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Christianity in Pakistan

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Title: Christianity in Pakistan  
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Subject: Religion in Pakistan, Peshawar church attack, Christianity in Asia, 2009 Gojra riots, 2009 in Pakistan
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Christianity in Pakistan

Pakistani Christians
Total population
2.5 million (2005)
1.6% of the Pakistani Population[1]
Urdu · Punjabi · English

Christianity is the second largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hinduism. The total number of Christians in Pakistan was estimated at 2.5 million in 2005, or 1.6% of the population.[1] Of these, approximately half are Roman Catholic and half Protestant.[2] Many Christians in Pakistan are descended from converts during British rule.[3]


According to tradition, the Parthian king Gondophares was proselytized by St. Thomas, the Apostle, who originally arrived in South India (Kerala).

In 1877, on St. Thomas' Day at Westminster Abbey, London, Rev Thomas Valpy French was appointed the first Anglican Bishop of Lahore, a large diocese which included all of the Punjab, then under British colonial rule, and remained so until 1887; during this period he also opened the Divinity College, Lahore in 1870.[4][5][6] Rev Thomas Patrick Hughes served as a Church Missionary Society missionary at Peshawar (1864–84), and became an oriental scholar, and compiled a 'Dictionary of Islam' (1885).[7]

Missionaries accompanied colonizing forces from Portugal, France, and Great Britain. Jesuit missionaries sent from their Portuguese-held Goa built a Catholic church in Lahore, the first in Punjab, around 1597, two years after being granted permission by emperor Akbar, who had called them to his court in Fatehpur Sikri for religious discussions. This church was later demolished, perhaps during Aurangzeb times. Later on, Christianity was mainly brought by the British rulers of India in the later 18th and 19th century. This is evidenced in cities established by the British, such as the port city of Karachi, where the majestic St. Patrick's Cathedral, Pakistan's largest church, stands, and the churches in the city of Rawalpindi, where the British established a major military cantonment. All of the modern Christians in Pakistan are descended from converts from during British rule.

The Europeans won small numbers of converts to Anglicanism, Methodism, the Lutheran Church and Catholicism from the native populations. Islam was very strong in the provinces of Punjab, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province, but small native communities of converts to Christianity were formed. The largest numbers came from resident officers of the British Army and the government. European and wealthy native Christians established colleges, churches, hospitals and schools in cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. There is a large Catholic Goan community in Karachi which was established when Karachi's infrastructure was developed by the British before World War II, and the Irish (who were subjects of the British Empire and formed a large part of the British Army) were an important factor in the establishment of Pakistan's Catholic community.

When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, the organization and activities of the Christian community changed drastically. Christians in Punjab and Sindh had been quite active after 1945 in their support for Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League. Even before the final phase of the movement, leading Indian Christians like Pothan Joseph had rendered valuable services as journalists and propagandists of the Muslim League. Jinnah had repeatedly promised all citizens of Pakistan complete equality of citizenship, but this promise was not kept by his successors. Pakistan became an Islamic Republic in 1956, making Islam the source of legislation and cornerstone of the national identity, while guaranteeing freedom of religion and equal citizenship to all citizens. In the mass population exchanges that occurred between Pakistan and India upon independence due to conflict between Muslims and followers of Indian religions, most Hindus and nearly all Sikhs were fled the country. Pakistani Punjab is now over 2% Christian, with very few Hindus left. Christians have made some contributions to the Pakistani national life. Pakistan's first non-Muslim Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court was Justice A. R. Cornelius. Pakistani Christians also distinguished themselves as great fighter pilots in the Pakistan Air Force. Notable amongst them are Cecil Chaudhry, Peter O'Reilly and Mervyn L Middlecoat. Christians have also contributed as educationists, doctors, lawyers and businessmen. One of Pakistan's cricketers, Yousuf Youhana, was born Christian, but later on converted to Islam, taking the Islamic name Mohammad Yousuf. In Britain, the bishop emeritus of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali is a Pakistani Christian.

Apart from the Catholics, Christians of other denominations re-organized themselves, in India, into the Churches of North and South India respectively, and as the Church of Pakistan in 1948. Politically, groups like the Pakistan Christian Congress have arisen. The New Apostolic Church also has followers in Pakistan.

