Islamabad ( AsiaNews) – ” When I got married , the relatives [ of my husband ] have begun to exert pressure so that I convert [to Islam]. But my husband stood up for me , saying that ‘ my wife and my children should feel free to profess their faith ‘ . However, after his death his brothers have begun to terrorize us. They have sworn to kill us if we do not convert to Islam. ” This is the dramatic and desperate appeal of a Christian woman and widow. Her husband was a forward-looking man, a Muslim but convinced defender of the right to religious freedom. She however is now in danger of being killed by his family members.
The marriage between Muhammad Sadiq Masih and Martha Bibi withstood years of pressure and threats from the man’s relatives, contrary to a bond with an ” unbeliever”. The pair remained united and over time became parents to three girls and one boy. The daughters were married to men from Christian families – a fragile and often persecuted minority in Pakistan – and decided to keep the faith of their mother.
However, after the father’s death, the girls began to receive threats and pressures from his brothers [ Islamists ] to convert. The eldest daughter Nosheen Afzal , who is married with Kamran Afzal , has suffered direct and personal threats from family members. An uncle branded them as “infidels,” because they live as Christians even though (the girl ) is the daughter of a Muslim . To escape the retaliation they had to leave their home the next night – in haste and in secret.
In recent days, her sisters were also targeted by relatives , with threats and pressures. For this reason the mother Martha Bibi turned to a pro human rights organization , including the Masihi Foundation, asking for protection and help. Denouncing the growing “climate of intolerance,” the foundation ‘s legal team immediately took steps lodging a complaint with the competent authorities, even asking protection for the family. Fr. Robin John , a priest of the Archdiocese of Lahore and activist demands their right to religious freedom and recalls the example provided by the family’s father who, though Muslim , he never wanted to impose his faith on his children . “This also allowed them to live happily .”
With a population of over 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and the second Muslim nation after Indonesia. Just under 80 per cent are Sunni Muslim, and 20 per cent are Shia. Hindus are around 1.85 per cent; Christians are 1.6 per cent and Sikhs 0.04 per cent. Violence against ethnic or religious minorities is commonplace across the country, from the province of Punjab in the north to Karachi in the southern province of Sindh, where more than 2,200 people were killed in the first eight months of 2012.