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Persecuted Christians: Intolerance grows in Pakistan

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission

Pakistan celebrated its 65th birthday on 14 August. Founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a member of the Shia religious minority, Pakistan was initially established on a foundation of secularism and equal rights for all. Today, however, after decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation, Pakistan is the exact opposite of what it was founded to be.

Abductions of Christian and Hindu girls are on the rise. According to the parents, these young girls are being forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men. According to the Islamists, none of the conversions have been forced. The rise in incidence has triggered debate in the media and a Hindu exodus from Sindh Province, prompting President Zardari to call for a law banning forced conversions. Sunni jihadist violence against the Shia minority has also increased. On 16 August a bus en route to Gilit was stopped by men in military uniforms just 100km north of Islamabad. The ‘officers’ then dragged at least 20 Shi’ites from the bus and executed them. It was the third such attack on that road in six months. As a minority throughout the South Asian sub-continent, Christians are the most vulnerable of all.

In June 2009 a Christian woman Asia Bibi (41, married mother of five) was abused before being accused of blasphemy and arrested. In November 2010 a court sentenced her to death by hanging. Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti (a Christian religious freedom activist) were both assassinated in early 2011 for opposing the blasphemy law and publicly supporting Asia Bibi.

On Thursday 16 August 2012 Rimsha (11), daughter of Misrak Masih, a resident of the Meherabadi Christian slum colony on the outskirts of Islamabad, was arrested on charges of blasphemy. Initially, police had been reluctant to act on the complaint because the accused is merely a child. However, after hundreds of enraged local Muslims surrounded the police station, blocked the Kashmir Highway for hours and threatened to take matters into their own hands, police took Rimsha, her mother and her sister into ‘protective custody’ — they had been severely beaten by the mob.

Not only is Rimsha a juvenile, she is illiterate and mentally impaired. Her mental impairment has left her unable to go to school or mix with other children. Consequently Rimsha spends her days wandering through the slum. Reportedly, locals complained that Rimsha had been ‘moving suspiciously’ in the district, carrying a ‘shopping bag’. Actually she had been collecting papers from garbage bins to use as fuel in the family’s stove. When suspicious Muslims entered Rimsha’s home, they allegedly found her holding burnt pages which had Islamic text and Qur’anic verses printed on them. (They were pages from the Noorani Qaida, a Qur’an reading education program.) At that point, Syed Muhammad Umma was sent to register a complaint against the child.

On Friday 17 August the court ruled that Rimsha be remanded in custody for 14 days, pending further investigation. Understandably, Rimsha is confused and traumatised. Death threats from fundamentalist Muslims have driven over 300 members of the neighbourhood’s Christian community to flee for their lives. (Some reports put the figure as high as 1000.) The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) is providing assistance to the displaced Christians. Paul Bhatti, the National Harmony Minister, APMA Chairman and brother of the martyred activist Shahbaz Bhatti, has appealed to Islamic clerics and police to bring the situation under control as there has been widespread looting.

Leading political figures such as President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition politician Imran Khan have spoken out against the ‘shameful’ and ‘un-Islamic . . . abuse’ of the blasphemy law. Whether they are courageous enough to take on the Islamists who have martyred previous anti-blasphemy advocates is another matter. However, this is not just about law. The problem is profound, deeply ingrained, ideological, religious hatred. Rimsha and her family — like Asia and her family — will need asylum in the West if they are to survive this.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL —

– be a very real and present source of strength, comfort and protection to young Christian girls who have been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men; may they not lose faith or hope; and may the LORD rescue and restore them for his name’s sake.

‘For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.’ (Isaiah 30:18b ESV)

– intervene for Asia Bibi and her family and for Rishma and her family, so these gravely imperilled believers might be free to live in security.

– redeem all this appalling suffering, and use it to shame and awaken Pakistani Muslims to the ugliness that has engulfed them, softening their hearts to the Good News so that they and even their whole communities can be radically transformed. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PAKISTAN: INTOLERANCE GROWS; CHILD ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY

Decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation have turned Pakistan ugly. Violence against religious minorities is constantly on the rise. There has been an increase in the number of young Hindu and Christian girls being abducted, forcibly converted and married off to Muslim men, whilst the blasphemy law continues to be wielded as a weapon of persecution. On 16 August, an illiterate, mentally impaired 11-year-old girl, Rimsha, burnt papers collected from local bins as fuel in the family stove. She was arrested because the papers reportedly bore Qur’anic verses. Rimsha, her mother and sister have been taken from their home in a Christian colony on the outskirts of Islamabad into ‘protective custody’, pending investigation. Pakistan is simmering with religious hatred. Please pray for Pakistan’s besieged and imperilled Christians.

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IRAN: URGENT UPDATE ON PASTOR NADARKHANI
Reportedly, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (34, married with two sons), who was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, will be re-tried on 27 August (although some reports say 8 September). This time the charges are ‘banditry and extortion’. The regime is possibly seeking to convince Nadarkhani’s supporters that he is a criminal unworthy of their support. Alternatively, by launching a new trial with unprovable accusations, the regime may be seeking to ‘wash its hands’ publicly of Nadarkhani and release him to the Islamists and secret police while declaring itself ‘innocent of this man’s blood’. This has happened before in Iran. No matter what happens, Youcef Naharkhani and his family will be greatly in need of our prayers. Please pray for Iran’s Christian prisoners.

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  1. Pingback: Prayer Update: Christians Persecution grows in Pakistan | The Chronicles

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