The following article seeks to discuss the question of professions for Christians and whether any are off limits to Christians – what do you think? Are there some jobs that Christians simply shouldn’t do?
Accepting Islamic law in exchange for peace leaves many uncertain, fearful.
ISTANBUL, March 27 (Compass Direct News) – Just over a month since Pakistan’s fertile Swat Valley turned into a Taliban stronghold where sharia (Islamic law) rules, the fate of the remaining Christians in the area is uncertain.
Last month, in an effort to end a bloody two-year battle, the Islamabad administration struck a deal with Taliban forces surrendering all governance of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Sources told Compass that after the violence that has killed and displaced hundreds, an estimated 500 Christians remain in the area. Traditionally these have been low-skilled workers, but younger, more educated Christians work as nurses, teachers and in various other professions.
The sole Church of Pakistan congregation in Swat, consisting of 40 families, has been renting space for nearly 100 years. The government has never given them permission to buy land in order to build a church building.
An associate pastor of the church in central Swat told Yousaf Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace that with the bombing of girls schools at the end of last year, all Christian families migrated to nearby districts. After the peace deal and with guarded hope for normalcy and continued education for their children, most of the families have returned to their homes but are reluctant to attend church.
The associate pastor, who requested anonymity, today told sources that “people don’t come to the church as they used to come before.” He said that although the Taliban has made promises of peace, the Christian community has yet to believe the Muslim extremists will hold to them.
“The people don’t rely on Taliban assurances,” said Benjamin.
Last week the associate pastor met with the third in command of the main Taliban militant umbrella group in Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Kari Abdullah, and requested land in order to build a church. Abdullah reportedly agreed, saying that Islam is a religion of peace and equality, and that his group intended to provide equal opportunities to the religious communities of Swat.
The Catholic Church in Swat is located in a school compound that was bombed late last year. Run by nuns and operated under the Catholic Church Peshawar Diocese, the church has been closed for the last two years since insurgents have been fighting government led forces, source said.
Parliamentarian Shahbaz Bhatti said Christians and the few Hindus in Swat valley have lived under terror and harassment by the Taliban since insurgents began efforts to seize control of the region. He met with a delegation of Christians from Swat last month who said they were concerned about their future, but Bhatti said only time will tell how the changes will affect Christians.
“The Christian delegation told me that they favor the peace pact if indeed it can bring peace, stability and security to the people living there,” he said. “But they also shared their concern that if there is enforcement of sharia, what will be their future? But we will see how it will be implemented.”
Although there have been no direct threats against Christians since the establishment of the peace accord, some advocates fear that it may only be a matter of time.
“These days, there are no reports of persecution in Swat,” Lahore-based reporter Felix Qaiser of Asia News told Compass by phone, noting the previous two years of threatening letters, kidnappings and aggression against Christians by Islamic extremists. “But even though since the implementation of sharia there have been no such reports, we are expecting them. We’re expecting this because other faiths won’t be tolerated.”
Qaiser also expressed concern about the treatment of women.
“They won’t be allowed to move freely and without veils,” he said. “And we’re very much concerned about their education there.”
In the past year, more than 200 girls schools in Swat were reported to have been burned down or bombed by Islamic extremists.
Remaining girls schools were closed down in January but have been re-opened since the peace agreement in mid-February. Girls under the age of 13 are allowed to attend.
Since the deal was struck, seven new sharia judges have been installed, and earlier this month lawyers were trained in the nuances of Islamic law. Those not trained are not permitted to exercise their profession. As of this week, Non-Governmental Organizations are no longer permitted in the area and vaccinations have been banned.
“These are the first fruits of Islamic law, and we’re expecting worse things – Islamic punishment such as cutting off hands, because no one can dictate to them,” Qaiser said. Everything is according to their will and their own interpretation of Islamic law.”
Launch Point for Taliban
Analysts and sources on the ground have expressed skepticism in the peace deal brokered by pro-Taliban religious leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who is also the leader of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The insurgent, who has long fought for implementation of sharia in the region, has also fought alongside the Taliban against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
He was imprisoned and released under a peace deal in April 2008 in an effort to restore normalcy in the Swat Valley. Taliban militants in the Swat area are under the leadership of his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.
The agreement to implement sharia triggered alarm around the world that militants will be emboldened in the northwest of Pakistan, a hotbed for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists fighting Western forces in Afghanistan and bent on overthrowing its government.
Joe Grieboski of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy said the peace deal makes Talibanization guaranteed by law, rendering it impossible to return to a liberal democracy or any guarantee of fundamental rights.
“The government in essence ceded the region to the Taliban,” said Grieboski. “Clerical rule over the region will fulfill the desires of the extremists, and we’ll see the region become a copy of what Afghanistan looked like under Taliban rule.”
This can only mean, he added, that the Taliban will have more power to promulgate their ideology and power even as the Pakistani administration continues to weaken.
“Unfortunately, this also creates a safe launching off point for Taliban forces to advance politically, militarily and ideologically into other areas of the country,” said Grieboski. “The peace deal further demonstrates the impotence of [Asif Ali] Zardari as president.”
Grieboski said the peace deal further demonstrates that Pakistani elites – and President Zardari in particular – are less concerned about fundamental rights, freedom and democracy than about establishing a false sense of security in the country.
