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Pakistan

“I came [to church] in the morning with my whole family for prayers and worship but returned home with no-one. My mum took her last breath in my arms; my dad and sister died.”

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Shaloom Naeem lost his parents and sister in the bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar

Teenager Shaloom Naeem’s family were among more than 100 Christians who died in the deadliest-ever attack on Pakistan’s Christian minority. All Saints Church in Peshawar was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban in a double suicide bombing on 22 September 2013. Many of those killed and injured were children.

Despite his loss, Shaloom, like many of the victims of the attack, gave a courageous testimony:

Though my entire family is dead I am not afraid to go to the church. We should thank God for His great love.

Outbreaks of violence against entire Christian communities in response to international events or personal disputes are becoming disturbingly frequent. On 9 March 2013, 178 homes and 75 shops belonging to Christians were destroyed in an attack on Joseph Colony, Lahore, by a 3,000-strong Muslim mob over a false blasphemy allegation against a local Christian. 

 The pernicious “blasphemy laws”, which prescribe the death penalty for “defiling the name of Muhammad”, are often used to settle personal scores. Christians are particularly susceptible to malicious, false accusation by Muslims and can spend years languishing in prison waiting for their cases to be heard.

Christian women and girls in Pakistan are especially vulnerable. Every year, hundreds are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry their Muslim abductors, who subject them to physical and sexual abuse. The authorities do little to prevent this outrage, which is used by some Muslims as a means of spreading Islam.

The prospects for the Christian community are poor, as discrimination keeps them trapped in poverty and illiteracy. Many are “bonded labourers”, akin to slaves; they cannot afford to send their children to school, and thus the next generation cannot break free from the cycle. 

Tradition traces the beginnings of Christianity in Pakistan to the mission work of the apostle Thomas, and some churches in Ancient India have a long history. The subsequent Islamic conquest eliminated Christianity in the region for several hundred years. A significant Christian population has grown, however, over the last couple of centuries and is now 5 million strong. In 1956, Pakistan, which is 95% Muslim, became an Islamic Republic, and since 1991, policy has increasingly been influenced by an Islamist minority. Sharia law has a significant place in public life.

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