By Talal Almas
It is that time of the year again. Houses are replete with fuzzy trees that are adorned in a myriad forms, indicating the significance of Christmas. For some, the 25th of December marks a continuum of their personally spiritual journey; yet, for others, Christmas is merely an acme of social gathering, congregation, oh, and, an indispensable time to devour all the turkey possible. Interestingly, however, if one observes with keener scrutiny, it becomes exceedingly clear that the emphasis on Christmas as a religious and social event has, over time, been etched onto the minds of people in every age range: while adults perceive Christmas as an opportunity to brood, reflect, learn and grow, adolescents and teenagers await anxiously to open the presents that remain shrouded in mystery until their opening.
Christmas is arguably the most widely celebrated religious event in the world. As a religious event of utmost importance to Christians, it is a highly venerated occasion that commemorates the birth of Jesus. Jesus, who is acclaimed by Christians as a sacred messiah, acts as a locus of truth against the evil and nefarious impingements that plague various parts of the world. However, while Christmas is celebrated in most of the world -- especially the western end of our globe -- it is shocking to learn that Christmas, and intuitively Christians, are still demeaned in other provincial parts of the world such as Pakistan.
During the winter break, I got the opportunity to visit my hometown of Pakistan. Having lived in a tolerant community for most of my life, I had never been exposed to the notion of religious intolerance, so it was vastly befuddling for me to see the rage with which religious minorities are denied their religious rights here. Pakistan, which came into being on Islamic grounds, represents a varied concoction of religious identities, but the enigmatically unjust treatment of some religious minorities raises many questions. For instance, not long ago, a sectarian attack against the Christians rendered many dead and a lot more injured. The twin suicide bomb attack that took place at the 'All Saints' church in Peshawar thus symbolises the peak of insularity with which Christianity and, consequently, Christians are often dealt. This provinciality of thought, a negation of other beliefs and ideologies, means that many religious minorities live their lives alienated in a country that is nothing but their motherland and home -- a place that ought to allow them a vantage to practice their beliefs.
What some of the extremists vying for the effacement of religious minorities do not acknowledge is that Pakistan, which they take so sternly as a land for Islamic beliefs -- and only those -- was originally built upon a central dogma of unequivocal tolerance. The flag of Pakistan, which has a pronounced white strip bejewelled in it, symbolizes the notion of religious tolerance that Jinnah aimed to foment. Pakistan was, therefore, originally built as a land in which every man, every woman, irrespective of status, would be granted freedom to practice his or her religion. However, the deep-rooted disdain with which minorities in Pakistan are treated raises an imperative but often ignored question: does this intolerance mean that we are treading astray -- against the path that Jinnah intended for us -- by displaying such indifference? And if so, are we taking the right steps to make the amends required to hinder the proliferation of bloodshed and to construct a more amiable and accepting environment?
As a nation, Pakistan needs to reflect on the original aim that the country was built upon: religious tolerance and freedom. Through years of ostensible mistrust and distaste with the western world, although a lot of extremists have become skeptical of minorities, it is essential to note that fostering such an attitude will, in the longer run, engender unfathomable suffering for Pakistan as a whole nation. Blood does indeed speak, now or later, grave narratives of injustice--narratives that can potentially doom our forthcoming generations. The lives of children and women belonging to minorities that are so frequently and casually lost parallel an indubitable defeat. Unarguably, though, every religion, be it Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, is subject to question. Every religion, like any piece of evidence, is subject to the test of scrutiny by others. Thus, if one wants his belief to be respected by others, he should be prepared to reciprocate the desired acceptance.
To all my persecuted and marginalized Christian friends in Pakistan -- and in other insular and provincial parts of the world -- please know that you grace us with your resilience despite the immense potential to succumb. One day, not far from now, your numerous sacrifices will spur to fruition; one day, your blood will make the oppressors' knees go perpetually weak; one day, our Pakistan will be a Christian Pakistan, a Jewish Pakistan, a Hindu Pakistan, and, most importantly, Jinnah's Pakistan.
Merry Christmas to all of you on this wonderful and serene winter day in Pakistan!