Monday, 29 December 2014

Can Women Lead the Church?

Christmas this year was rather unusual. Switching back and forth between clinical visits, weddings, studies, and work didn't allow me to focus on the festivities like we usually do.

So I decided to spend my Christmas Eve and the next morning reading. My title of choice: 'The Authentic Jesus' by John Stott. 

The purpose of the book was to respond to the growing liberalism and the deviation from the historic Christian doctrines in the Church of England. 

Anyway, this post is not about issues (the late great John Stott has not left any space for me to comment on them). Rather, this post about the first Lady Bishop in the Church of England.

You can read the story here.

What I understand is that there is a debate on whether women can hold such titles in the Church or not. 

Those against it offer verses from the New Testament that talk about women's submission to man. But perhaps the most crucial text in this regards is as follows:
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2)

Those who oppose the literal interpretation argue that these instructions are not general but for specific conditions, since this was St. Paul's personal epistle to Timothy as compared to Romans or Corinthians.

My personal reading of the scripture doesn't warrant the traditional interpretation. The New Testament openly talks about women teaching men (Acts 18:26). Hence, I fully support this move by the Church of England.

What about you?

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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Do They Know Its Christmas? Yes they Do!

This is not the first critical article on Bob Geldof's charity single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', which has been performed once again to raise awareness for the Ebola outbreak in Africa. 

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against celebrity efforts for charity and humanitarian causes.

However, why do they forget that lyrics actually mean something? 

The main premise of the 'Christmas' charity song is that Christmas is supposed to be an event of snow and gifts, and that's it.

It is not about Jesus, his birth, or what he came to do. But if you think about, without Jesus Christ, there is no distinction between Christmas and Saturnalia.

Another point that the lyrics miss is the fact that Christmas is a time of happiness, and not of death, grief, and joy. I agree, but that is to ignore the circumstances in which the first Christmas took place and also how the majority of Christians in the world that do not live in western countries celebrate the event. 

What I am saying is that it is us in the 3rd world that really know that it is Christmas. Bob Geldof and his associates don't, and most of them never will.

The entire emphasis is on physical needs and not on salvation, which is the 'biggest gift they will get this year', or any year for that matter.

On the issue of material needs (namely hunger, for which the original Band Aid was created), Jesus made it clear that 'Man does live by bread alone', that while physical needs cannot be disregarded, they are not enough to give us life in the true sense of the word.

How ironic is that when satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to satiate himself, the Lord said that it is God that sustains man, and not just food. But in 'We are the World' (the U.S. version of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'), Willie Nelson sings:

As God has shown us by turning stone to bread 

Of course, God never did that, so what is the point of singing it?

This is the fundamental problem that I see in the world-view of people who write charity music.

Note: This article reflects my personal opinions. The song in question has been endorsed by Bono of U2, who is a far greater Christian voice than I will ever be.

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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Every Year, We Are Moving Closer to the Real Christmas

It's that time of the year again. Glitz, glamour, shopping, sweets, Santa, trees, and family. And in the backdrop of all this we have communion and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another popular Christmas tradition is the re-enactment of the Nativity, something that I have actively engaged in with my friends over the years. 

But now we have the whole 'Keeping Christ in Christmas' movement. The obvious meaning of this slogan is that we should downplay things like the Christmas tree and Santa Claus (due to their non-Biblical and 'pagan' origins).

Also, in a surprising turn of events, some churches in Pakistan have decided not to celebrate Christmas at all, in honour of the children that died in the recent terror attacks, what is now being rightly called the 9/11 of Pakistan.

Both these causes are to be respected. The first one seeks to remove the glamour and commercialism from the event so that we can focus on the essence of Christmas. The second one will prove to be a great at of solidarity and will send strong signals of peace. 

However, what is being missed entirely is how close the events that we face today in Pakistan are to the very first Christmas.

2 years ago, I wrote a blog post on dead children. When we read the New testament, we see innocent children were massacred by a tyrant, and yet during the same time, God revealed himself (according to our faith) in the most complete and thorough manner. The Word became flesh.

That is why I say, that with each passing year, we are moving closer and closer to the real Christmas. 

The real Christmas involves a woman that was scandalized for bearing a child. Women in Pakistan and the world at large continue to face the same scorn even in the 21st century.  

Millions of women today are also giving birth without proper medication, nutrition, and sanitation, the very same conditions in which Christ was born of Mary.

That is why I believe that the Bible is a living text. It speaks to people in their everyday conditions to prove the point that God empathizes with those who suffer.

