Like most Christians in Pakistan, Insar Gohar can trace his family’s faith commitment back at least four or five generations.
But that heritage — spread by missionaries during British rule in the second half of the 19th century — also sets them apart in the eyes of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population, he says.
“Because Christianity came in Pakistan through the colonizers, even today the Muslims of Pakistan associate Christianity as a western religion,” Gohar told United Methodist News Service, adding that Pakistan’s Christians often are considered westerners themselves. “This is why sometimes we also face discrimination and sometimes persecution.”
Gohar, 43, who is in the first year of a three-year master of divinity program at United Methodist Claremont School of Theology in southern California, has been the youth officer for the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan.
Since evangelism and religious conversion is difficult and even dangerous, few have publicly joined their ranks since the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947, Gohar noted. The Church of Pakistan was formed in 1970 when four denominations — Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Scottish Presbyterian — united to give cohesion to a very small religious minority in Pakistan.
Although interfaith dialogue does not have a long history in Pakistan, the Diocese of Peshawar has been involved with “Faith Friends,” a group that includes Hindus, Muslims and Christians. While such initiatives are not strong enough to stop religious intolerance, “They’re trying to do that,” he explained.
Twin bombs after Sunday worship
The church remains a target, however, and no one knows that better than Gohar, who lost two children and his mother when the All Saints Church in Peshawar, which dated from the 19th century, was bombed in September 2013. His wife, Uzma Insar, was badly injured.
“Even in the history of Pakistan, this was the most horrible attack on Christians,” he said.