Saint Catherine’s Monastery is located at the foot of Mt. Sinai and is the world’s oldest monastery. It possesses a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican, and is a world heritage site. It also boasts the oldest collection of Christian icons. It is a treasure house of Christian history that has remained safe for 1400 years under Muslim protection. In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and requested his protection. The response to the request was a letter referred to as the “Charter of Privileges to Christians and reads as follows:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nations (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
These are the foundations on which an inclusive society must be based. Minorities in general and Christians in particular struggle at every level in our society to get their due rights.
In Pakistan, more than 90 percent of people identify as practicing Muslims. The country’s 2017 census estimated there to be 2.6 million Christians, about 1.27 percent of the total population, making them Pakistan’s second-largest religious minority after Hindus.
Although Pakistan was founded in 1947 with the intention of creating a tolerant and egalitarian country, Pakistani Christians have continued to endure substandard living conditions, and in recent years, the community has been the target of escalating attacks due to growing intolerance. Christians have faced persecution, targeted killings, forced conversions, mob violence, and destruction of their places of worship and graves by perpetrators emboldened by the absence of meaningful action from the authorities and widespread impunity.
The severe discrimination and attacks against religious minorities have led the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate Pakistan as a country of “particular concern”.
The Christian minority has also been heavily persecuted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which carry a possible death sentence for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam. The threat of being accused of blasphemy has also been used to intimidate the community.
Pakistani Christians have been forced into sanitation work–a hasardous occupation–because of centuries-old discriminatory practices that limit their prospects. This “cycle of abuse” has its roots in the caste system of the Indian subcontinent.
It is time we start owning our minorities and giving them their due share of rights–something inevitable for a tolerant and progressive society. Remember the white in our flag represents them.