But more than that, the very fact that whom we call the Saviour of Mankind was born in these circumstances is enough for us to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that God is still actively pursuing His glorious plan for humanity.

As Christians, we don't have to create a false sense of hope as we try to make sense of what is going around us. Thank you Jesus!

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Monday, 17 November 2014

House of Prayer for All Nations?

I was amazed and impressed when I read the news about Muslims attending their Juma prayers and listening to the Khutba in a cathedral in Washington, USA. (Read news story here)

Anyway, after reading about this historic event, 3 thoughts came to my mind, and I invite you, the reader, to also reflect on them and share your views:

Firstly, many American Christian leaders are against the idea of inviting Muslims in their churches. If that is the case, then what do they make of this verse:

'..these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' (Isaiah 56)
Is this verse only for the Temple of Solomon? Does it not apply to modern church buildings?  

Secondly, the organizers of the event claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. While this is an amazing claim, they need to explain what they really mean. If the God of the Christians and Muslims is the same, then why have two different religions? Why doesn't every Muslim get baptized or every Christian recite the shahada

I think a more accurate statement would be that both Christians and Muslims are monotheists. But then again, some Muslims will object.

Lastly, I agree with the comment that Christians should also be allowed the freedom to worship in the same manner at mosques in Saudi Arabia. But is this possible in the light of what the Holy Qur'an teaches? It is about time Muslims explain the reason why non-Muslims are barred from entering the holy cities of Islam.

My personal opinion is that this was indeed a great gesture by the Washington National Cathedral. I fully support it.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Equation of Death

The world is shocked as a violent mob burnt two Christians and their unborn child in a brick kiln. 

Just when you think that we can take a break from the usual business in Pakistan, some citizens take it upon themselves to shock and shame humanity in new ways. 

But here is the question: Was this violent and inhuman act expected?

Most agree that given the situation of Pakistan, no one needs to be surprised by these incidents. And unfortunately, they are right.

However, while journalists, politicians, public intellectuals, and activists talk about factors like illiteracy, poverty, lack of law & order, they fail to consider that many a times it is a not a class issue, where the illiterate kill and the poor die. 

That is not true at all. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab when he was shot down. Dr. Abdus Salam became a Nobel Laureate when he was forced to leave his country. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi was a published Islamic scholar with his own TV program when he had to seek asylum abroad. 

Likewise, when Taseer's murderer was brought to court, he was showered with petals by lawyers. 

Hundred examples can be quoted, but I believe these will suffice. The point is crystal clear: Extremism is beyond class and education. No one is safe.

In an earlier post, I discussed the intellectual persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Consider the fact that Islamic and Urdu textbooks in Pakistan feature content that, if not hate speech, is definitely propagandist in nature.

However, the majority of the people who get to read such material early in their lives are Muslims. I remember in primary school (when we still wore shorts), a friend of mine asked me:

'Why do you recite the national anthem? Why don't you go to England since you are Christian'?

Keep in mind that I was educated in an English medium private school. And this is just one example of this kind attitude that I witnessed. 

The bottom line is that the people who run our country, who are of course Muslims, need to muster up the courage and call a spade a spade. They need to put 2 and 2 together to solve the equation of death.

Please keep the children of Shama and Shahbaz in prayers.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

To Drink or Not to Drink: That is the Question

Minority rights in Pakistan are in the news as of late, at least as far as English-language publications are concerned. Today's blog post deals with a couple of news stories on recent attempts to change legislation pertaining to the consumption of alcohol in Pakistan and its legal ramifications. 

(You can find the stories here, here, and here)

The first story talks about a petition filed by the Federal Shariat Court, or simply FSC (the body responsible for ensuring that all legislation done in Pakistan is in compliance with Islamic law), in the Supreme Court to revise the punishment for drinking alcohol. 

The interesting thing to note is that 'Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that there was no absolute prohibition of drinking in the Qur'an as it was only restraint.'  

Such statements have been made previously by religious scholars. Examples include the late Fazlur Rehman Malik, who stated on national TV that 'drinking alcohol was a not a major sin in Islam and that alcoholic beverages with less than 5 per cent alcoholic content should not be considered unlawful'. 

Of course, most Muslims will disagree. However, it is true that there are some verses in the Holy Qur'an which give the notion that drinking alcohol is allowed under specific conditions.


'O you who believe! Approach not As-Salat (the prayer) when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter....' Sura 4:43

 They ask you (O Muhammad SAW) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: "In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit." 2:219
As you can see, these verse do not forbid the use of alcohol even though the substance itself is criticized. However, Muslims scholars say that these verses were abrogated by 5:90, which reads:
O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, - of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

The rationale presented here is that the Holy Qur'an increased the force with which alcohol was condemned gradually so that people can naturally give up the habit. Fair enough, but the problem is that the holy book of Islam is not arranged chronologically. So, it needs to be proven beyond the shadow of doubt which chapter was 'revealed' when in order to subscribe to the popular argument of abrogation.

