By UCA News
Muslim-Christian relations are slowly improving after tensions spiked in recent years, said a group of Christian interfaith experts over the weekend.
Sparked by the September 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, anti-Christian sentiment in Pakistan has risen over the past decade. Many churches have been attacked, especially in the last five years, said participants at a Faith in Context seminar jointly organized by the Theological Institute for the Laity and the Presbyterian Church.
“Many Church leaders agree that Pakistani society identifies Christians with America and Hindus with India,” said Javed William, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishop’s Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism.
The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May further fueled anti-US sentiments, which found an outlet against local Christians, who prefer western culture and clothing.
“We had to speed up a sincere dialogue, especially with Muslims, after 9/11. It is crucial for our survival,” said William. “Minority Christians cannot afford any confrontation with the majority.”
Christian leaders have developed a new, two-pronged approach to interfaith dialogue: reaching out directly to hardliner clerics and approaching Muslims at the grassroots level.
Community-based, peace-building programs have become more important, said Romana Bashir, head of programs at the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi, near Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was found.
“We have bracketed areas, especially in Punjab province, where anti-Christian violence has surfaced in recent years,” she said.
But, she says, better Muslim-Christian relations in the area are developing.
“A few madrasas [Islamic schools] are now admitting Christians to their computer courses,” Bashir said. “Several hardliner clerics are friendlier; one even offered to register Christian girls for their ongoing collective matrimony services for poor couples. Hope is alive.”