Christmas Day and Rights of Minorities


By Sajjad Shaukat

Besides Quaid-e-Azam Day, every year, December 25 is also celebrated as the Charismas Day across Pakistan.

On this very Day, members of the Christian community attend special services at illuminated churches where prayers are offered for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. Residential colonies and churches are decorated with twinkling lights and stars. On the occasion, Pakistanis also say, “Happy Christmas” to the Christians and also participate in their celebrations.

In December 2016, ahead of Christmas Day, former Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique had inaugurated a special Christmas Train which travelled across the country spreading Christmas cheer.

In December 2017, the then Punjab Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu had stated: “Minorities in Pakistan have complete equality and liberty to enjoy basic rights at par with other citizens and perform their religious obligations in a free environment.”

Every year, the Punjab government provided a special grant for religious festivals like Christmas, Holi/Devali etc. In the government jobs, 5% quota had been allocated for minorities, under which more than 5 thousand youth had been given jobs in public institutions.

A delegation of US Commission on International Religious Freedom visited Pakistan in May 2017 and called on the then Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu in Lahore, who briefed the members of the delegations about the steps, policies and laws made by the Punjab government for the welfare and safeguard of minorities’ rights in the province. The delegation which also met the ex-Chief Minister of Punjab Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif had shown satisfaction on these measures, including Minority Advisory Council which was already working for the rights of the minorities in Punjab.

Similarly, in February 2018, again, Khalil Tahir Sandhu had stated that the Punjab government has ensured protection of minorities without any discrimination across the province and all the basic facilities have been provided to minorities.

Last year, on this very day, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to wish Christian citizens a happy Christmas.

President Arif Alvi wished Christians across the world and in Pakistan a merry Christmas and included a quote by Jesus regarding peace in his message.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif also extended Christmas wishes to members of the community, writing: “May this day bring peace, happiness and prosperity for all!”

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his Christmas message on Twitter said: “May this day be one of peace and joy for all, and let the message of tolerance and inclusiveness resonate across the world today.”

In a ceremony attended by Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs and Human Rights, Ijaz Alam, and other members of the cabinet, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Sardar Usman Buzdar, stated: “The Christmas celebrations held across Pakistan helped to promote religious harmony…religious minorities, including Christians, have played an important role in the development of Pakistan…their efforts are praiseworthy and fundamental to the country…Pakistan belongs to all of us…People of different faiths enjoy equal right and complete religious freedom in the country”.

He specifically cited the government’s focus on providing equal opportunities to minorities as well as the minority’s empowerment package that the government introduced to provide millions of rupees for student scholarships for minority students.

Notably, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah-the founder of Pakistan, who was against every sort of extremism, had favoured a moderate Pakistan where other religious communities and minorities would also live without any restriction, along with the Muslims.

In his speech, Quaid-e-Azam said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state…We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between ones caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens of one state.”

It may be recalled that August 11 was official declared National Minorities Day by the then government in 2009 in line with the historic speech of Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

Hence, in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, the Constitution of 1973 protects the real rights and interest of minorities, living in Pakistan.

On the other side, India which claims an arch secular state has surprised the world because of continued attacks on other minority groups, especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs—and events of forced conversion of Christians and Muslims into Hindus.

However, Pakistan which came into existence on the basis of Islamic principles provides respect and protection to all the minorities, as mentioned in the Constitution. Besides other minority groups, particularly Christians are not only serving in the armed forces, but are also working in other departments. Without any discrimination by the Muslims, they run their own business and are also working in private sectors.

Undoubtedly, we can conclude that while commemorating the Quaid-e-Azam Day, December 25 is also celebrated as the Charismas Day across Pakistan.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations