Community’s Compassionate Response to Violence against Pakistani Christians
By C. Naseer Ahmad


Delegate Tom Rust addresses the gathering

Washington, DC: The Washington-DC Pakistani-American Community held a magnificent fundraising event on January 21, 2006 at the ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center in Northern Virginia. The event was organized in response to the destruction of Christian churches, schools and other buildings in Sangla Hill, Punjab, Pakistan on November 12, 2006 by a violent mob.
"The beautiful crystal, oh, what painstaking process creates it? Alas that reckless rock, which destroys it,” wrote the Punjabi mystic Mian Muhammad Bakhsh in the epic "Saif-ul-Muluk" - The Sword of the Angels.
Just as Mian Muhammad Bakhsh would have condemned such hideous act of destroying schools, where 90 percent of the students were Muslims, the Washington-DC Pakistani-American community felt outraged. But rather than wallow in self-pity, three women (Mmes Nasim M. Khan, Rubian M. Bari and Shabana Z. Syed) galvanized the community with remarkable effectiveness. “We cannot remain silent about the desecration of places of worship, no matter their creed; nor can we remain silent over the complete failure of local Pakistani authorities to protect religious minorities against senseless persecution,” they wrote in a letter asking for the support in rebuilding the Catholic Church that was destroyed in this act of sectarian violence.
Washington Post as well as other media outlets published the announcement of this fundraiser and Pakistani Americans as well as many people from different faiths and ethnicity participated in the event. Retired World Bank Executives and a professor from Washington’s National Defense University were among the audience. Some traveled long distances, putting aside their social calendars for the Saturday event to demonstrate their solidarity with the organizers.
Among the dignitaries were three delegates from the Virginia Assembly (Tom Rust, Kenneth Plum and David Poisson). Each delegate expressed support for the cause. “You not only preach but also practice tolerance,” said Delegate Tom Rust. The most memorable remark, however, was by Delegate David Poisson: “My office in Richmond (Virginia’s capital) is your home.” These words were not of a politician seeking office but of a State Representative after winning the seat in the district where ADAMS Center is located.
“Work on a dialogue of civilizations and building bridges,” said Professor Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studied, American University, Washington, DC. He told the audience that Pakistan’s Founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had a “vision of a just society,” where the rights of the minorities would be protected. “Help people understand your culture,” urged Dr. Akbar Ahmed.
“You can’t ask for respect, if you don’t give respect”, said Reverend Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director, Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington DC. Confidently, he added, “ We are going to make a difference.”


A view of the audience

“Assalamo Alaikum,” said Reverend Comfort Jacob – a Pakistani American Christian – Pastor, Presbyterian Church Herndon, Virginia. Reverend Jacob spoke about the traditions of Prophet Muhammad and said that “ignorant people who do not even understand Islam” committed the violence. “The (Pakistani) flag is only complete when minorities are there,” he said while speaking about the fabric of Pakistan.
Pakistani columnist Manzur Ejaz urged the community members to practice tolerance. Imam Mohammed Magid, Executive Director and Imam ADAMS, said that the event sent a “strong message not just to Pakistan but also people in Egypt and Sudan” about practicing tolerance.
The evening’s compassionate message was apparently well taken by the audience. “The banquet, organized by ADAMS to raise funds for reconstruction of churches in Sangla Hill, Pakistan, was not only a supportive and united effort to reach out to the hearts of Christians to redress the vicious attacks on Christian establishments in Sangla Hill but it was a message of love and deep reverence for other faiths; it was a call to unite against sectarian terrorism and prosecution of religious minorities and to uphold freedom of religion worldwide,” said Eleonora L. Karamyants, Institute on Religion and Public Policy Washington, DC.
The event also demonstrated the vibrancy of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society as a welcoming and an engaging group of Muslim Americans. This was evident from the beautiful design of the multi-purpose room, which could be used for prayers; dinners and sports making people of different persuasions feel at home.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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