Home Commentary Interview: Catholic nurses come under fire from Muslim colleagues in Pakistan

Interview: Catholic nurses come under fire from Muslim colleagues in Pakistan

In Pakistan, Christian nurses have suffered discrimination and even threats of physical violence from Muslim colleagues

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of nurses in Pakistan are Christians. The country has more than 160 registered nursing training institutions where the student body is mostly Christian.

Recently, Christian nurses have suffered discrimination and even threats of physical violence from Muslim colleagues, who have accused them of blasphemy. Three blasphemy allegations against Christian nurses have been reported so far this year.

In January, Christian nurse Tabitha Nazir Gill was ambushed for urging patients to pray to Jesus and insulting the Prophet Muhammad at a hospital in Karachi.

On April 9, two Christian nurses of Civil Hospital, Faisalabad, were detained by police after a doctor accused them of scratching an Islamic sticker off a cupboard.

On April 27, nurses at a Lahore mental hospital occupied a chapel at the facility after they accused a Christian nurse of sharing an “objectionable” video on an unofficial WhatsApp group for nurses. Angry Muslim nurses briefly occupied the hospital’s Christian chapel, demanding it be turned into a mosque.

Senior nurse Fazilat Lal has been facing opposition from Muslim nurses since her promotion as the nursing superintendent at Services Hospital in Lahore in 2019.

The 52-year-old Catholic has been barred from taking charge of her office and was transferred to another hospital. She recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need.

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“During my professional career, I never covered my face like the rest of the female nurses; some staff members started lobbying against me and accused me of inspiring Naqab utaro muham (removal of face covering). Almost half of the nurses at the Services Hospital are Christians but they remained silent to avoid the controversy. However, a group of Muslim nurses supported me.

“On July 2, 2020, both groups—the Muslim nurses supporting me and those opposing me–fought in the cafeteria. A few were injured when they hurled kitchen utensils at each other. I informed the Lahore Medical Superintendent and police was called to handle the situation. However, I was blamed for calling in the police and raiding the nursing hostel at night.

“On July 4, I was locked in a room by enraged staff members who threatened to kill me. Hospital guards escorted me outside. I was afraid the mob was going to raid my house as well. My only son, who is 14, was alone in the house which is located on hospital premises.

“On July 7, my office was locked, and the nurses went on strike which would last two months. ‘Go Fazilat Lal go,’ read the banners as they demanded my immediate transfer. They called me a churi (low caste), an abusive term reserved for sanitation workers, and said they refused to work under a Christian. Media favored the Muslim nurses and reported their version of the story based on lies.

“I worked at home while authorities held an inquiry. We continued family prayers. I also shared my plight with the vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese, Christian lawmakers, and Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid. Ongoing stress led to diabetes and hypertension. Several Christian TV channels and groups reached out to me to organize parallel protests and condemn the injustice, but I didn’t want to make it a religious issue.

“Finally, in September, the six Muslim nurses who spearheaded the protests were transferred. Three of them have refused to leave the hospital and are still occupying hostel rooms almost a year later.

“In 2003, I helped Lahore Archdiocese establish a Christian nurses’ fellowship with the support of Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore. The informal fellowship ended in 2011 with the retirement of Archbishop Saldanha. Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore is now trying to reorganize Christian nurses and doctors.

“God helped me through my ordeal. I now want to spread awareness and prepare our nurses for these challenges before my death. They should stop marrying Muslims. A Christian who converts to Islam is not equally respected by the majority community. The discrimination never ends.

“Blasphemy charges brought against Christian nurses have been on the rise because of the trend of Christian women joining the nursing profession. Many Muslim nurses want them fired. As a result, fewer Christian women now want to become nurses. Those who go into training face discrimination in the form of lesser grades, and fewer opportunities to attend workshops or be promoted. Some are even forcefully converted. Many nurses are facing similar problems. Fortunately, social media and Christian NGOs are putting the spotlight on these problems which remained buried in the past.”

This interview is reprinted with permission from the Aid to the Church in Need in the United States

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