BY AIDAN CLAY
Jesus often spoke about persecution. One of the main reasons Christians experience it today is because the cross, his ultimate sacrifice, separates us from the world. “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you…If they persecuted me, they will also persecuted you…because they don’t know Him who sent Me.” John 15:18-21
Now, theology plays an interesting role in the lives of Christians. Reading Scripture and applying it to life’s highs and lows is an important part of spiritual growth. But through the eyes of a young child, how do you answer when they ask, “Is persecution normal?”
“You’re very beautiful Shahtaj. You know, if you come to Islam, you’ll go to paradise,” Shahtaj’s teacher, an older man, told the 10-year-old girl. Shahtaj was confused; though born into a Christian family, she did not fully understand the differences between her faith and that of Muslims.
She did, however, love Jesus and knew that Muslims did not accept Him as Lord. With the faith of a child, Shahtaj replied the only way she knew how: “I invite you to become a Christian. You will be very blessed if you do.”
Is Persecution ‘Normal’?
Christians around the world would have different answers to the question, “Is persecution normal?”, with different definitions of what constitutes “persecution.” For a young girl living in rural Pakistan, religious persecution has become a daily part of little Shahtaj’s life.
Her teacher was not impressed with Shahtaj’s response of salvation through Christ. Day after day he grew bolder, ordering Shahtaj to stand in front of class while mocking her beliefs.
Not only does the teacher persecute Shahtaj for her beliefs, but now her classmates have joined in, further isolating her as on ‘outcast.’ “Girls say their parents won’t allow them to sit with me because it’s haraam (forbidden). ‘You’re a kafir (disbeliever),’ they tell me,” said Shahtaj.
The New ‘Normal’
Shahtaj’s mother, Lubna, was outraged to learn of the teacher’s actions towards her daughter.
“I asked the teacher to just do his job and to stop talking about Islam,” Lubna, Shahtaj’s mother, told ICC. “My son has the same teacher, but he only picks on Shahtaj. He’s after my daughter to convert her.”
Though Christians must attend Islamic classes in public schools, it is not required of children Shahtaj’s age. But Shahtaj is not the only Christian to face such pressures. Thousands of Christian students in Pakistani schools share similar experiences of being harassed by teachers for no other reason than being Christian. If you asked these little ones, “Is persecution normal?” they would sadly say yes, since they experience it daily.
Lubna, however, fears far worse for her daughter. “I worry that the teacher will dishonor her and ruin her reputation if he doesn’t get his way. I’m afraid someone will hurt her or kidnap her. There’s no telling what they’ll do to her if this continues.”
Lubna’s fear that her daughter could be kidnapped is not unfounded. Young Christian girls are commonly abducted with the intent to forcibly convert them to Islam and marry them to older Muslim men, making persecution a very normal, very real threat to a mother of a young Christian girl (see past blog: http://info.persecution.org/blog/bid/283713/A-Silently-Suffering-Church-Reclaiming-the-Lives-of-Pakistan-s-Christian-Daughters ).
Christian parents like Lubna, however, have no other options if they want to give their children an education. Some Christian families opt out of sending their kids to school altogether, arguing that education makes no difference in Pakistan. They are convinced that their child’s future has already been determined simply because they are Christian, simply because this treatment is the norm in their culture.
“It’s difficult for a Christian to get a good job in Pakistan,” the director of a Pakistan human rights organization in Lahore told ICC. “They can’t even become cooks because they’re considered unclean and Muslims won’t eat after them. Street sweepers, maids, the men sitting outside public toilets collecting money… those are Christian jobs.”
Unable to attend private Christian schools, Christian children are forced to study the Quran and take Islamic classes, or worse, they abandon their education altogether. Some reports estimate that less than eight percent of Christian children complete a secondary education in Pakistan. Without an education, Christians will forever be marginalized and viewed as second-class citizens. Likewise, persecution will inevitably increase as Christians remain defenseless to stand against it.
Please continue to pray for Pakistan’s beleaguered Christian children, like Shahtaj.