Pakistan (MNN) — Religious freedom watchdogs are keeping the spotlight on Pakistan as blasphemy accusations rise.
Leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom are calling on the government to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern.” This would allow the U.S. to put sanctions on Pakistan for its multiple religious freedom violations, like the infamous blasphemy law.
As the start of Ramadan approaches in 10 days, Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI) says pressure on Christians is escalating.
“The whole tenor of society changes during this month,” Allen notes.
Pressure in Pakistan
Being a Christ-follower in Pakistan is tough.
Sectarian violence has been on the uptick during 2014/2015 as religious tolerance diminishes, and the blasphemy law gives legal support to persecution. According to the USCIRF, Pakistan’s use of the blasphemy law surpassed that of any other country.
Accusations of blasphemy–whether legitimate or not–often stir up mob violence against religious minorities like Christians. There have been two blasphemy accusations and subsequent violence against Christians in the past two weeks alone.
At the end of May, a Christian drug addict in Lahore was accused of burning a newspaper carrying Quranic verses, International Christian Concern reports. On Thursday, a Muslim cleric claimed a mentally-disabled believer intentionally burned a booklet carrying Islamic teachings.
“He did not burn the pages of the Islamic literature intentionally,” the man’s mother rebutted. “It was just an accident due to the ash from his cigarette. He is mentally unstable and therefore should be forgiven.”
“There are increased hostilities during this time,” Allen admits. “However, there are [also] increased opportunities.”
Ramadan opens doors
Ramadan is considered to be the “holy month” of Islam. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and according to WhatIsRamadan.com, “Ramadan is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God and to put forward more prayer than is customary.”
“Muslims are trying to say, ‘I want to develop my spiritual life,'” explains Allen.
“There’s an increased sensitivity to spiritual matters, and we want to pray for the courage of Christians, the tactfulness of Christians, as they would share the Gospel.”
Not only do Pakistani Christians need prayer, tangible help is also vital. Christian businesses suffer during Ramadan because Muslims–the majority of Pakistani society–often “reverse” their normal patterns.
For example, most Muslims will sleep during daytime hours so they can eat after sunset. When observing Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to fast (abstain from eating or drinking) from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
As a result, Pakistani Christians lose income during Ramadan because most of their customers are sleeping during “regular” business hours.