In a horrible spree of violence, 16 Pakistani Christians were gunned down as they worshipped at St. Dominic's church in Bhawalpur, Pakistan on Sunday, October 28, 2007.
One police officer was among those killed trying to defend the Christians, who make up less than three percent of the population in Pakistan. In recent years, the city has been the scene of violence between Sunnis and Shias. Now this violence has spread to other communities.
This horrific attack did not come in a vacuum though. Christian groups in Pakistan had been warning authorities that they were facing various kinds of harassment since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent American bombing of Afghanistan, which began at the beginning of October.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, tribal unrest has left hundreds dead in a spate of violence that follows Muslim-Christian riots in the area.
Such harassment and violence do not behoove the followers of the Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him), who emphasized the importance of protecting and respecting minorities in the Muslim state. The constitution he drafted in Madinah, following his Hijrah there, was unique in that it clearly established the rights and obligations of all parties living in the city, in particular, Jews and Christians.
Under this Madinan constitution, Christians, like other religious groups, had the right to not only protection from the Muslim government, but also freely practice their religion without harassment or violence of any kind.
This example of tolerance, respect and openness did not end with the Prophet's death though. When Umar ibn al-Khattab was Khalifah, he returned tax money collected from Christians in a town in modern day Iraq after he and the Muslims had to leave it. The taxes had been collected to ensure Muslim protection of the Christians living there. Since the Muslims could no longer do that, they returned the money.
Given these and many other examples from Islamic history, it must be emphasized that there is no place in any Muslim state for the kind of violence and bloodshed represented by the killing spree of October 28. The Muslim government as well as the Muslims of a given Islamic state are obliged to protect and respect Christians and their institutions as a protected minority.
Now is the time for not just condemnation, but also comfort and reassurance in the face of this tragedy. We must not forget the tremendous support American Christians expressed for Muslims in the wake of September 11 and the subsequent harassment of Muslims. It is now our turn to reach out.
What you can do about this if you live in Pakistan
- Visit a church in your city and offer your condolences and sympathy for the attack in Pakistan. If it is closed, leave a note or a card expressing your regret for the incident and a way church officials can contact you.
- If you know an Imam, tell him to give his next Friday Khutbah about the first Hijra of Muslims to a Christian land, Habasha or modern-day Ethiopia, where Muslims, who were a persecuted minority, found refuge and the freedom to practice their faith. The Muslim community survived and its faith was intact with the generosity, kindness and fairness of the Christian king, the Negus. The Prophet described him and his land in this way: "a king rules without injustice, a land of truthfulness." The Negus refused to hand the Muslims over to the Makkans, who wanted them returned to the city, and tried to bribe the Negus with gifts and deception about Muslim beliefs. He refused and the Muslims remained protected in his land.
- If you are an active citizen, make sure your city, state/province and country provide Christians and other non-Muslims their due rights of freedom of religion and nondiscrimination.
- If your mosque has a fund for Afghan refugees, establish one for the victims of this crime and their families in Pakistan.
- If you are living in the US, encourage your local Imam to discuss this tragedy in his next Khutbah by clearly condemning the murders. It is important to remember that while Muslims in predominantly Christian countries like the US struggle for their rights, they must also be concerned about the rights of non-Muslims in Muslim lands, which are enshrined in Islamic law, but sadly, not always respected by those who are ignorant of Islam's stance on non-Muslim minorities.
- If you have have relatives in Pakistan and Nigeria, e-mail them these and other suggestions on how to build bridges between Muslims and Christians at this critical time in both countries.
- Have your mosque or Islamic organization issue a statement of condemnation of this terrorist act against fellow Pakistani citizens.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melkite_Greek_Catholic_Church,_Damascus,_Syria.jpg