To the surprise of neighbouring residents an uncommon sight is emerging above the skyline of central Karachi, western Pakistan, namely a 140 foot high cross standing at the entrance of a Christian cemetery founded in the 19th century. The cross is the brainchild of a local businessman inspired by a dream two years ago.
Associated Press reports that businessman Parvez Henry Gill believes God used the dream to tell him to do something for his community, he said:
“I want to show the world the Christian community in Pakistan has religious freedom.”
Pakistan, formally known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Of the near 200 million population only about 1.6 per cent is estimated to be Christian, split roughly 50:50 between Catholics and Protestants. Many face discrimination and are limited to menial jobs such as refuse collection.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting aspects of Islam, have been used to inspire mob violence against Christians. In one shocking example a Christian couple in Punjab province were beaten and pushed into a burning brick kiln after being accused of desecrating the Quran. Often these cases turn out to be based on false allegations used to promote personal disputes. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) investigated the case and announced that it “did not come across any evidence of desecration of the Holy Quran.”
Christians have also face terrrorist attacks. CNN reported that in March suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taliban attacked a Christian community in Lahore, eastern Pakistan, killing 15 people and wounding at least 78 more. Claiming responsibility for the attacks their spokesman said they would continue until Sharia law is implemented in Pakistan. In 2013, another Taliban suicide attack killed over 80 people at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, northern Pakistan.
Rabia Mehmood, a researcher at the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think tank, told CNN:
“The Christian community is a soft target for militant outfits in Pakistan…generally Christians and other religious minorities are under a constant threat by the extremist elements in the society and rampant religious intolerance.”
Bishop Sadiq Danial of Church of Pakistan, an Episcopal church, has offered to demolish the Karachi cross if it proves to be too divisive saying: “We spread peace.”
Parvez Henry Gill concedes that some have criticised the cross, but says “I leave that to God.”