A Concise History of Pakistani Christians

The following book review has also appeared in The Minorities' View (Humsookhan) February 2013. To read the on-line version of the publication click: The Minorities' View .

A Concise History of Pakistani Christians

Emmanuel Zafar

Lahore: Humsookhan Publications,  2007

pp. 400


Six decades and a bit, is not a long time in the history of any nation but it certainly is a very long time for a community that has suffered gradual and systematic marginalization out of its rightful place of the socio-political arena of her own nation. The roots of Christianity in the land that comprises Pakistan are older than both the state of Pakistan and the ideology that underpins its existence. It is no wonder then that the Pakistani Christians consider themselves and their history as an integral part of the state of Pakistan and her history.   It is unfortunate, however, that the commitments, contributions, and the sacrifices of the Pakistani Christians to their beloved homeland have been constantly ignored or downplayed at best, or blatantly and/or ashamedly denied at worst by some so-called national leaders and half-baked intellectuals. To put the record straight and preserve it for posterity, Emmanuel Zafar’s present book, A Concise History of Pakistani Christians, is a need fulfilled.

The gradual but continual marginalization of the Christian community has bred problems which have inadvertently become part and parcel of the never-ending crises in which the nation finds itself.  The process, once started, has progressively engulfed the whole nation. Though this is not the underlying theme of the book in consideration, I believe it serves as an appropriate background to the national scene which has made its writing and publication extremely essential. Unfortunately, it is not a timely book: it is a book that is overdue not by years but by decades.

The author, Emmanuel Zafar, a Christian lawyer, an internationally recognized journalist and a veteran politician, has charted the drifting tides which have led Pakistan to her present state of turmoil and intolerance.  He has lived through the history of Pakistan and this fact is well recognized in the blurb, that (the book) “also can be called the autobiography or ‘memoirs of the author as well’ ”.

One of the several meritorious aspects of the book is that it is a fairly comprehensive collection of significant Christians and their contributions in the various fields of national life i.e. literature, politics, industry, military, judiciary, education, medicine, nursing, music and arts among others. A few notable omissions or near-omissions are regrettable. This is a matter of this reviewer’s point of view and does not in any way mitigate the academic and scholastic usefulness of the volume.

Starting from c. AD 40 when St. Thomas is believed to have arrived in the subcontinent, the author has taken into account many notable Christians bringing the reader to the present. This, in itself, is a daunting task by any standard and is a remarkable accomplishment among a people who seem to suffer from the intellectual malady of forgetting their past heroes and showering praise on contemporary tyrants for acquiring short-term favours.

In my humble view, this volume should be read and carried by every senior Pakistani politician as a quick factual reference to the multi-faceted achievements and contributions to the country by her largest religious minority.  Had these facts been known to some high profile political figures of yesteryears, they would have been spared the embarrassment of statements which showed their ignorance and more than irritated the Christian community. I believe that our leaders and national representatives will do well to keep this book on their desks and refer to it as needed or risk making statements which will expose their anti-Christian bias and lack of historical knowledge. Silly statements have fast feet and long lives and the modern media has an insatiable appetite for exposing the ignorance of leaders. Hence this volume can save many from becoming the media’s laughing stock.

I would also like to submit that this information and research should be made part and parcel of the education material available for the Pakistani masses so that the bigotry and bias against the Christian community, by some of the uninformed members of the Muslim majority communities, may be diminished and hopefully an enlightened acceptance of indigenous Christians may instead prevail.  The dark clouds of suspicion and mistrust can only be cleared by the light of information and knowledge such as the one Zafar has provided in this volume.

Generally speaking Pakistani historians, including the few notable Christians, have covered the same ground over and over again.  Zafar’s work is unique in that he has recorded many unknown or very little-known personalities and has thus filled some significant gaps in a community’s profile. This makes the present work both a historical record as well as an almanac. It goes beyond merely recording history: it documents the lives of those who would generally have been bypassed by the usual historians and lost in the boundless ocean of national amnesia.

The indigenous Christians of Pakistan proudly identify with their homeland and, over the decades, have defended it along with their Muslim countrymen. Jinnah’s Pakistan was to be “The Republic of Pakistan”, a secular state based on the lofty values of equality and justice, where people of all religions would be able to freely practise their religion. This does not seem to be a picture of the present day Pakistan.

The book, though well-researched, unfortunately has some typographical and editorial errors, as acknowledged in the preface. They do not necessarily dampen the scholastic value of the work but do impact considerably on the pleasure of reading. With the author, I hope that in the future editions these issues will be resolved.

Christian institutions of learning have helped educate the leadership elite of Pakistan, and Christian military heroes have defended her borders with exemplary courage and blood. The record of all this and more is the content of the pages of A Concise History of Pakistani Christians. Overall, I am pleased to recommend this book to anyone who cares to know, not what Pakistan has done for her Christian community but what her Christian community has done for Pakistan.

Akhtar Injeeli