Now let's move on to the other two stories, which are inter-related. Apparently, Christian and Hindu MPAs are trying to pass a bill in the Parliament that bans alcohol for non-Muslims. 

You see, alcohol is banned in Pakistan, but it can be imported and manufactured locally for non-Muslims. 

The politicians pressing for the ban are right in stating that by banning alcohol for Muslims while making it's distribution open for non-Muslims creates a constitutional bias against religious minorities. And more than that, Christians and Hindus are often mocked as drunkards by the majority. 

The bill also says that the ruling on alcohol has often lead to corrupt police officials creating 'fake, false, frivolous cases against minorities'. This is true, however, the bill ignores the fact that whether alcohol is banned or not, minorities will continue to be harassed and persecuted.

But why ban the drink altogether? The Bible- just like the Holy Qur'an and other religious texts-talks about the side-effects of alcohol consumption (which any good doctor can also tell you). However, the Bible also calls gluttony and adultery sins worthy of eternal punishments. But does that does not mean we outlaw food and sex. 

I am not aware of what Hinduism teaches in this respect. I have yet to open the translation of the Bhagvad Gita that I enthusiastically purchased a few months back. 

So in conclusion I would say that not only is there a need for a more open and in-depth discussion of what each religion teaches about alcohol consumption, but any legislation shouldn't ignore the fact that drinking is a social reality. 

What do you think? Please state your religion as well when you comment.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Blasphemy: No One is Safe

Some of my recent articles were on the subject of the treatment of discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan. A special focus of those blogs was on the 'Blasphemy' laws in the country's constitution.  

However, let us not forget that this law has not just been used to attack the Shias, Ahmedis, Hindus, and Christians of Pakistan. Not even the Muslims (representing 98% of the population according to varying reports) are immune from being convicted under 295-A,B, and C. No one is safe.

There are some people who argue that the said laws should apply to Muslims only, claiming that you can only blaspheme against a deity or a religious personality/object if you first profess faith in it. But that is an entirely different debate altogether.

Recently, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has levelled the charge of blasphemy against a Pakistan People's Party (PPP)leader. 

The thing to be noted here is that these two parties are supposed to be liberal and progressive in their outlook, not religious like, let's say, the Jamat-e-Islami. Not to mention, both MQM and PPP are the first speak to against acts of religious violence and terrorism in the country.

And the irony is that a PPP leader (Salman Taseer) was gunned down 4 years ago defending Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. And now a member of the same party is at the receiving end of similar charges.

I believe that there is a need for a debate on these issues so that people feel protected by the constitution rather than fearing its misuse. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

'Blasphemy' Report 2014

2014 didn't bring any good news for the minorities of Pakistan, especially the Christian community.

The much hyped Aasia Bibi Blasphemy trial has been in the news for the last 5 years where a Christian in Punjab was arrested for allegedly making derogatory remarks against the Prophet of Islam (P.B.U.H). Two days ago, her appeal was dismissed by the Lahore High Court, which means her death sentence is still in effect i.e. of course, if the Supreme Court, or the President himself intervenes.

But it will be miracle if this happens, because the last time the President intervened in the Aasia Bibi case, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard.

Former Governor of Punjab, the late Salman Taseer defending Aasia Bibi

Indeed, Salman Taseer's fate(and also of Shahbaz Bhatti) is common of anyone who speaks of amendments in the Blasphemy Law. These purported amendments seek to improve the quality of evidence needed to convict a person under this legislation.

Consider the fact that the leading political players in Pakistan simply do not talk about the violence that is perpetrated under the guise of this law. Of course, we do have some lone voices.

Political stalwart Javed Hashmi did talk about making positive changes in regards to the misuse of the blasphemy. If one closely analyses his latest speech in the Parliament, you can see that he defends liberal values. He made fun of a religious/political leader of how the latter talks about Prophet Muhammed (P.B.U.H) coming in his dreams. He then proceeded to defend female participation in political rallies which were being dubbed as 'vulgar' by some mainstream politicians. 

But once again, Javed Hashmi, while still being respected in various political and social circles, no longer enjoys mass popularity. In fact, many people now accuse him of having a tainted character.

