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Posted on Mon 13 August 2018

The Contribution of Christians to building Pakistan

It is quite well known that Christianity arrived in what is now Pakistan very early. The archaeological discoveries in Taxila provide a back ground to the 2nd century AD claim that the Apostle Thomas visited this area before journeying further into India. The fact that Aramaic, the language of Jesus and of the Apostles, was spoken in the Gandhara area since Seleucid times and that there was a flourishing Indo-Greek culture in the area add credibility to the claim of an early arrival.

During Mughal times, not only did the Emperors Akbar and Jehangir promote dialogue among people of different faiths but there is also a significant literary and artistic legacy from the period, some of it kept in Lahore Museum.Large numbers of Armenian, Assyrian and other ‘Oriental’ Christians’ served in the Mughal armies and there was a Christian quarter in Lahore. Christian iconography in the Zenana area of Lahore Fort bears witness to this presence.

The first Christian Church, from this period, that we know of for certain, was erected by the Jesuits with permission from Akbar and funds from Prince Salim (later to be the Emperor Jehangir) in the last decade of the 16th century.It is still standing near the Roshnai gate, although it is now Presbyterian! Dr Majid Sheikh has done some valuable work on this site.

At first, the British used Mughal buildings as churches (e.g. the Diwan-I-Khas in the Fort at Lahore or Anarkali’s tomb). The earliest purpose built church building from British times seems to be Holy Trinity Cathedral, Karachi, which was consecrated in 1855, closely followed by St Mary Magdalene in Lahore Cantonment, a church specifically dedicated to peace. If you wish to look further into the rich heritage of churches inn Pakistan, please go to Safdar Ali Shah and Javaid Kazi’s lavishly photographed Churches of Pakistan. You have heard already about some of the educational and medical buildings from this period.

There was also an intellectual flowering at this time, with noted scholars like Padre Imadudin Lahiz, Safdar Shah, Archdeacon Ihsanullah and the sublime translator of the Psalms into Punjabi, Dr Imamudin Shahbaz.

As a result of the growing cooperation between the Muslim League and the All India Christian Association, Christian leaders (as well as other minority leaders) were present at the historic gathering, at what is now Iqbal Park, which led to the Lahore Resolution of 1940. At this gathering the Christian lawyer, Chaudhri Chandu Lal, a member of the Muslim League’s Executive Council, while expressing his support for the Muslim demand for a homeland, demanded that equal rights for minorities should be included in the Constitution of the new state. This received enthusiastic support from the Quaid-i-Azam and other leaders present there. Christian support for Pakistan was renewed by the prominent Christian leader, Dewan Bahadur, SP Singha, the Speaker of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, at a meeting with the Quaid and other leaders of the Muslim League in 1942. In his reply the Quaid told the Christians, “if you will join us we will forever be grateful to you”.

The Christian community had worked for the inclusion of the whole of the Punjab into Pakistan.When this proposal was rejected, the Quaid, and other leaders of the Muslim League, had a special meeting with Christian leaders to ask for their support for including West Punjab into the new nation.At the time of voting, those in favour and those opposed to this proposal were tied 88-88.The Christian members, SP Singha, Fazal Ilahi and CE Gibbon, cast their votes in favour of West Punjab becoming a part of Pakistan.It is because of these votes that Pakistan became a viable entity!At that time the Christian leaders were told, جو ?...انگ?‘ پاکستان اس?’ ?...ل?‘ قبرستان( those who want Pakistan will instead dig a grave for themselves).SP Singha replied to this saying,سینه پر گولی کهائن گ?’ پاکستان بنائن گ?'

On the same day, SP Singha used his casting vote to prevent a single national legislature for both India and Pakistan and thus enabled the emergence of a National Assembly for Pakistan alone.

Later on, in their evidence to the Boundary Commission, the Christian members once again voiced their support for the territorial integrity of the nascent state.No doubt, members of other communities also played their part in the unfolding drama.From the Christian point of view, the hope was that one community, which had experienced oppression in undivided India, would treat other oppressed communities with justice and compassion.It has not always turned out so and we have to keep asking why.At the Constituent Assembly, which met for the first time from 10 August 1947, under the chairmanship of a Harijan, Joginder Singh Mandal, the Quaid declared:-

“Make no mistake, Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it”. He then went on to deliver his famous presidential address on 11 August, 1947 which contains the well-known words:-

“you are free.Y ou are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State”. He went on to state that there was to be no discrimination on the basis of caste or creed and all would be equal members of on State.

