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3 Oct 2014
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Being Christian in Pakistan

By Michael Buchanan
The death of 16 people at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church has dramatically highlighted the difficulties facing Christians living in Pakistan. The attack by masked gunmen in the eastern town of Bahawalpur on October 28 resulted in the death of fourteen worshippers, their minister and a Muslim police officer guarding the church.

Before this latest attack I set out to investigate what life was like for Christians who live in predominantly Muslim countries and how they had been treated since this "war on terrorism" began.

It’s never easy having your voice heard as a Pakistani Christian. Even in times of peace, the simple fact is that this country is 97% Muslim; in times of war, that community is also very united.

Down the bustling backstreets of Rawalpindi lives Mukhtar Masih, a Presbyterian living among Muslim neighbours. Nine days after the attacks on the United States, his 13 year old son Riaz tried to get 5 young Muslims to pay for some food they'd bought from his kerbside barbecue. They refused, telling him he could get his money from the Americans and attacked him. Riaz was eventually taken to hospital but died within hours.

Before the killings in Bahawalpur, Riaz Masih’s death was the most violent attack on the Christian community since September 11, but there had been others. People had been beaten in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and there had been reports of churches being attacked in various parts of the country.

These attacks were blamed on hardline Muslims, encouraged by remarks made by some fundamentalist religious leaders who had told their followers that they should murder two Pakistani Christians for every Muslim killed in Afghanistan. The government's religious affairs minister, Dr Mehmud Ahmad Ghazi, told me that they were doing everything they could to promote harmony.

But it’s clear that in the eyes of some religious leaders, the inhabitants of the Christian colonies are very much second class citizens. People who live there won't speak on tape, preferring to keep a low profile. They say relations with ordinary Muslims are fine, but there's always a worry about what the fundamentalists might do.

At the nearby Church of Pakistan, the name for the Anglican community here, that worry is recognised by the Rev John Irshad. He says that whenever the west is perceived to be taking on Muslims, whether that be Afghanistan or Iraq, there's a greater likelihood of attacks on Christians.

The unfortunate use of words like ‘crusade’ by western leaders doesn't help this small community. They simply hope and pray that the tolerance of ordinary Muslims prevails over the zeal and bigotry of the hardliners.

Listen - Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. October 29
Listen - Suzannah Price on the attack on Christians in Bahawalpur. October 29
Listen - Michael Buchanan on the experience of the Christian community in Pakistan. October 10
Listen - Joseph Coutts, the Catholic Bishop of Faislabad, on life as a Christian in Pakistan. October 10
Demonstrations in Pakistan
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