its largely Hindu neighbor, India), the report adds, “The attitude of forcing Christians into degrading occupations based on their descent continues and owes its existence to this long-entrenched dichotomy of ‘pure’ and ‘impure.’”

On October 7, more than 1,000 Christians gathered in front of the Punjab assembly to protest an “anti-minority” bill “that denies voting rights to women” and “does not allow religious minorities to elect their own representatives.”  Religious minorities argued that a selected official “cannot do anything” except to “become a puppet in the hand of their party.”

These ten accounts from October alone are a typical sampling of what Christians, who reportedly make up roughly 1% of Pakistan’s Muslim majority population, routinely experience.

Worse, the majority of atrocities, according to human rights activists, never get reported for fear of reprisals.  It took five years for the account of a two-year-old toddler who was savagely raped because her Christian father refused to convert to Islam took five years to become public. She has undergone five surgeries and still remains disfigured. Her family lives in constant fear and in hiding.

According to rights activist Gill, who is involved with many of the above mentioned cases, “Violence against women and children of religious minorities, the weak and vulnerable, is widespread in Pakistan and is often carried out in silence.  These cases and the stories do not come to light and when victims talk about it they are intimidated.”

In light of all this, it’s high time for Pakistan to be labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S.  Department of State.  Otherwise, the crucial question remains:  Why is it not?

UPDTATE: As mentioned, the above anecdotes were limited to the month of October alone.  An incomplete list of the savagery experienced by Pakistani Christians in the following month, November, follows:

  • Sana John, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped and converted to Islam by force in Haji Pura, near Silakot.   On November 9, Muslim men stopped the girl while she was returning home from school and seized her. The Christian family was threatened not to file a complaint.  According to her father, “In Pakistan there is no justice for the poor and, above all, no one cares for Christians, no one has heard my cry. The police do not pursue the culprits, no one is doing anything for us.”
  • A few days later, a Muslim family kidnapped, beat and left naked on the streets an 8-year-old Christian girl, as a way to “punish” her uncle for pursuing a relationship with a female member of the Muslim family.  The Muslims kidnapped the Christian girl, named Parwasha, on her way home from school, after which she was stripped naked and beaten.  When the girl ran home to her family, they went to local police, only to find that the Muslim family had already filed a complaint against the entire Christian family for “shaming” the Muslim family.
  • Another 8-year-old girl, Sara Bibi, was scolded, beaten and locked in a school bathroom by her Muslim head teacher for using the same toilet as Muslims.  Headmistress of the school, Zahida Rana, locked Sara in the bathroom and then shouted at her: “You are a Christian, an infidel. How dare you use the same toilet as Muslim girls?”  Despite vigorously pleading her innocence Sara was beaten and only released from the toilet 3 hours later at the end of the school day.  The girl has since been expelled from the school.   
  • A Christian activist, Aslam Masih, was shot in the legs by four Muslims in Lahore. The episode, says Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, “is a clear sign of intimidation towards our work.”  Before shooting, the criminals asked him to withdraw a complaint that the police had registered. When he refused they opened fire. 
  • A group of masked men set fire to a Christian broadcasting outlet, Gawahi TV, in Karachi. The building collapsed. Gawahi television was established in February 2013 in a joint collaboration between Catholic and Protestant communities, to “spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan.” As reported by the television website, about 12 million people watched it regularly.   Despite many threats and many requests for security, police did not comply.