Quaid-i- Millat, Liaquat Ali Khan, presented the national flag to the same assembly and pointed out that the white section represented not only the present minorities but others who may, in the future, come to live in Pakistan because of its fair treatment of minorities.

As the noted Pakistani activist, Mr George Felix, has pointed out, no State can prevent prejudice simply through legislation and the subsequent history of Pakistan has been an experience of relentless pressure, precisely from those elements which had opposed its creation because it was not going to be a theocracy.As we have seen, in spite of systemic and day to day discrimination, the minorities have continued to be loyal to the original vision for which their forefathers voted and to contribute, out of all proportion to their numbers, in some vital areas of local and national life.

Christian religious leaders like Bishop Chandu Ray of Karachi made a notable contribution to the economic and social position of scheduled castes in the Sindh. Cardinal Joseph Cordeiro strengthened the Catholic Church’s educational system from which both Muslims and non-Muslims have benefitted.Bishop Azad Marshall of Raiwind has established a programme of adult literacy from which hundreds of thousands are benefitting and Bishop Alexander Malik, formerly Bishop of Lahore, who has expanded the Cathedral School System to educate thousands of pupils in Lahore and beyond.

Talking of education, we should not forget to mention: Fr Raymond, long time Principal of St Patrick’s School and College, the Trinidade brothers, who educated generations of Pakistanis and taught many of us new methods of research and literary appreciation, the sisters of Jesus and Mary and the Franciscan Sisters, Professor Sinclair and Dr Anwar Barkat of F.C. University and a host of others. Nor should we omit those working for the education of the poor: the Village Education System in the rural Punjab and the newer initiative, Starfish Schools, which seeks to build capacity in schools for lower income groups. Technical Training Centres provide much needed skills for those interested in mechanical and electrical trades.

In the area of medicine, Christian nurses and paramedical staff continue to be a pillar of medical provision in the country. Distinguished physicians, like Dr Abdul Quddus and Dr Anwar Ujagar, gave their lives to serve the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Dr Lal has followed Sir Henry Holland in pioneering eye care for the masses. Mission hospitals, like Kunri, are often located in hard to reach areas and access populations without medical facilities. This is not merely a matter of historical interest but of the health needs of large numbers of people today. It is a matter of concern that missionary visas are being denied to those who wish to come from the U.K. to help us in this great work. I hope that this trend is quickly reversed.

As we have seen, Christians and other minorities have made signal contributions to the Judicial system, one of the pillars of a free society. It is strange that a community that produced the likes of Chief Justice Cornelius and Justice Raymond is now hardly represented in the higher judiciary at all! Christians have also contributed to that other pillar of a free society, the Press. The passing away of FE Chaudhry, the veteran journalist and father of Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, at the age of a 102 was a nationally significant event.

Christians have also been at the forefront of social activism. Already in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Pakistan Christian Industrial Service was promoting workers rights in the courts and tribunals. The Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, in spite of attacks by extremists, has continued to bring to the nations’ attention the plight of the oppressed and down trodden. This work arises directly from the prophetic vision of the Bible.

As we review the past and consider the present, we have to ask also what the future holds for minorities in Pakistan. The last forty years or so have seen the nationalisation of our institutions, increasing restrictions on building places of worship, habitual discrimination in education and employment and the widespread abuse of the blasphemy law to settle personal scores and to take advantage of the weak. Will all our institutions be handed back, with appropriate compensation? Will discrimination in education and employment, at all levels, be thwarted by the State and its official apparatus? Will there be legal reform making victimisation impossible? For the first time a person from a minority community has been directly elected to the National Assembly from a general constituency. Is this a sign of things to come? We have to wait and see. At the moment, we can only say with Faiz:-

ابهی چراغ سر ره کو کچه خبر هی نهین

ابهی گرانی شب ?...ین ک?...ی نهین آ ءی

نجات دیده ودل کی گهڈی نهین آءی

چل?' چلو که وه ?...نزل ابهی نهین آ ءی!

+Michael Nazir-Ali

August, 2018