Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas in Pakistan: Urdu Newspapers Demonstrate Different Approaches to Christmas

 New Age Islam Special Correspondent

26 December 2020


A member of church holds a cross as he walks past people pray during a ceremony on Christmas eve at Central Brooks Memorial Church in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS


Christians in Pakistan have always been at the receiving end of the extremist Muslim organisations and clerics of the country. They form 1.6% of the population of Pakistan. They live mainly in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Quetta and Gojra Town.

They have been subjected to violence at the pretext of blasphemy. Asia Bibi and Rimsha Masih are glaring examples of the persecution of Christians by the extremist groups. Apart from that, bomb explosions and suicide attacks have been carried out at their churches and schools a number of times.

To name a few attacks, a church in Quetta was attacked in 2017. A suicide attack was carried out at an Easter celebration in Lahore in 2016. Two bomb explosions were carried out in a church in Lahore in 2015. In 2013, two suicide attacks were carried out at a Peshawar Church in 2013. In 2009, a mob set on fire 40 houses and a church in Gojra Town and in 2005, churches and Christian schools were burnt on alleged burning of Quran.

Most of the attacks have been carried out on the pretext of blasphemy. Salman Taseer, the Punjab Governor was killed by an extremist youth Mumtaz Qadri because Me Taseer demanded scrapping of Blasphemy Laws as they had become a tool of persecution of Christians.


A man decorates a Christmas tree at the St. John Cathedral Church ahead of Christmas celebrations in Peshawar. PHOTO: REUTERS


Amidst such a hostile atmosphere the Christian community of Pakistan celebrated the Christmas across the country and prayed for the prosperity of the country which has not assured of security, safety and employment opportunity. Still some leaders boasted on the occasion of Christmas that Pakistan was safe for minorities.

The Urdu newspapers of Pakistan by and large remained indifferent to the festival and did not give much space to the reports of celebrations. The widely circulated Urdu daily Jang devoted one page to Christmas in which a formal article on the Rights of minorities in an Islamic country was published ironically by a Jamat Islami naib Amir. The article was published on the life and teachings of Hadhrat Isa a.s. not from the point of a Chrisyian but from the Islamic point of view. In that article, the writer Maulana Md Ilyas Ghumman writes:

The Christians of the world attribute the day of 25th December to the birth of Jesus the Messiah and celebrate the day as Merry Christmas ( Muslims should not congratulate them on the occasion nor should they receive greeting from them).

Maulana was probably influenced by the statement of Hamas leader Ahmad Kulab who had said a few days ago that Muslims should neither congratulate the Christians on Christmas nor should they reciprocate their greetings. He may also have followed the diktat or fatwa of Taliban against wishing Christians Merry Christmas.

However, the daily Nawa-e-Waqt, the newspaper close to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban, surprisingly provided the silver lining. It published a colourful supplement on Christmas in which it published articles on the life and message of Lord Jesus written by Christian religious heads and writers and provided them an opportunity to present their views on Jesus Christ and his teachings. For example, Reverend Shahid Meraj writes:

"The word "Son" for Lord Jesus creates confusion in many minds but when we try to understand it as a metaphor, the confusion may be cleared to a great extent. For example, when we appreciate someone's bravery by calling him "Sher Ka Bachcha" we dont mean that he was born of a tiger. Similarly when we call someone Ibn-ul- Waqt (an opportunist) we do not mean that Time is his father. Holy Yohanna describes Lord Jesus as the 'Word of God' and argues that 'Word' was with God 'Word' itself was God."


People walk past an artificial decoration wreath hanging outside a shop selling various items for Christmas celebrations in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS


The newspaper also gives a detailed account of Christmas celebrations and special prayers held in various churches, specially in the Lahore Cathedral. It has also published a photo of Muslim clerics along with Sikh religious leaders joining Christmas celebrations in Lahore Cathedral.

Therefore, The Christians in Pakistan celebrated Christmas amidst lockdown restrictions and indifference from media and the majority community and in a hostile atmosphere.


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