February 24, 2018

The Soul of Pakistan

The Soul of Pakistan

Over the last two weeks many people in Britain have talked of a fight for the ‘soul of Pakistan’. Shahbaz Bhatti was the second prominent Pakistani politician this year to be killed for opposing the country’s blasphemy law. Many thought his death inevitable, after Pakistan’s Prime Minister ruled out government support for reforming this law, and left the Christian minority particularly vulnerable. One British commentator in South Asia claimed that it effectively handed victory to the Islamic militants, a faction described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as people ‘wholly uninterested in justice and due process of law, concerned only with promoting an inhuman pseudo-religious tyranny.’

It is not only Britain’s history in relation to Pakistan which connect our countries together. It is also that Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, studied law in Britain and sought to implement the best aspects of that legal system in a new free society. His speech to the first Constituent Assembly expressed his vision for tolerance: “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Shahbaz Bhatti the Minorities Minister and only Christian in the Pakistani Cabinet strongly subscribed to the vision of Pakistan’s founding father. For him, pluralism, freedom of religion and the rule of law were at the heart of political integrity. Bhatti’s commitment was deepened by the ‘spiritual awakening’ experienced in his teens, which became the foundation for his life’s work. He said he had decided to give his life to serve others, as he believed Christ had done for him. He wanted to “make this world beautiful by delivering a message of peace, togetherness, unity and tolerance”.

His many interfaith initiatives were a witness to his aspiration, ranging from prison visits, aid distribution, political advocacy to legal support. At the invitation of senior imams he spoke at large mosques and, last year, secured a joint statement from religious leaders denouncing terrorism. He never shied away from danger. He joined Christian villagers who feared attack from local extremists. He stood by people in a Punjab town who were being killed and their houses destroyed, refusing to leave the police station until the crimes were registered.

Bhatti’s opposition to the blasphemy laws was that they encourage Christian persecution. His death validates his claim. The Bishop of Faisalabad speaks out: ‘In our religion we do not educate our people to insult God or his prophets..No-one is declared infidel or hypocrite in our cathedrals and our religious leaders do not issue decrees of death against anyone.” The fear is that the extremists are winning by killing off Christian resistance. Tolerance has become a capital offence. The tragedy is what this is doing to the Pakistan of Jinnah’s vision.


March 2011



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