Next up we have the Pakistan People's Party(PPP). It's new leader (Bilawal Bhutto Zardari) suggested changing the constitution of Pakistan (drafted by his own grandfather) to allow non-Muslims to run for office. Religious minorities can hold seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies, but they are barred from being the Head of State. 

Bilawal 'Bhutto' Zardaro-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party

In his latest political address, Bilawal Bhutto recalled the deaths of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer in high esteem. You would again think that these comments offer a ray of hope, but think again.

Owing to the massive rallies and protests being held against the government by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a growing number of people have start to show outright hate for the PPP. Not to mention, Bilawal Bhutto has a clear threat to his life from an extremist Islamic outfit. His mother was also killed in a terrorist attack.

Bottom-line: The constitutional marginalization of religious minorities sadly shows no signs of changing in the near future.

Let us all pray for Aasia Bibi and her family.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Persecuted in Pakistan-A Retraction?

Two years ago when I started this blog, I wrote a lengthy report on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.

My basic argument was that persecution was a indeed rampant in Pakistan, but Christians have much to be thankful for. 

However, as the first anniversary of the Peshawar Church bombing has passed (meanwhile the KP government is busy asking the Prime Minister to resign), and Pastor Zafar Bhatti is imprisoned for committing 'blasphemy' charges (thank God he wasn't killed when a policeman shot down another blasphemy convict in jail), I have started to wonder if my reasoning is correct.

I also like to note that in my report, I talked about notable Christians in the history of Pakistan. Are these examples enough for Christians at large to be hopeful of their future in this country? I have to started to question my own optimism. After all, hundred examples can be cited of notable African Americans who made contributions to art, sciences, literature, and politics prior to the civil rights movement. But we know what the general scenario was. The same is true for Christians in Pakistan.

However, I was right in saying that we face a relatively lesser threat than our Shiite and Ahmedi brethren, who are still victims of mob violence and targeted killing, much more than other minorities. 

Before closing,however, I would like to add one more point that I clearly missed in my 2012 blog post: Even if Christians are not as widely persecuted as the religious groups mentioned above, we are perhaps the greatest victims of intellectual persecution in Pakistan. 

Consider the fact that Islamic and Urdu textbooks in Pakistan feature content that, if not hate speech, is definitely propagandist in nature.

For instance, I remember a book on Urdu short stories in primary school, and one of these stories was about a notable Christian convert to Islam. How does that help us to understand the nuances and grammar of the language, I fail to understand. 

And I have yet to come across an Islamic textbook that criticizes beliefs of any other religious group or Islamic sect as much as Christianity. Textbooks openly mentioned that the Church has corrupted the Holy Bible, and now it is no longer in its original form.

In fact, the average Pakistani (Shiite and Ahmedi included) is taught from his/her childhood that the Bible has been and still is being corrupted by Christians. If the Christian majority countries started labelling this as blasphemy, how many local Muslims will end up in jail (and ultimately the gallows)?


Friday, 19 September 2014

Failure Changes Us, But Sometimes We Fail to Change

I am a slow learner. All the basic things in life that a boy my age is supposed to know, I learned them quiet late.

Basic bathroom rules, tying shoes laces, drinking milk in a glass instead of a baby bottle, and so on.

I was not the physically proficient as well, as far as sports were concerned.  

Why am I talking about all this today? Because I feel the need to put some things in perspective. The mind can process only so much information, and hence it is better to write it down. 

Life is not going smooth. As time passes, I am realizing that it isn't supposed to go smooth. And yet we are expected to stay calm and keep moving forward. 

I still remember the day when I woke up during the school holidays and sat at the breakfast table. As I was eating, my parents broke the news that they collected my result from school, and that I had failed the 9th grade. 

I didn't know to how respond. Neither did my parents. This mutual numbness (for a lack of a better term) continues to this day whenever we are faced with bad news.

It was sad to have flunked, but even worse was the fact that I couldn't bring myself to understand the situation. Was I supposed to apologize, grieve, or hurt myself? I couldn't  bring myself to open up emotionally, and hurting yourself physically requires courage, which I obviously lack. 

But then the best thing happened to me. I was born again.

To cut the long story short, I was experiencing a change in life as started my personal journey in the Christian faith.

I found something that gave direction to my life and I was able to push myself through school, while also managing to get couple of other personal issues resolved .All the while, I engaged in worship, research, debate, and fellowship.

Things went on like this for another 5 years, and then I woke up one day to realize that we are going through a financial crisis. Once again, I did not how to react. The numbness returned.

Anger and frustration started boiling inside, and eventually it all burst out. My emotions got the better of me, and this changed my relationship with the people closest to me. 

