ASIA NEWS REPORT: by Jibran Khan - Shafique Khokhar
For religious and civil society leaders, the late Catholic
minister is an example to follow in interfaith dialogue. For the bishop of
Islamabad, he was "a brave and faithful man". A human rights activist says that
his death leaves a leadership vacuum. His "sacrifice will not be in vain,"
Muslim scholar states.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Catholic public figures, Christian leaders, Muslim
scholars and human rights activists are remembering Shahbaz Bhatti a year after
his death. A group of armed extremists gunned down the Minority Affairs
minister, a Catholic, on the morning of 2 March 2011, leaving his body riddled
with bullets. Since then, investigators have tried several times to cover up the
affair, blaming it on family squabbles or financial disputes. However, his
memory lives on in civil society as others promote his work, ideals and
political-cultural testament in favour a secular and multicultural Pakistan. "I
am ready to die for a cause," he said in a video that was posted on the
Internet. "I am living for my community [. . .] and I will die to defend their
rights," choosing death "for my principles". These words encapsulate the sense
of the work he passed on, a spiritual testament to inspire others who today
remember him with admiration and affection as an example to follow.
Many moderate Muslim leaders and imams value Shahbaz's work and share his
legacy. Maulana Mehfooz Khan, imam in Lahore and a member of
the Islamic Ideology Council, is one of them. Over the years, he developed a
close relationship with the slain minister based on friendship and respect. For
him, Shahbaz Bhatti was "an ambassador of interfaith harmony. His services for
the minorities of Pakistan are highly appreciated. He stood firm for what he
believed in" and "his sacrifice will not go in vain, he will be remembered as a
voice for the voiceless."
Another Muslim activist, Iftikhar Ahmad, agrees. The
district coordinator of SPARK (Child Right Committee) in Faisalabad said, "I
worked a lot with Shahbaz Bhatti against the blasphemy laws, Hudood Ordinance
and the Shariah Bill." The minister's assassination was clearly connected with
"extremism and I am pained that our independent courts have released the culprit
of his murder".
"Unfortunately, our state is not taking adequate steps against the extremism
that caused the brutal assassination and extra-judicial killing of Shahbaz
Bhatti and Salman Taseer. I salute Shahbaz Bhatti's tireless and courageous
efforts. He was not only a leader of minorities but a true human rights defender
Among Pakistan's Catholic public figures, Shahbaz was particular close to
Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad, who could count him as
a close friend. His death represents the "tragic loss of a brave and faithful
man." In his view, the memory of the "noble witness" has not faded a year after
"I knew him since the 1980s as he went to a school in Khushpur, his village
in Faisalabad District," the prelate said. "He was always ready to work for the
Together, "we founded Christian Liberation Front," but "He had a passion for
minorities and fought for their rights. I met him a couple of weeks before his
assassination. He surely saw it coming;" yet, he "was steadfast-such an
inspiration to all who profess the Christian faith. . . ."
Khalid Gill a senior APMA (All Pakistan Minority Alliance)
member also remembers him. "Shahbaz Bhatti was a brave leader; it was an honour
working under his leadership."
"Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination was a great blow to Pakistan; the more
shocking because of the lukewarm attitude of the great majority, including
intellectuals, liberals and members of civil society" who did not come out to
protest against his death.
For Punjab Provincial Assembly Member and APMA member Pervaiz
Rafique, the Catholic minister's vision of a Pakistan was that of a
country "where religious minorities would be able to exercise equal rights." He
worked tirelessly for a just and tolerant society.
Michelle Chaudhry, a social activist from Lahore, had known
Bhatti "for 28 years" because her father had been "his mentor". His death has
left a leadership vacuum and Christians are in "serious need of unity" to
protect their rights. "He was selfless, always concerned for others." His family
"is still waiting for justice" from the government.
For Peter Jacob, executive Director of National Commission
for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Catholic minister's legacy must be promoted.
He held a "brave posture against threats". His life recalls the "martyrdom
inherent in the Christian witness" like that of "his mentor, Bishop John Joseph,
12 years ago".
Fr Aftab James Paul, director of the Diocesan Commission for
Interfaith Dialogue in Faisalabad, recalls Shahbaz, the martyr," as a "symbol of
the struggle for the rights of the downtrodden," a man following in the
footsteps of "Jesus who sacrificed his life".
Finally, activist and poet Syed Najeeb Ali Shah, pays
tribute on behalf of his fellow "poets, writers and educators" for his "struggle
in favour of democracy and secularism on the first anniversary of his