The story of the Christians of Pakistan, narrated by the country’s first native bishop
"Bishop, all my life I have lived in Pakistan and served Pakistan. I cannot move abroad. It is against my principles. Pakistan is my country. I will die in Pakistan."
These lines in My Pakistan: The Story of a Bishop are spoken by former chief justice A R Cornelius during his last meeting with the Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, at Services Hospital. His family and friends had asked him to go abroad for treatment and to settle there for good, but he had chosen otherwise.
Bishop Alexander John Malik, at the beginning of the book, explains why there was still a need for him to write this book when a number of books about Pakistan already exist. "I am a Pakistani by deliberate choice," says the bishop.
In 1972, while Bishop Malik was still studying in McGill University, Montreal, Canada, his church in Pakistan requested him to come back. His family opposed his decision but the bishop told them his country needed him.
There was another reason as to why the bishop wrote this book and why he named it My Pakistan -- he wanted to make the current Christian community in Pakistan believe in their country just as their forefathers did. He points out how Christians in the country worked together with Muslims in politics in the 1920s and 1930s. Top Christian leaders, like SP Singha (who later became the first Christian speaker of the Punjab Assembly and gave his decisive vote for Pakistan), were all present in the historic meeting of the All India Muslim League at Minto Park in 1940 when the Pakistan Resolution was passed. Christian leadership believed that their community would be better off in Pakistan than in Hindu dominated India. Bishop Malik also highlights the sacrifices made by the community in the creation of Pakistan and their role thereafter in nation building.
However, in the last 15 years, many Christians of Pakistan, have lost hope because of the rising extremism in society and have migrated abroad mainly to the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Thousands are stuck in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and many other countries in their attempt to seek asylum. Those in the Christian community who could afford to leave the country have left in search of greener pastures and safety. Many would say that some of the most educated and wealthiest minority families have left Pakistan.
In My Pakistan, Bishop Malik tells his people and the large Muslim majority that the long wait of minorities to get their due rights must end now. He chronicles, in detail, the names and details of achievements by minorities that have made Pakistan proud. He especially mentions his community’s role in education, medicine and defence in Pakistan.
Bishop Malik dedicates most of the book to arguing the case of minorities’ rights, and their plight especially during the war on terror when Christians and their properties (St Danny’s School in Murree) became a soft target for terrorists. He only discusses his professional life as Bishop and Bishop (emeritus) of Lahore and the challenges he has had to face. He very clearly explains that a Bishop’s job is not just to ensure the smooth running of the diocese and to act as the spiritual head of the church, but also to be the leader of the community.
The account of his stay in Calcutta during the 1965 war as a student is enlightening to say the least -- especially the mode of communication with his family in Pakistan. His mother would send the post to his brother in the USA, who would resend it to India in a new envelope as there was no direct postal service between Pakistan and India.
The election and politics to which the bishop has given passing reference give a glimpse into how the system worked and still continues to work within the Christian community.
Bishop Malik became one of the most influential Christian leaders after Bishop Woolmer. He was able to make inroads into the high government machinery which in turn helped him in fighting for the rights of minorities. He dedicates a chapter of the book to his becoming member of the board of governors of the Evacuee Property Trust, which according to him was his most memorable time.
His good relations with the media also helped him in serving his Lord and Pakistan. Bishop Malik is still very active and boldly speaks for the rights of his community and for minorities rights at large. His leadership skills must be closely watched by the upcoming leaders in the Christian community to ensure his legacy continues.
My Pakistan: Story of a Pakistani Bishop
Author: Dr Alexandar John Malik
Publisher: Iiqa publications