International Christian Concern (ICC) interviewed one of their staff members based in Pakistan to get her personal experience dealing with the dynamics of her faith and gender in the fundamentalist Islamic country.
This is our conversation:
People in the west often have a view that Pakistan and other Islamic countries create suffocating cultures for women, especially Christian women. What has your experience been as a Christian woman living in an Islamic country?
As a Christian woman living in Pakistan, I feel that there is a certain judgment criterion that precedes my reputation. A general label regarding the clothing choices of Christian females and how they are an easy target to be persuaded and invaded for various reasons and purposes. There is always a false perception in the eyes of others in society that Christian females are liable to be explored in relationships as Christian females have several liberties to exist within the environment more than Muslim women.
The Christian community faces discrimination in all aspects of life based on their religion, and the discrimination is supported by the constitution, law, and policies designed by the state. Women are the marginalized segment of society and being a minority woman is being double jeopardized.
I faced discrimination at my university while studying at a private university in Lahore. Being the only Christian student in the electrical engineering department, I faced a lot of discrimination. A teacher deliberately used to give me an “F” grade because of my faith, and I repeated that course three times during the tenure of that teacher, failing to secure a grade other than “F.” However, I managed to get an “A” as soon as the teacher was replaced.
Have there been situations you’ve found yourself in that have caused you to fear for your safety because of your faith? If so, could you describe one of those events?
The moment I learned the gravity of my faith being a danger to my safety was when Salman Taseer was murdered due to taking a stance for Asia Bibi. A nationwide holiday was announced 12 years ago on the 5th of January for national mourning for him.
In this nationwide holiday, we learned to mask our true feelings for the case of Asia Bibi and to behave ourselves in college by not taking part in any discussions. Salman Taseer was a hero in our home, yet when I came to the horizons of my college, I learned to comprehend the fact that Salman Taseer was a sinner who never deserved a funeral just for the reason he spoke up for the rights of minorities in Pakistan. I was brought up in a Christian institution, yet I felt scared in between the walls of that college, for in every corner, I could just listen to the whispers of how my faith is condemnable theology.
There are so many events that I’ve experienced throughout my life where I’ve felt that my safety would be jeopardized by my religious identity. On the day Asia Bibi got released, it was nationwide chaos for Christians. Many of us couldn’t drive with the symbol of a crucifix in our cars; university students, even my sister, were exposed to this incident of brutal torture.
What would you like people in the West, specifically other sisters in Christ, to know about Christian women in Pakistan?
In most cases, Christian women in Pakistan are the breadwinners in their households. They are the ones facilitating and providing for their families, and most of these Christian women are nurses. Christian women in Pakistan are brave and bold enough to be the witness and source of the true gospel in their workplace and their groups through their living example. They are sharing Christianity rather boldly through their conduct and demeanor. They are ambassadors of Christ in the Muslim community of Pakistan.
Has working for ICC changed the way you view Christians in your own country? If so, in what ways?
Working with ICC has become my passion. Reaching out to the vulnerable and weak groups of society makes me feel good and at least useful and productive. ICC is contributing to the empowerment of the Christian community of Pakistan. Strengthening them to have education is the most needed and productive way to strengthen the community.
ICC has provided me an opportunity to interact with the youth that I have found to have the potential to thrive through the odds. They, despite discrimination, are inching toward their goals. And I think ICC has increased their pace.
If you could change anything about Pakistan, what would you hope would change?
I wish my country should be a secular state as declared by the father of the nation Jinha in 1947. It would pave the way to building a tolerant and pluralistic society.
I hope to change the biased laws in the legislation of Pakistan.
I would turn the law to eliminate the rule of blasphemy that has been a torturous way to punish Christians in our community. This law has been used to falsely accuse victims just for executing judgment for personal grudges.