“This peace deal will not last, as the extremists will demand more and more, and Zardari and the government have placed themselves in a weakened position and will once again have to give in,” said Grieboski.
Sohail Johnson, chief coordinator of advocacy group Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said he fears that militants in Swat will now be able to freely create training centers and continue to attack the rest of Pakistan.
“They will become stronger, and this will be the greatest threat for Christians living in Pakistan,” said Johnson.
Thus far the government has not completely bowed to Taliban demands for establishment of full sharia courts, and it is feared that the insurgents may re-launch violent attacks on civilians until they have full judicial control.
“The question of the mode of implementation has not yet been decided, because the Taliban want their own qazis [sharia judges] and that the government appointed ones should quit,” said lawyer Khalid Mahmood, who practices in the NWFP.
Mahmood called the judiciary system in Swat “collapsed” and echoed the fear that violence would spread in the rest of the country.
“They will certainly attack on the neighboring districts,” he said.
Earlier today, close to the Swat Valley in Khyber, a suicide bomber demolished a mosque in Jamrud, killing at least 48 people and injuring more than 150 others during Friday prayers. Pakistani security officials reportedly said they suspected the attack was retaliation for attempts to get NATO supplies into Afghanistan to use against Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants.
Report from Compass Direct News
10-year-old says Muslim captors abused her and sister, forced them to convert to Islam.
ISTANBUL, Turkey, October 24 (Compass Direct News) – Lawyers for two underage Christian sisters who were kidnapped plan to renew a custody fight for the older girl, a 13-year-old allegedly coerced into marrying her captor, based on new statements from her 10-year-old sister that they were raped and forced to convert to Islam.
The plans come after the court last month allowed 13-year-old Saba Masih to decide whether to return to her parents or remain with her husband; apparently still terrified from death threats, she chose to remain with her captor. Amjad Ali married Saba Masih shortly after the girls were kidnapped on June 26.
In the Sept. 9 ruling the court ordered the return of her 10-year-old sister, Aneela Masih, to her parents, a move lawyers hail as a rare and significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
Since her release Aneela Masih has told her uncle, Khalid Raheel, previously unknown details of the sisters’ capture, including rape and forced conversion to Islam, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Aneela Masih told Raheel that she and her sister were kidnapped when they stopped to buy fruit en route to their uncle’s home. The sisters were taken away by taxi and then raped, she said. After being tied up and locked in a room, she told him, the two were forced to make professions of Islamic faith.
She described how the pistol-toting captors threatened the girls with death. The kidnappers told the girls that their parents would also be killed, she said, if the sisters did not do everything asked of them.
“These poor little kids, they threatened them,” said Akbar Durrani, a lawyer from CLAAS who fought in court on the sisters’ behalf. “They were terrified. She said they were terrified.”
In light of these revelations, Durrani said he plans to file a new custody case for Saba Masih based on their abduction. This move, however, could jeopardize progress gained in the legal quest to free the sisters from their captors.
“The court statement never mentioned kidnapping,” Durrani said. “We are still working on it, because the Supreme Court may say to us, ‘We will reverse the position, get both the girls back and hear the case afresh.’”
Avoiding this scenario while convincing the court to allow further proceedings is the challenge Durrani now faces.
Saba Masih’s insistence that her age is 17 and that her conversion to Islam was real will also make regaining custody of her extremely difficult, according to lawyer Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Rehman also represented the girls’ family in the case.
Saba Masih’s husband, Ali, had obtained the backing of a medical committee possibly under pressure from Islamic groups in his claim that she was 17 and thus of legal age. He also claimed that her conversion removed her from the jurisdiction of her father.
It was a branch of the Lahore High Court in Multan that ruled on Sept. 9 that Aneela Masih should be handed back to her parents. When Saba Masih, whose birth certificate indicates that she is 13 but who testified that she was 17, said she did not want to return to her parents, she also tried to keep her younger sister from returning to them. Attorneys said the Muslim kidnappers had repeatedly threatened the girls that their parents would harm them if they returned.
Throughout the case the girls’ uncle, Raheel, who has spearheaded the campaign to free the girls, has received death threats from supporters of Ali, he told Compass by telephone this week. With a tired voice, he said that he remains determined to explore every avenue to return Saba Masih to her parents.
“They are threatening me also, because I was proving the case,” he said. “They tell me also that if I keep on doing like this one day they will shoot me. I said, ‘Okay, no problem, you shoot me, but up to now I am alive. I will look after Saba. I will find her someday.’”
Various options remain open to CLAAS. The group’s lawyers are seeking advice from three local deputy inspector generals about how they should proceed.
“[We] can file a private complaint in the court of magistrate if a FIR [First Information Report] about kidnapping is not registered,” Durrani said. “If we are not getting any relief from this side, we will go to the Supreme Court.”
Lawyers told Compass that the court ruling for the return of the younger sister to her Christian parents, despite questions over her conversion to Islam, was an unusual decision and a significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
“We have two or three cases in Islamabad [where] the judges did not allow minor girls to be given back to their parents,” Durrani said. “So in this context it was very important to at least get Aneela back.”
Report from Compass Direct News