Christian parents in Muslim-majority Pakistan are giving their children Islamic names to protect them from religious abuse at school, according to a local bishop.
Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad has told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that families belonging to minority faiths feared their children would be targeted for discrimination.
“Many minorities give their children Islamic names, so they will not be singled out as Christians and become potential targets for discrimination in primary or secondary schools or at the college level,” the bishop said in an article on the charity’s website.
“In many cases, minority students do suffer abuse in public schools.”
Textbooks in schools negatively depicted minorities who were considered infidels, which promoted prejudice in the classroom against fellow students, he said.
Bishop Shukardin spoke of a climate of fear among Christians, saying Islamic extremists wrongly associated them with the West.
Other minorities as well as moderate Muslims were also at risk of attack, he said, while raising concerns of kidnappings of Christians, forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages, echoing fears made by other clergy in the country.
Treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan grabbed the international spotlight in May when Catholic woman Asia Bibi fled the country after spending eight years on death row for speaking against the Prophet Muhammad.
Bibi’s conviction on blasphemy charges was earlier overturned on appeal and she released from prison, sparking violent protests from hardline Islamists.
The contentious blasphemy law is aimed at promoting Islam and uniting the country, but rights groups say it has been misused by hardliners to persecute religious minorities.
Religious leaders from the different faiths earlier this year called on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to safeguard the rights of minorities and women.