Home Features Pakistani Muslim single-handedly stops mob, defends Hindu family

Pakistani Muslim single-handedly stops mob, defends Hindu family

Pakistan is diverse in its faith, but in many respects, Christians in the country – which is 95 percent Muslim – are second-class citizens.

They face discrimination, kidnappings, and forced conversions, and anyone who “defiles” the Quran or insults Mohammed can face life in prison or the death penalty. Yet the country also advocates for religious freedom.

Gazi Salahuddin John is a Pakistani Shia Muslim who regularly attends interfaith dialogue meetings in Hyderabad, organized by Father Shahzad Khokhar, a Franciscan friar and project partner of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Gazi is deeply committed to promoting interreligious harmony, and the struggle of that work became very real in March 2023, when he singlehandedly stopped a mob targeting a Hindu family accused of blasphemy in his neighborhood. He has since received several awards for his noble act.

During a meeting of the interfaith dialogue group on March 16, 2023, Gazi recounted the incident in detail, in a conversation with ACN. “A Hindu had been unjustly accused of burning the Quran. More and more men gathered in front of the building where the family lived, but they could not enter because the door was closed. They then tried to place a ladder against the building. There was also someone with a gun, but I was able to take that out of his hands.”

When asked about his courage, Gazi said he felt the strength within himself to stand up to them, citing a few verses that he learned during interfaith dialogue meetings. “I once thought religion is something I do, but it is what I am. I once thought interfaith dialogue was something we do, but it is what we are. I once thought diversity was something we were, but it is what we do. We are all one, and [we are all] brothers.”

Bishop Samson Shukardin, OFM, of Hyderabad, who began the interfaith dialogue meetings, confirmed that the situation in the Sindh part of eastern Pakistan is better than in other areas or countries where there is tension between religious groups. The presence of faith leaders – Sikh, Shia, Sunni, Hindu, and Christian – in the meetings organized by Father Khokhar is significant, he says.

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The bishop, who is a Franciscan friar, remembered how cakes and gifts were distributed during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, and there were many meetings to get to know each other better. “When we visited the Hindu temple, we were given explanations of the various gods. We gave a speech to the traders’ union about how they can contribute to respect, peace, and dialogue. And we planted trees, along with students and teachers of various religions, because of climate and water issues in the country.”

Sikh leader Prakash Singh agrees on the importance of dialogue. “Behind the leaders here are local people. They see them as examples and models for working toward unity. That is the real gift of this group. According to my religion, this goodness is for all, not for one person or group. God has planted light in us —in some more, others less, but in all.”

Although there are problems with religious freedom in Pakistan, Bishop Samson is grateful for the advocates, both within the dialogue group and among the police and armed forces in Sindh, who often play a positive role in the region. “Jesus said, ‘Love others as yourself.’ We respect each other. We have shown that we do that not only with words but also with deeds. I am sure this good work will not be limited, but will lay the foundation for helping each other,” he told ACN.

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