By Waqas Rafique
How does it feel to be a minority in Pakistan? I couldn’t stop wondering, knowing inside the answer isn’t very encouraging, as I enjoyed warm hospitality that my Christian friends extended while I sat in a church in the audience of about 150 followers of Jesus. With extremism and sectarianism taking hundreds of lives again, I was reminded of this visit of mine to a small church this past Christmas.
Many among the attendees were concerned their faith had earned a bad name in Pakistan because of them being associated with the alcohol trade in the country. Majority of the pastors touched upon this while leading prayers, calling upon their youth to stay away from alcohol and drugs.
It’s quite strange that mosques are heavily guarded on Fridays and Eid prayers but my hosts at first appeared secure enough or perhaps didn’t know how to ask for protection when I couldn’t spot a single security guard with a metal detector. When I asked if they weren’t scared, I was told the organizers didn’t have funds to hire any guards.
Without any awkward glances I was able to participate in prayers led by a number of pastors. This sense of inclusion particularly thrilled me because interfaith meet and greet is unheard of in Muslim religious gatherings in Pakistan. Where we might talk about harmony among different faiths and sects in our drawing rooms, I know this for a fact that many Pakistani Muslims would risk missing their prayers if they’re away from their sect’s mosque but for sure stay way from another sect’s mosque for the fear of jeopardizing their beliefs. Being tolerant of other religions in these circumstances appears next to impossible.
The question that I mentioned in the beginning is difficult for me to answer perhaps because I’m not a minority in Pakistan. The problem with the so-called majority here is that they don’t encourage dialogue or debate on inter-faith acceptability, especially on the individual level. This might be discussed in seminars where most participants are already enlightened on matters crucial for a peaceful way of life. And if you as an individual, talk about rights of minorities, your own community wouldn’t spare a minute in either branding you as ‘one of them’ or accuse you of receiving funds from somewhere or being close to anti-state elements. A price you could pay for thinking differently.
But while I enjoyed the remixed version of Jingle Bells, which I was told was sung by Indian singers, I couldn’t stop thinking about how we have a long long way to go before we can rest assured incidents such as Rimsha Masih, Gojra, Hazara killings and Ahmadi persecution would stop.
Let’s just have a big heart and try and put ourselves in the shoes of minorities, empathise and feel the pain they feel almost everyday. Maybe, just maybe, then can we at least begin to realize how much they need acceptance, support and their rightful place in society.