Religious bigotry in Pakistan schools is forcing Christian parents to give their children Islamic names – according to a bishop there.
Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Christian children and other faith minorities were using different names to prevent them from being subjected to abuse.
He said: “Many minorities give their children Islamic names so they will not be singled out as Christians and become potential targets for discrimination in primary or secondary schools or at the college level.
“In many cases, minority students do suffer abuse in public schools.”
Bishop Shukardin spoke out against textbooks in state-run schools, saying: “The minorities are considered infidels and they are depicted negatively in textbooks, which promote prejudices against minorities.
“The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only complete religion – that salvation is only found in the Qur’an as the last holy book.”
Bishop Shukardin said the febrile atmosphere whipped up by extremists has put pressure on minorities – including Christians.
The bishop said: “Most of the minorities, and in particular, Christians, are afraid of attacks and persecution.”
He described how Christians in Pakistan suffer as a result of extremists falsely associating them with the West.
Bishop Shukardin said: “If the West strikes against Muslims anywhere in the world, enraged fundamentalists in Pakistan often attack the churches.”
But it is not just Christians who are attacked by extremists, he explained – moderate Muslims and other religious minorities are at risk too.
He said: “There are far more attacks on mosques than on churches – fundamentalist Muslims killing moderate fellow Muslims.”
Bishop Shukardin also highlighted problems about kidnappings and forced conversions and marriages, echoing concerns made in an ACN interview last week by Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of neighboring Lahore archdiocese.
The bishop said: “Muslims believe that converting one person to Islam earns them eternal life. If an initial effort fails, people turn to kidnapping.
“Kidnappings and forced marriages are most common in rural areas, where people have little education.”
Both Archbishop Shaw and Bishop Shukardin stressed the importance of education in a country where clergy have prioritized the provision of Church-run schools and colleges.
He said: “We also need resources to help needy families send their children to college, which many cannot afford to do – let along enabling them to pursue advanced degrees.
“Education is key for every nation trying to transform society.”
ACN last year funded more than 60 projects in Pakistan, including the construction of churches, training of Sisters and other religious as well as emergency aid.