Religious tolerance in Pakistan grows ever smaller
Nation ranked as the most repressive against religions
The targeting of religious minorities in Pakistan remains a sore spot in this South Asian nation. A Pew Research Center report named Pakistan, which is 96 percent Muslim, as one of the most hostile nations for religious minorities. Pakistan was among the top five overall for restrictions on religion, singling out its anti-blasphemy laws as a prime example.
Members of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Karachi attend a Christmas service shortly after the nation's largest church opened in 2011.
A study on Pakistan from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom counted more than 200 attacks among religious groups and 1,800 casualties resulting from religion-related violence between 2012 and mid-2013, which is one of the highest rates in the world.
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All religious minorities in Pakistan - and not just Christians, face discriminatory laws, forced conversions, and bombs and shootings aimed at minority-sect Muslims, such as Shiites and Ahmadis.
Hindus, of which there are at least 2 million in Pakistan, celebrate Diwali with fireworks in Karachi on Nov. 3.
Public school textbooks in Pakistan regularly demonize minorities and emphasize the nation's Islamic roots over contributions from people of other faiths. Religious minorities are often stuck on the lower rung of the economy, often working as servants, sweepers and day laborers.
"Things have gone from bad to worse to very much worse," Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says.
In spit of this bleak outlook, there are stories of minority empowerment. A host of interfaith activist movements is blossoming, pushing for multi-faith education and less violence, while gaining support from pastors and universities.
Minority leaders are now speaking internationally in the media and through religious and human rights organizations. A more tolerant Pakistan, they argue, would translate into another goal for many: less tolerance for terrorists.
Muhammad Munawar prays at the grave of his slain son, 17-year-old Waleed, in Chenab Nagar, Pakistan. Waleed, a medical student, was murdered in May 2010 during attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore that killed 93 people and injured more than 100.
"The same people who have declared the West to be their enemy are the ones who have declared non-Muslims and even Shiite Muslims here to be the same," Michelle Chaudhry, the founder of the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation says. "As terrorism has gotten worse since Sept. 11, so has the situation among minorities."
In 1978, Pakistan began a 10-year process of "Islamization" under military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. He pushed to convert secular laws into religious ones, installing Sharia courts and enacting anti-blasphemy statutes.
Demonstrators formed a wall around Karachi's Catholic Cathedral last fall during national protests calling for the freedom of minorities to worship in safety.
Religious minorities total just nine million among 183 million Pakistanis. The biggest groups are Christians and Hindus, each of which accounts for less than two percent of the population. Other groups include Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Baha'is, Jews and Ahmadi Muslims. Shiite Muslims make up about a quarter of Pakistanis, but they, too, find themselves increasingly persecuted by dominating Sunni factions.
Though Pakistan's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, reports of forced conversions to Islam, kidnappings of non-Muslims, job discrimination, blasphemy arrests and razing of minority houses of worship remain commonplace.
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