It’s Easter Sunday and we celebrate this religious holiday in Pakistan in many of the traditional ways it is celebrated in other countries with Christian populations. Even though Christians are in the minority here, there are masses and church services held to commemorate the holy day, hot cross buns sold in the Portuguese bakeries in downtown Karachi, and Easter egg hunts held for children, much the same across most of South Asia and the world.
The women are dressed in their brightest shalwar kameezes with dupattas on their heads in church, the services are said in Urdu, and there are guards and metal detectors set up outside most churches because of the volatile situation in Pakistan vis-a-vis religious minorities and violent attacks on Christian communities.
The most recent was the terrible attack on Joseph Colony in Lahore, where a hundred shops were looted and vandalized last month on the pretext of blasphemy. We now know after some investigation that the issue was actually one of land-grabbing; the land mafia encouraged several days of protests against the people of the colony that culminated in the violence and destruction of private property.
So in Pakistan, Easter is not just a day of joyous celebration, but a day of reflection for us all. We as Muslims are bound to honor Jesus, who we call Hazrat Isa, “hazrat” a word of deep respect for the Prophets of God and Isa being the Arabic name of Jesus. We aren’t allowed to think of him as the son of God, because that goes against the tenets of our religion, but the Quran specifically instructs us not to harass or harangue our Christian brothers and sisters for their beliefs, because Christianity is considered to be the closest to Islam of the three Abrahamic religions. Instead, we are reminded to revere Jesus’s holiness, his absolute devotion to bringing the message of God to the people of the world. We may not hold the same belief as Christians do that in dying, Jesus saved all of us from damnation, but we are bound to pray and send our respects to both him and his mother Mary, who has a whole chapter of the Quran named after her that is devoted to the events surrounding Jesus’s conception, birth, and early life.
And we as Muslims must also think carefully about how we are treating the Christian members of our community. Have we given them the respect and rights that they deserve, as fellow human beings? Have we treated them with kindness and compassion, as we ourselves would wish to be treated? Aasia Bibi still suffers in jail, Christian sweepers feel as hopeless as if they were still untouchables in the Hindu caste system, Christians live on a knife edge knowing that at any moment their neighbors can turn against them and tear down their homes and lynch them.
Just as we Muslims have the example of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, Christians have the example of Jesus’s crucifixion to show that faith is not just about triumph, but about suffering and grief. Because Jesus suffered an infinite amount of pain and despair when he was crucified. Muslims believe that God took Jesus’s soul up to heaven before his death, in order to spare him that suffering (where he will wait until the end of times to be restored back to earth to join hands with the Mahdi and defeat Dajjal, or the anti-Christ).
Christians don’t give themselves this comfort. They believe that Jesus suffered at the hands of the Romans and died in the most bloody way possible, only to be resurrected three days later as proof of God’s magnificence and glory. They embrace the pain and suffering, knowing what it feels like to suffer, as they do at the hands of those of us Pakistanis who treat them in ways they do not deserve to be treated. The story of Jesus on the Cross gives them the inspiration and endurance to bear with patience and humility what we Muslims mete out to them on a daily basis — a drip-drip-drip of injustice and intolerance that hurts their hearts and souls but which they try to withstand while maintaining their dignity and faith.
I wonder which of us God will favour more on the Day of Judgment?