On Sunday, suicide bombers stormed a Christian church in south-western Pakistan, killing at least 10 people and wounding up to 50 others.
Notably, the terrorists attacked the church in Quetta city when the Church’s Sunday services had just opened. Hundreds of worshippers were attending the church ahead of Christmas. But suddenly and quite tragically, two suicide bombers attacked the church in the Pakistani city, as the home minister for Baluchistan province has clearly stated. According to the church’s Facebook page, it had organised different programmes all throughout December to mark Christmas, and was holding a ‘Sunday School Christmas Programme’ at the time of the attack.
Clearly, the Quetta church attack was a direct strike on the increasing communal cohesion between the Christians and Muslims in Pakistan. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while condemning the attack has aptly called it, “an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations/create religious cleavages.” Indeed, it was an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations and create religious cleavages. But is the Pakistan army genuinely interested in tackling the onslaughts of the contagious religious extremism in the country?
Though the ultra-extremist Salafist terror group, Daesh (Isis) has claimed responsibility for the attack via the al-Aamaq media outlet, it has not yet provided evidence-based statement to substantiate its claim. But Baluchistan, a strategically important region bordering Iran as well as Afghanistan, has long been in the grip of deep-rooted sectarian groups linked to the Taliban, al Qaeda and now ISIS.
The first thought that emerges on this gruesome incident is that if the terror attack on the Church in Pakistan was carried out by the ISIS, it was clearly a systematic attack to counter the growing unity of Muslims and Christians, as some moderate Muslim thinkers have rightly pointed out.
Pakistan is on top of the Muslim majority countries where religious minorities are persecuted for their religious beliefs and rituals. Christians make up an estimated 1.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 200 million people. But besides systematic attacks by extremist groups, they face institutional persecution and violence from the majority-Muslim members who are brazenly violating the basic human rights as well as the essential Islamic values. The famous Islamic historian and Hadith scholar Imam Bukhari quoted the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as saying: “Whoever kills a Muaa’hid (any peaceful citizen) will not smell the fragrance of paradise”. Speaking generally about all the non-Muslims living in a Muslim state, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Anyone who kills a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim country will not smell the fragrance of the paradise.” (Nasaa’i). He is also quoted as saying: “If anyone kills a man whom he has granted protection pre-maturely, Allah will forbid him to enter paradise.” (Abu Dawood)
But ironically, the self-styled ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan remains in brazen violation of the holy Prophet’s traditions. Pakistan’s most notorious blasphemy laws are ill-designed to target the religious beliefs and practices of various faiths and sects, eventually leading to smear the face of Islam, Qur’an and the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the global media.
With the blasphemy laws, extremist goons in Pakistan are often underfoot to justify mob violence against liberal-thinking individuals as well as the non-Muslim minorities.
Along with other minority communities, Christians in particular, have long been held hostage to religious persecution, discrimination. Sidelined into lowly paid jobs and often the target of trumped-up blasphemy charges, this religious minority in Pakistan has always been hit by the radical Islamist ideologies over the years. Courts require a higher burden of proof for Christians to prove their innocence and some have been imprisoned on the testimony of their accusers.
Following the latest attack, dozens of Christians protested in the north-western city of Peshawar and called on officials to protect religious minorities. Similarly, last year Lahore suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during the Easter season — a suicide bomb in a park that killed more than 70 people including many children. In 2013, 82 people were killed when suicide bombers targeted a church in the city. The bombing was later claimed by the Jamaat ul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
Thus, it seems that Pakistani police and troops have been less serious in battling the radical Islamist groups in the country. This is utterly tragic state of affairs in a society which prides itself in its Nizaam-e-Mustafa (prophetic rule of governance).
Nevertheless, the Prophet of Islam avowedly advocated the rights of Christians whom he adored ad “the people of the book” as well as other non-Muslim citizens in his state. During his lifetime in the Arabia, the non-Muslim citizens were protected even against the foreign invading enemies. He stated in categorical terms: “He who hurts a non-Muslim citizen of Muslim state hurts me and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” (reported by Imam Tabrani). Another Hadith reporter Al Khateeb quoted the Prophet as saying this: “Whoever hurts a non-Muslim, I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Rising” and “On the Day of Resurrection I shall dispute with anyone who oppresses a person from among the non-Muslims, or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his capacity or takes something from him against his will.” (reported by Abu Dawood).
Noted classical scholar of the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Imaam al Quraafi comments on the above Hadith reports: “The covenant of protection imposes upon us clear obligations towards the non-Muslims living in our states: they are our neighbours under our shelter and their protection is upon us. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by even an abusive word, or by slandering their reputation or by causing them a harm or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His messenger and the religion of Islam.’ (Kitaab al Furooq).
Even going by the Islamic laws enunciated in the state of Pakistan, Muslims have no legal superiority or privilege over non-Muslims. There are compelling evidences in the sources of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that establish the full liberty for non-Muslims to practice their religions, follow their cultural customs and rites and lead their lives as per their own choice. No coercion or restriction can be inflicted upon them.
Despite these unequivocal Islamic traditions in favour of religious minorities, Christians in Pakistan are the worst hit, that too during the Christmas season. Their churches are the target of extremist Islamist zealots, especially during Christian holidays.
Tellingly, an AFP reporter at the scene saw shattered pews, shoes and broken musical instruments littered across the blood-smeared floor of the church in Quetta. The dastardly attack on innocent Pakistani Christians praying in Quetta’s church on Sunday was not an isolated instance. Earlier, in March 2016, more than 70 people died in an attack on a Lahore park where many Christians were celebrating on Easter Sunday. The deadliest attack against Christians in Pakistan happened in September 2013, when two suicide bombers targeted All Saints Church in Peshawar, killed more than 80 people. But these xenophobic acts can bring no gain to Islam or Muslims. They can only fuel the fire of global Islamophobia or further the nefarious ends of the extremist fringes in the country.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies and regular columnist with www.NewAgeIslam.com