Statistics by Province

Province Christians (in 1998)[8]
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 0.21% 36,668
Federally Administered Tribal Areas 0.07% 2,306
Punjab 2.31% 1,699,843
Sindh 0.97% 294,885
Balochistan 0.4% 312,000
Islamabad Capital Territory 4.07% 32,738

Community issues

Church in Islamabad

From 1947 to the mid-1970s, the governments of Pakistan were largely secular in policy and judgment. In 1971, East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh, and a large chunk of Pakistan's Hindus and Christians were severed from Pakistan. Pakistan became a culturally monolithic, increasingly Islamic state, with smaller religious minorities than ever.

With the governments of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul-Haq, more stringently Islamic laws transformed Pakistan. While conversion to other faiths than Islam is not prohibited by law, culture and social pressures prohibit such conversions (see Apostasy in Islam). Extremely controversial were the blasphemy laws, which made it treacherous for non-Muslims to express themselves without coming off as un-Islamic. Zia also introduced the Sharia as a basis for lawmaking, reinforced by Nawaz Sharif in 1991. Coerced conversions to Islam from Christianity are a major source of concern for Pakistani Christians, and the minority faces threats, harassment and intimidation tactics from extremists.[9]

The 1990s

In the 1990s, some Christians were arrested on charges of blasphemy, and for protesting that appeared to insult Islam. John Joseph, a bishop in Faisalabad committed suicide to protest the execution of a Christian man on blasphemy charges.[10][11]

Discrimination in the Constitution

Christians, along with other non-Muslim minorities, are discriminated against in the Constitution of Pakistan. Non-Muslims are barred from becoming the President[12] or Prime Minister. [13] Furthermore, they are barred from being judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.[14]

Faisalabad Riots

The English Daily Telegraph published reports on November 14, 2005 claiming that Christian churches and schools in the city of Faisalabad had been destroyed "when Muslim preachers urged people to 'take revenge' after a Christian allegedly burnt pages of the Qur'an."

The newspaper went on to say: "Hundreds of Christians fled the town as a crowd thousands strong, wielding axes and sticks, set fire to five churches, a dozen houses, three schools, a dispensary, a convent and two parsonages."[15]

The incidents and the reports were published just as the English cricket team was touring Pakistan and preparing to play a test match in Faisalabad.

Christians in Pakistan Armed Forces

Many Christians have served in the Pakistan Armed Forces. Some have received high civilian and military awards.

Pakistan Air Force

Pakistan Army

Pakistan Navy


Blasphemy Laws

Several hundred Christians, along with Muslims themselves, have been persecuted under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and death sentences have been handed out to at least a dozen.[17]

Pakistani law mandates that any "blasphemies" of the Quran are to be met with punishment. On July 28, 1994, Amnesty International urged Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto to change the law because it was being used to terrorize religious minorities. She tried but was unsuccessful. However, she modified the laws to make them more moderate. Her changes were reversed by the Nawaz Sharif administration. Some people accused of blasphemy have been killed in prison or shot dead in court, and even if pardoned, may remain in danger from imams in their local village.[18]

Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of stating that he supported British writer, Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih's family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih has been released.[19]

On September 22, 2006, a Pakistani Christian named Shahid Masih was arrested and jailed for allegedly violating Islamic "blasphemy laws" in the country of Pakistan. He is presently held in confinement and has expressed fear of reprisals by Islamic fundamentalists.[20] (Note that the name "Masih", which comes from Arabic المسيحيين Al-Masihiyyin, "Christians", is a common surname in Pakistan and India among Christians.)

In November 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging for "blasphemy"; the sentence has to be upheld in higher court before it can be executed.

In August 2012, Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl, reportedly 11 or 14 years old, and an illiterate with mental disabilities was accused of blasphemy for burning pages from a book containing Quranic verses. The allegation came from a Muslim cleric who himself has subsequently been accused by the police of framing the girl. The girl, and later the cleric, were both arrested and released on bail.[21][22]

Islamist violence against Christians

See also List of terrorist incidents in Pakistan since 2001.

Christians in Pakistan are reportedly being subjected to a genocide by Pakistani Taliban.[23][24][25]

On August 9, 2002 gunmen threw grenades into a chapel on the grounds of the Taxila Christian Hospital in northern Punjab 15 miles west of Islamabad, killing four, including two nurses and a paramedic, and wounding 25 men and women.[26] On September 25, 2002, unidentified Muslim gunmen shot dead six people at a Christian charity in Karachi's central business district. They entered the third-floor offices of the Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) and shot their victims in the head. All of the victims were Pakistani Christians. Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.[27] On December 25, 2002 a few days after an Islamic cleric called for Muslims to kill Christians, two burqa-clad Muslim gunmen tossed a grenade into a Presbyterian church during a Christian sermon in Chianwala in east Pakistan, killing three girls.[28]

