Generations of Blasphemers: A Christian Family's Struggle to Endure Persecution in Pakistan
William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia
International Christian Concern
Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws continue to be at the root of many incidents of Christian persecution in the South Asian country. The simple accusation of a Christian blaspheming against Islam is enough to incite mob violence, extrajudicial killings and the destruction of entire Christian communities.
Unfortunately, these extreme reactions have led to Pakistan's blasphemy laws being among the most abused laws in the land. Sometimes used to settle personal scores, other times used to pressure Christians into renouncing their faith, Pakistan's blasphemy laws are routinely used as the weapon of choice for extremists looking to persecute Christians. For one Christian family in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws have been used against them in this way for generations.
Family Forced to Flee Blasphemy and Forced Conversion
Zafar* Masih (name changed for security reasons), now age 65, used to live in a small settlement in Pakistan's Punjab province with his wife and children. In that small settlement, he taught at a small government school. Because he was a religious minority working at the school, several of his Muslim colleagues tried to get him to convert from Christianity to Islam.
After Zafar refused several times, his fellow Muslim teachers became upset. They didn't understand why Zafar didn't want to convert to Islam. Unfortunately, some of these teachers felt so insulted that they generated a plan to teach Zafar a "lesson."
On October 2, 2000, while Zafar was teaching his students, one of his Muslim colleagues burst into his classroom and accused Zafar of desecrating the name of the Prophet Muhammad by writing it on the ground. The colleague was then joined by several others in Zafar's classroom. The group began to shout that Zafar had blasphemed against Islam.
Using the blasphemy accusation as leverage, Zafar's Muslim colleagues gave Zafar 20 days to convert to Islam or else they would officially file the blasphemy accusation against him at the local police station. They also threatened that "something" bad would happen to his family. Although Zafar's colleagues never officially registered the blasphemy accusation against Zafar, his colleagues did follow through on their other threats.
On October 23, Zafar and his entire family were abducted by Islamic extremists and were forced to sign documents stating they had converted to Islam. Zafar and his family were also forced into reciting the Shahada (the Muslim profession of faith). After this attack, the family fled to one of Pakistan's larger cities and went into hiding, leaving behind their home and all of their belongings.
Sons Inherited the Persecution of their Father
Unfortunately, that is not where the suffering of this Christian family ended. After being forced to flee due to the threat of a blasphemy accusation and the attempted forced conversions, Zafar and his family believed they had found safety hiding in one of Pakistan's major cities. Unfortunately, the persecution that happened in their hometown followed them to their hiding place in the city.
In June 2010, Zafar's oldest son, Awais* (name changed for security reasons), was attacked and kidnapped by three masked men. While in captivity, the kidnappers tortured Awais and told him they knew his father had been accused of blasphemy and that his entire family had converted to Islam. Again under torture and the threat of a new blasphemy accusation, Awais was forced to convert to Islam. After about a week, Awais was released and he fled to a new hiding place.
Then, in October 2013, the family was struck another blow when Zafar's youngest son, Younis* (name changed for security reasons), was accused of circulating text messages profaning the Prophet Muhammad. "My son had been forced to leave a job at a factory after Muslim colleagues attempted to persuade him to convert to Islam," Zafar told ICC in an interview.
When their attempts to convert Younis became aggressive, Younis left the factory and established a successful garment shop. In late September or early October, Younis lost his mobile phone along with the SIM card registered to his name. "Unfortunately, he did not deactivate his SIM," Zafar told ICC.
Then, on October 2, a former colleague from the factory who had participated in the attempts to convert Younis to Islam filed a statement with the police claiming Younis had circulated blasphemous text messages. Upon hearing a blasphemy accusation was filed against him, Younis immediately went into hiding; however, he was discovered on October 10 by police and severely beaten before being locked up where he has remained awaiting trial.
One Christian Family's Bleak Future
For Zafar and his family, blasphemy accusations, forced conversion and other forms of persecution have forced them into living a life dominated by fear and pain. With one son facing a blasphemy accusation that could earn a death sentence and other children who will likely be forced to face more persecution due to the stigma of being related to an accused blasphemer, the future of this Christian family does not look bright.
This story, unfortunately, is not as exceptional as one would think or hope. Thousands of Christian families across Pakistan daily live with the threat of a false blasphemy accusation overshadowing their ability to exercise their Christian faith freely. Without change, persecution and false blasphemy accusations will continue to torment and destroy the lives of countless Christians who are forced to call Pakistan home.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for Africa: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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