By Lubna Thomas Benjamin
September 24, 2013
It was just like any other Sunday in the lives of all my Christian brothers and sisters, in Peshawar, who went to church to offer prayer and worship the Lord, and were unaware of what would happen to them afterwards. For so many practicing Christians everywhere in the world, Sunday holds a peculiar significance as this is the day on which it is ordained for them to go to church and participate in the service for spiritual comfort and happiness. It is also the day when families and friends meet with one another to express concerns and joys.
The people who came to attend the church service in Peshawar had probably never even thought for a moment that this would be their last time to worship, hear the sermon, to read the Holy Bible and say the congregational and personal prayer. The contentment and peace they had attained during the service would leave their families in a state of never-ending despair as these people did not know of the brutal events that would follow.
I remember that when I went to the US for the first time, the first thing I observed about the church was how it was different from my church in Pakistan. My friend from the Fiji Islands had accompanied me and she asked, “Why is that you look so confused?” I told her that I was not confused but thinking about what it would feel like to go inside the church and perform the full service without security guards. “You have guards outside your church in Pakistan”, she asked me. “Yes, I replied, the guards are outside almost every church in Pakistan.”
I remember when I went back to Pakistan after spending a year on the fellowship, almost everyone with the exception of two or three friends asked me, “Lubna, why have you come back to Pakistan? You have a bright future there, since you are a Christian”. I told them that during my year in the US my American friends knew me first as a Pakistani and then as a Christian, as this is what my identity reveals.
Throughout my whole life, I have struggled with it, and I am sure many other Christians also do, when our neighbours and sometimes friends say that we, being minorities, can easily go to Western countries as they share the similar faith. That’s the first signal of segregation and after my one-year in the US, I now tell people that there you couldn’t win hearts on the basis of religion, as the people there respect all religions. It’s only in Pakistan that I have seen religion being used as a main identity.
Last August, when a minor Christian girl was charged with blasphemy and I was working on the story, there were many stages during the coverage when I started asking myself what was my identity in this country? One day someone could charge me with blasphemy just because they don’t like me.
The Christians living in Pakistan have been paying a heavy price to live here. We have always served with the same enthusiasm and urge as others in every field of life. Our men have sacrificed their lives serving in the army; women serve the sick and teach the best values to children. Then how can someone take our lives, in our places of worship? Are we less than anyone else in the country we were born in and call our motherland?
The Christians who died in Peshawar are martyrs of the nation and their blood will always be a sign of sacrifices the Christians have given for this land.
It’s so easy to say a few words of condemnation but can anyone from the government understand the pain and suffering of the families of all those innocents whose death has left so many questions unanswered? Mere words cannot sustain the families, as the wound is too deep to cure. A strong action and strategy needs to be initiated to stop the recurrence of such inhuman incidents in future, as we are all Pakistani, not foreigners. Let Pakistan be clean and be the land the founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisaged, where everyone is free to practice his/her faith.
Lubna Thomas Benjamin is a journalist and was a Hubert H Humphrey Fellow for 2011-12