The All Pakistan Minority Alliance said "We have become increasingly victimised since the launch of the US-led international War on Terror. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the international community to ensure that the government protects us."[29]

In November 2005, 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians in Sangla Hill in Pakistan and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a Pakistani Christian named Yousaf Masih. The attacks were widely condemned by some political parties in Pakistan.[30] However, Pakistani Christians have expressed disappointment that they have not received justice. Samson Dilawar, a parish priest in Sangla Hill, has said that the police have not committed to trial any of the people who were arrested for committing the assaults, and that the Pakistani government did not inform the Christian community that a judicial inquiry was underway by a local judge. He continued to say that Muslim clerics "make hateful speeches about Christians" and "continue insulting Christians and our faith".[31]

In February 2006, churches and Christian schools were targeted in protests over the publications of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Denmark, leaving two elderly women injured and many homes and properties destroyed. Some of the mobs were stopped by police.[32] On June 5, 2006, a Pakistani Christian stonemason named Nasir Ashraf was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility using a glass chained to the facility. He was assaulted by Muslims for "Polluting the glass". A mob developed, who beat Ashraf, calling him a "Christian dog". Bystanders encouraged the beating, because it would be a "good" deed that would help them get into heaven. Ashraf was eventually hospitalized.[33][34] On August 2006, a church and Christian homes were attacked in a village outside of Lahore, Pakistan in a land dispute. Three Christians were seriously injured and one missing after some 35 Muslims burned buildings, desecrated Bibles and attacked Christians.[35] Based, in part, on such incidents, Pakistan was recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in May 2006 to be designated as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) by the Department of State.[35]

In July 2008, a Muslim mob stormed a Protestant church during a prayer service on the outskirts of Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, denouncing the Christians as "infidels" and injuring several, including a pastor.[36]

The 2009 Gojra riots was a series of violent pogroms against Christian minorities by Muslims.[37] In June 2009, International Christian Concern reported the rape and killing of a Christian man in Pakistan, for refusing to convert to Islam.[38]

Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, who was killed in March 2011 by Islamist gunmen.

In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by gunmen after he spoke out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws. The U.K. increased financial aid to the country, sparking criticism of British foreign secretary William Hague. Cardinal Keith O’Brien stated, "To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy."[39] The Catholic Church in Pakistan requested that Pope Benedict declare martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti.[40]

At least 20 people, including police officials, were wounded as 500 Muslim demonstrators attacked the Christian community in Gujranwala city on April 29, 2011, Minorities Concern of Pakistan has learnt.[41] During a press conference in Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, on May 30, 2011, Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi and other clerics of Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam quoted “immoral Biblical stories” and demanded to ban the Bible. Maulana Farooqi said, “Our lawyers are preparing to ask the court to ban the book.”[42]

On September 23, 2012, a mob of protesters in Mardan, angry at the anti Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, reportedly "set on fire the church, St Paul's high school, a library, a computer laboratory and houses of four clergymen, including Bishop Peter Majeed." and went on to rough up Zeeshan Chand, the pastor's son.[43][44] On October 12, 2012, Ryan Stanton, a Christian boy of 16 went into hiding after being accused of blasphemy and after his home was ransacked by a crowd. Stanton stated that he had been framed because he had rebuffed pressures to convert to Islam.[22][45]

In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made blasphemous remarks.[46] On September 22, 2013, 75 Christians were killed in a suicide attack at the historic All Saints Church in the old quarter of the regional capital, Peshawar.[47]


