In February this year three Christian villages in Pakistan were attacked and thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed by Muslims from neighbouring villages. The riots had been incited by broadcasts from local mosques and an estimated 20,000 Muslims went on the rampage. Twelve churches and 4,000 homes were completely destroyed in the villages of Khanewal, Shanti Nagar and Tobba. The attacks alarmed Christians throughout the country. The Prime Minister of Pakistan deplored the violence against the Christian community and said that his government would ensure the full protection and equal rights of minorities in Pakistan. The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd David Smith, with other Christian and Muslim leaders in Bradford, condemned the violence at the time and wrote jointly to the Acting High Commission for Pakistan. Last month, the Bishop joined with a Muslim community leader in visiting Shanti Nagar to see for themselves the rebuilding work that had been promised to the Christians there. The visit sprang from the excellent recent history of cooperation between Christian and Muslims leaders in Bradford. This report has been written for ACNS by the Bishop.
Three Anglicans and a Muslim accompanied by a Hindu journalist from BBC Radio Leeds made up a somewhat unusual party from Bradford on a visit to Pakistan. A Muslim and a Christian leader in partnership accompanied by two women was in itself a message in terms of trust and cooperation.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is Director of the Racial Equality Council in Bradford and also General Secretary and Information Officer for the Council of Mosques. Mary, my wife, has built up a number of contacts with Muslim women over the past few years and Elaine Appelbee, BishopOs Officer for Church in Society is constantly entering the world of inter-faith cooperation.
For my own part, I see an important role for the Bishop in a city like Bradford with more than 50,000 Muslims as well as Hindus, Sikhs and a small Jewish community. In one sense he is called to give a lead in developing trust and understanding between members of the various religious communities.
On our visit to Pakistan we wanted to show that years of building up trust between Christian and Muslim leaders in Bradford had given us the confidence to co-operate with each other.
We also wished to learn as much as possible about the current state of Christian/Muslim relations in Pakistan.
A visit to St Thomas'Church, Islamabad gave us a first opportunity to listen to local Christians. We were impressed with their faith and commitment in very difficult circumstances.
Meeting with Bishops, clergy and lay members of the Church of Pakistan helped to build up a fairly detailed picture of the life of a religious minority.
We were warmly received at the International Islamic University in Islamabad and had discussions with senior academics there and at other such institutions. These talks were followed by many more in Mirpur, Lahore, Multan, Khanewal, Shanti Nagar and, briefly, in Peshawar.
Two issues predominated
Police corruption and the dreadful violence in the country is the context in which inter-faith understanding and trust leading to cooperation must be built up.
Contacts are beginning to develop and for this we thank God. Christian and Muslim leaders alike need courage and a strong faith of their own to come together in the midst of suspicion and conflict and they need and deserve our support.
The prayers and constant concern of the Anglican Communion for all Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan will be important. Very difficult times lie ahead but signs of hope are there.