Throughout the Central Asian country of Pakistan (#5 on the 2018 World Watch List), persecution against Christians is rampant. Increasingly, Muslim youth are taught to treat believers with contempt and persecute Christians, commonly regarded as an “untouchable caste.”
August 30, 2017. The day is indelibly marked into the memory of the Masih family.
It would be the last day Ilyasab and his wife would hear the voice of their 17-year-old son, Sharoon.
On that humid summer day in their Pakistani village, Chak 461, the Masih family learned that their son had been beaten to death in his classroom by another student—because Sharoon was thirsty and had drunk from the same cup of water as his Muslim classmates.
Hated ‘because of his religion’
For Sharoon, it was his second day of high school at MC Model High School in Berewala City in Pakistan; he had completed his lower education in his village. The first day at his new school hadn’t gone well. He wasn’t wearing the right uniform and wasn’t allowed to attend class. To add more insult, the teacher slapped him in front of everyone.
That day, Raza Ahmed, a Muslim student, stopped Sharoon, a Christian, from drinking water from the same cup he and his Muslim classmates were using. To them, Sharoon was an infidel who should have never even touched the same glass Muslims were using, much less drank from it.
Sharoon came home telling his mother that students hated him “because of his religion” and that “he was not comfortable to go to school.”
Reluctantly, he went back the second day. He was in Islamic Studies class (a course all Pakistani students are forced to take regardless of their beliefs), when Raza began to beat him–and continued to beat him, even when he fell to the ground–kicking Sharoon until he was unconscious. The class teacher had gone out of the classroom. Pakistani media reports allege Raza’s behavior (and possible negligence) of school staff contributed to Sharoon’s death.
An ‘Untouchable’ Caste
The Masih family is among the estimated 3.9 million Christians in Pakistan (#5 on the 2018 World Watch List #WWL2018) persecuted for their faith in Jesus. In the Central Asian country, Christians are often treated with contempt. To Muslims, Christians come from a downtrodden “untouchable caste.” Many Muslims refuse to drink and eat with them for fear of being defiled. Two months before Sharoon’s death, a Christian sewerage worker in Pakistan’s Sindh Province died after three doctors refused to touch him during Ramadan (the Islamic holy month), because they saw him as “unclean.”
In Pakistan numbering 196.7 million people, the main source of persecution is Islamic oppression, with violence against Christians scoring 99.8 on the country’s persecution profile. Much of the Christian persecution comes from radical Islamic groups that flourish under the favor of political parties, the army and the government. These radical Islamic groups run thousands of madrasas (Islamic education centers) where youth like Raza are taught and encouraged to persecute religious minorities like Christians.
Pakistan also has the most notorious blasphemy laws in the world—which have been used disproportionately against religious minorities. Pakistani Christians make up only 1.5 percent of the total population, but over a quarter (187) of the 702 blasphemy cases registered between 1990 and 2014 were against Christians.
Eight years after she was first arrested, the Christian Pakistani woman Asia Bibi still remains on death row for blasphemy, after she offered a cup of water to fellow workers in a field on a hot day. Two Muslims refused to take the cup, saying she had made it ‘unclean,” simply through her religion and caste.
Fear rising among Pakistani Christians
Sharoon’s murder has heightened fear among Pakistani Christians in the Vehari District, reports World Watch Monitor. The area is not so far known for religious extremism, but Sharoon’s persecution is the latest in a recent series of incidents in Pakistan:
- Three weeks before Sharoon’s death, a 16-year-old illiterate Christian boy was forced to confess to blasphemy to escape mob violence in Gujranwala, 217 miles northeast of Vehari.
- Last July, a 16-year-old Christian hospital cleaner near Gujrat, just north of Gujranwala, was charged with blasphemy after getting into a conversation with colleagues.
- Last April, a Muslim student was lynched by a mob at a university in the northern city of Mardan for “sharing blasphemous content on Facebook,” an allegation that later proved wrong.
‘Extreme, hostile and intolerant’
The murder of Sharoon Masih exemplifies how extreme, hostile and intolerant radical Islam can be, says Open Doors’ Wybo Nicolai, director of external services.
“It also reminds me of the contrast in Scripture, where Jesus gives a promise to His disciples, that even when you share a glass of water to somebody else, another believer, you will receive a reward in Heaven,” he says. “It is such an act of God’s love, and it’s a huge contrast with this type of persecution.”
For Nicolai, Sharoon’s story of how he lived and died will not go untold.
“I made a pledge [to myself that] anytime I have an opportunity to speak out about the persecuted church, I’m going to remind people of Sharoon Masih, so that he will not be forgotten.”
Praying with Pakistan believers
Pray with Christian students and youth in Pakistan like Sharoon Masih who increasingly face ridicule and physical violence from Muslim classmates. Muslim students are taught to look down on and persecute Christians and others they regard as infidels.
Pray with Christian parents who must send their children to school for education, knowing they will likely be subjected to Islamic classes and persecution from Muslim classmates.
Pray with Pakistani converts from Muslim backgrounds who suffer the brunt of the persecution in Pakistan. Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates, and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community.
Pray for safety and protection for Christian women and girls in Pakistan who must live under the threat of abduction, rape and forced marriage.