There is scant literature available on issues related to Pakistani Christians. This is partly blamed on the security concerns and dangers which the authors face for discussing such issues. Currently Adeerus Ghayan is the only English language author, dealing with these and other taboo issues in Pakistan. One of his novels, Fire of Love, specifically deals with Muslim-Christian tensions.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Country Profile: Pakistan".  
  2. ^ "By Location". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  3. ^ "Pakistan Christian Post". Pakistan Christian Post. 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  4. ^ Churches and Ministers: Home and Foreign EventsNew York Times, January 13, 1878.
  5. ^ An Heroic Bishop Chapter VI. His Fourth Pioneer Work: The Lahore Bishopric.
  6. ^ Beginnings in India By Eugene Stock, D.C.L., London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.
  7. ^ "British Library". 2002-07-18. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  8. ^ "Population distribution by religion, 1998-Census". Pakistan Statistical Year Book 2011.  
  9. ^ The Daily Telegraph (London) . 
  10. ^ "Blasphemy Law in Pakistan". 
  11. ^ Jones, Owen Bennett (2003). Pakistan: Eye of the Storm. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-300-10147-3.
  12. ^ "The Constitution of Pakistan, Part III: Chapter 1: The President". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  13. ^ "The Constitution of Pakistan, Notes for Part III, Chapter 3". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  14. ^ "The Constitution of Pakistan, Part VII: Chapter 3A: Federal Shariat Court". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  15. ^ "England 'happy' to play in riot torn area". Daily Mail (London). 2005-11-14. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "Gallant Christians at PAF". PAF. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  17. ^ "Q&A: Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws". BBC News. 2 Sep 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012. Hundreds of Christians are among the accused - at least 12 of them were given the death sentence for blaspheming against the Prophet. 
  18. ^ Guerin, Orla (6 December 2010). "'"Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi 'has price on her head.  
  19. ^ "Religious Intolerance In Pakistan". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  20. ^ Gheddo, Piero (2013-02-14). "PAKISTAN Young Christian arrested for blasphemy - Asia News". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  21. ^ "Girl held in Pakistan, accused of burning Quran pages". 2012-08-20. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  22. ^ a b Teenager in Hiding After Blasphemy Accusation, Pakistani Police Say
  23. ^ "After the Malala Yousafzai shooting, can shock therapy free Pakistan?". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  24. ^ 5:00. "The Problem Of Pakistan". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  25. ^ "Pakistan should be on the genocide watch list: US think tank". 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  26. ^ "Orders fresh probe into church attack SC rues poor investigation in sensitive cases | Newspaper". Dawn.Com. 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  27. ^ "Six Killed in Anti-Christian Attack in Karachi". 2002-09-25. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  28. ^ "# girls died in attack on Chrsitian church in Pakistan". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  29. ^ "Gunmen 'execute' Pakistan Christians". 2002-09-25. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  30. ^ Asien, Pakistan: Sangla Hill attack continues to draw condemnation - missio
  31. ^ Gheddo, Piero (2013-02-14). "PAKISTAN Islamic extremists still unpunishedied 40 days after the Sangla Hill attack - Asia News". Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  32. ^ "International Christian Response: Cartoon Protesters in Pakistan Target Christians". 
  33. ^ "'"Christian beaten for drinking water. Worldnetdaily. com. 
  34. ^ "Christian attacked for polluting". 
  35. ^ a b "N.J. Civil Unions Hung Up on Marriage". 
  36. ^ Mazhar, Jawad (July 15, 2008). "Muslim Mob Attack Protestant Church In Pakistan". BosNewsLife. Retrieved March 16, 2011. 
  37. ^ Waraich, Omar (August 5, 2009). "Pakistan: Who's Attacking the Christians?".  
  38. ^ Nora Zimmett (June 13, 2009). "Christian Man Raped, Murdered for Refusing to Convert to Islam, Family Says". FOX News. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  39. ^ Johnson, Simon (March 15, 2011). "William Hague accused of 'anti-Christian' foreign policy". (London). Retrieved March 16, 2011. 
  40. ^ Mughal, Aftab Alexander (17 April 2011). "Pope Benedict is urged to declare martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti". Spero News. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  41. ^ Mughal, Aftab Alexander (2 May 2011). = 2 May 2011 "Pakistan: Christians left their homes after Muslim mob attacked them". Continental News. 
  42. ^ Mughal, Aftab Alexander (5 June 2011). = 5 June 2011 "Christian leaders condemn the demand of Islamic party to ban the Bible in Pakistan". Continental News. 
  43. ^ "Fallout of film, Pak mob sets church ablaze, pastor’s son injured in attack". 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  44. ^ "Anti-Islam film protests: Mob sets church on fire in Pakistan". 2012-09-23. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  45. ^ "Pakistan 'Blasphemy Boy' Ryan In Hiding". 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  46. ^ "Protesters burn Christian homes in Pakistan".  
  47. ^ New York Times: "Suicide Attack at Christian Church in Pakistan Kills Dozens" by ISMAIL KHAN and SALMAN MASOOD September 22, 2013

Pakistan Christian News - Christians in Pakistan

Further reading

  • Church of England (1908). Urdu version of the Book of Common Prayer, and administration of the sacraments and other rites and ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Church of England: together with the Psalter or Psalms of David ... and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops .... Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 274. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 

External links

  • Pakistan Christians demand help
  • Open Doors USA's information about Pakistan
  • World Watch List - Pakistan
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