From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Pakistani Presbyterians signal 'SOS'

Date 31 Jan 2003 07:48:37 -0500

Note #7574 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Pakistani Presbyterians signal 'SOS'
January 28, 2003

Pakistani Presbyterians signal 'SOS'

Visitor says victims of Muslim violence need U.S. support

by John Filiatreau

LOUISVILLE - A leader of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) says
Christians in his country, dozens of whom have been killed and maimed in
attacks by Muslim extremists in recent months, desperately need the support
of Presbyterians and other Christians in the United States.

The Rev. Maqsood Kamil, executive secretary of the PCP, said Christians in
Pakistan - just 3 percent of the population of the Islamic state - are
"second-class citizens ... at the very bottom, both educationally and
economically." He said the Pakistani church is "definitely" growing, "but
most of the growth is biological, not by conversion."

 Kamil said his church is now being forced to meet the "unforeseen expense"
of hiring private security forces for protection, needs a refuge for
Pakistani Christians who have been threatened or whose lives are in danger
and is struggling to create an "emergency relief fund" for victims of
anti-Christian violence.

After visiting with Presbyterians here and in Pittsburgh, Kamil said he had
received lots of sympathy and prayer support - "Twice worshippers have
encircled me and prayed for me" - but hadn't "really had any promises" of
financial help.
Persecution of Christians in Pakistan worsened in the 1970s after it
officially became an Islamic country. It nationalized private schools
(including 10 high schools and two colleges owned and operated by
Presbyterians) and eventually adopted Islamic law, stripping Christians of
civil rights.

For example, Christians were barred from testifying in most Pakistani courts,
though they could appear in some civil courts. Thus they were unable to
defend themselves against unscrupulous Muslims using the law to seize the
property of Christians alleged to have blasphemed the prophet Muhammad. The
government also instituted a policy of "political separation," under which
Christians were stripped of the right to vote in national elections or in 266
of 270 races for seats in the national assembly. (Four seats were reserved
for Christians.) 

"Muslim politicians didn't need the votes of Christians anymore," he said,
"and so they would not help them."

There are "signs of hope" for Christians, Kamil said. Pakistani President
Pervez Musharraf (a graduate of a Presbyterian college), has dismantled the
"separation" policy, which Kamil calls "a political apartheid system."

"In October, Christians voted for Muslims," Kamil said in an interview with
the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That has brought a very positive change. Muslim
candidates came to our seminary and asked for our help."

He said many prominent Muslims publicly condemned a Christmas-day grenade
attack on a Presbyterian Chapel in Gujranwala that killed three children and
left 16 injured. And this year, for the first time, he saw "Merry Christmas"
banners on display at a shopping mall in Lahore, and saw more coverage of
Christian holiday activities on the state-run television network.

But he said things remain volatile, as they have been since the terrorist
attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

He pointed out that the elections that returned Christians to the electorate
also brought the first victories by Muslim extremist candidates, whose party
now controls the area along the Afghanistan border.

And he said death threats against Christians are frequent. The Rev. Rahmet
Asim, the pastor whose congregation was attacked on Christmas day was
threatened with violating the  blasphemy law and received death threats after
he identified the assailants.

"He is living a life of fear," Kamil said of Asim, "and he cannot carry out
his ministry. ... When these people are under fire, even if they survive the
attack, they really cannot safely stay there anymore."

Kamil said that, when the schools were nationalized in 1972, "The government
made a mess of it. ... The schools were ruined, and have not been kept well,
and the educational level is very, very low."  Few of the schools and none of
the colleges have been returned to their rightful owners, he said, despite a
Pakistani Supreme Court decision in favor of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

He said the property issue "needs to be taken up by the U.S. government."

He said all Pakistani schools and colleges have become Islamic institutions
that offer "very few opportunities for Christian students."

Kamil said many Muslims in Pakistan identify Christians so closely with the
West, and with the United States in particular, that every U.S. action is
taken as an act by Christians against Islam.

"They always say the West is trying to destroy Islam," he said. "They see
every action as an attack on their religion. ... If something happens between
nations, Christians don't say it is an attack on our religion."

If the United States goes to war against Iraq, he said, "Pakistani churches
will be burned, and Pakistani Christians will be attacked."
"Basically, they are against Christianity and would like to impose a
Taliban-style Islam in Pakistan," he said of extremist Muslims, noting that
most Muslims are "well-meaning" and pose no threat to their neighbors.

Despite the danger, Kamil said, Christians in Pakistan are trying to get on
with their lives and ministries.

"Christians have hope," he said, "because the God who created the cosmos out
of chaos ... will not let the forces of evil run rampant forever."
He said, however, that assertions of a great deal of common ground between
Christians and Muslims "may serve the purpose of peace ... but is absolutely

"There are some points of connection," he said, "especially that we are both
children of Abraham. But there is no fundamental similarity. ... They are not
both peaceful, as President Bush has said. 'Jihad' is one of the pillars of
Islam. Their belief is that people must submit, and if they will not, just
wipe them out. ... Islam does not mean 'peace,' as I have read often. It
means 'submission.'"

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