Today the Reverend Rana Khan gave a very informative talk at St Paul’s Cathedral about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, drawing on his own experience of unwelcome changes in his country.
As a child Rana Khan had been sent to stay with distant relatives so that he could attend a Christian school, but returned to his own village after he became homesick. The local Imam expressed concern at his situation and suggested to his father that he study at the local Madrassa. Rev. Khan spoke very warmly of his years at the Madrassa, and also reminisced about a time when Christians and Muslims could discuss and debate freely, reaching greater understanding of each other’s faiths if not always, of course, complete agreement.
But now, ‘the naked sword of religious intolerance is there’ and Christians, as well as Muslims from minority communities such as Shia and Ahmadis, are suffering as a result of extremism, intolerance and terrorism. Rev. Khan described the chilling effects of blasphemy laws, explaining how they not only silenced and censored what people might say or write, but even stifled their thoughts. However Rev. Khan warmly acknowledged the support offered to Christians by Muslims such as Salman Taseer, and drew a parallel with his own willingness to stand up for Muslims in any countries where they face discrimination or hardship. He maintained that the present climate does not represent the real character of Pakistan, but a blight imported from outside the country, and affirmed his belief that the situation will improve. A woman in the audience offered a different perspective; she felt that the roots of the problem stretched back further, and that intolerance is now mainstream in Pakistan.
All could agree that more needs to be done for members of religious minorities suffering as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and other discriminatory measures. Rev. Khan warned that ‘it is not bullets that will kill us but the silence of our friends’, and he emphasized how important it is for those with any influence, such as members of the Pakistani diaspora, to speak out against repression. Rev. Khan is a patron of Faith Matters which works to counter extremism and reduce intra- and interfaith tensions.