By Mohammad Ali Ilahi
This week, a group of students from LUMS lead by the Democratic Students Alliance and as part of the Hum-Aahang initiative (Human Shield for Our Christian Community) went to a Sunday mass to form a human chain outside the Nawlakha Presbyterian Church near the Lahore Railway Station. This was in reaction to the twin suicide blasts that had taken place a week ago in Youhanabad targeting the largest and perhaps one of the most productive minorities in Pakistan. The ensuing lynchings that followed and the animosity which they created for the larger Christian community were all the more reason for us to visit the church and spread the message of tolerance and co existence.
The Church service starts at 09:30 am and the incoming worshipers were pleasantly surprised to see a group of university students standing in front of the church in a show of solidarity and unity. A lady who seemed to be in her mid 30’s and was with her two daughters was so excited that she individually greeted the volunteers with the words “We are deeply indebted for this gesture”. Other worshipers showed positive responses as well, with some coming forward and greeting us, while others just silently passing appreciative smiles.
After standing outside for some while, we decided to participate in the Sunday mass. The 150 year old majestic church was ringing with music as people sang out verses from the Bible which were translated into Punjabi. The father gave a lecture on the importance of patience, tolerance and discipline in the jam packed church. It seemed as if the bomb blasts from the past week had not deterred any of the worshipers from coming to the service, and instead had further strengthened their resolve.
What followed was something that surprised us. As the white board which served as the projector screen was raised, an indication perhaps that technology can now no longer be separated from religion, a large banner showing the martyrs of the Youhanabad blasts was revealed. The banner consisted of photos of the Christian victims including that of the 18 year Akash Bashir who had stopped a suicide bomber from entering the St. John’s church. However, the thing that caught our attention was the fact that the largest portratis amongst the martyrs were those of the two innocent Muslims (Muhammad Naeem and Babar Nauman) who were lynched by a raging mob in the aftermath of the blasts. After a silent prayer for the deceased, the worshippers lighted candles in the memory of the departed souls regardless of whether they were Christians or Muslims.
Despite of the hate and propaganda being spread against the larger Christian community blaming them for the unfortunate act of lynching of two Muslims, this gesture of harmony and amalgamation witnessed in the church was very refreshing. The Christian community had owned up not only their martyrs but the Muslim martyrs as well. The question which needs answering is whether similar vigils and prayers were held in mosques for the couple of Kot Krishan Radha, or the three Ahmadi womend burnt in Gujranwala? Only if we too could start owning up Christians and other minorities as our own and stopped blaming an entire community for the works of a selected few, things could start improving for the best.