Today, I have put on more weight than I had when I started my life in Christ, even though the Bible calls gluttony a sin. I also experience occasional bouts of anger and depression. I am also exhausted, both mentally and physically, which is why you may notice some typos despite the fact I did proof-read the article.   
It as if failure once changed me for the better, but now I have failed to change myself.

But there are other things that happened in this same period:

  • I developed a personal collection of books on topics like evolution, astro-physics, comparative religion, history, poetry, psychology, and of course, Christian theology. Currently I am reading Jacobo Timerman's The Longest War and The Greek Myths by Robert Graves.       
  • Still an undergraduate, I am earning way more than a minimum wage in a country marred by unemployment. 
What is the moral of the story? At 22, I am too young to make a learned comment on what pattern a person's life takes. But what I do know is that as my faith changes me for the better, I have not grown immune to failing. New challenges will influence me, but God will continue to make his presence known.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 22 August 2014

10 Reasons to Believe in the Bible

1.  The most widely read book in history. It is also the first book to be printed.

2.  It was written in different languages in different places by multiple authors, yet it has a unified theme that runs from start to finish.

3.  Jesus testifies about the authority of the Bible (Matthew 5:17-20).

4.  The biblical authors also made similar claims for each other. For example, the Prophets endorsed the law, and the psalmists extolled its truth, beauty and sweetness (e. g Psalms 19, 119). Above all, the New Testament confirms the Old.

5.  History and archaeology also authenticates the Bible (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls, Tel Dan Stele and hundreds of other inscriptions, tablets, and manuscripts)

6.  The unique teaching of the Bible testifies to its exclusiveness, as it is relevant for every person in every age Isaiah (40:8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

7.  The Bible is the only book authenticated by other Sacred Books (i.e. the Holy Qur’an. Sura 3:3, 5:41-47)

8.  It has been translated into all major languages of the world without losing its meaning, eloquence, or the power to transform individuals and nations throughout history

9.  It contains fulfilled prophecies page after page. 300 prophecies have been fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone.

10.         The Bible has been on the forefront of social, political, and scientific progress for the last 2000 years

"The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of GOD. Therefore;
(1). It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would or could make a Book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus says the LORD," when it was their own invention.
(2). It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a Book which commands all the duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.

(3). Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration." ~Theologian Charles Wesley

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10 Reasons to Believe in Jesus

1.  The Old Testament testifies about Him (Isaiah 9:6, 53, Psalm 22, Deuteronomy 18:18.) There are more than 300 prophecies about the Messiah in the OT.

2.  The Saints testify about him (John  1:32, Matthew 16:16, Luke 1:1-4, Philippians 2:5-11)

3.  There is ample historical evidence  surrounding His life, teachings, death, and Resurrection

4.  He died for the sins of the world (John 3:16)

5.  Apostles died preaching this message. You never die for something that you know is false

6.  Even non-Christian historians of the early Christian era testify about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth(Josephus and Tacitus record the death of Jesus in their books Antiquities of the Jews and Annals respectively)

7.  He promises heaven to all those that believe in him (John 1:12)

8.  He is the center of history, and has more professing followers than any other person. This includes other religions as well who regard Jesus to be a prophet.

9.  He exemplified virtues of love, peace, and sacrifice that many still try to emulate. No one has influenced the world in the same way as Jesus of Nazareth. 

10 To the uniqueness of his person, there is no equal in the whole world, both past and present.

Greatest man in history, named Jesus. Had no servants, yet they called Him Master. Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher. Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer. He had no army, yet kings feared Him. He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world. He committed no crime.. Yet they crucified Him. He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today. (unknown)

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

MS-CAM vs. Kashif Shahzada II: An Exercise in Futility

One of the biggest sources of traffic for my blog has been my 2012 review of the debate between Christian apologist Matt Solomon and inter-faith speaker Kashif Shahzada. (Click here to read the review)

This post is all about what could have been Matt vs. Kashif II, but instead, one party ended up with a non-refundable ticket to Karachi. Continue reading to know what happened.

First Impressions
I am a person that does not take sides. I say what I feel in my heart and what makes sense in my mind. Anybody reading the review can clearly see that I don't show any bias towards the Christian position or against Kashif. 

I first published that review on Matt Solomon's Facebook page. Immediately, some of his friends, fans, and  students lashed out at me, saying that what I wrote is unfair, and that I don't know anything about apologetics and religious debates. Matthew removed the review from his page.

Hence, my first impression of Matthew was that he was a guy who couldn't take criticism. But all that changed when I received a call from him where he asked me to translate some material for his ministry. He told that he still had the review stored in his hard drive and only removed it from Facebook to avoid a personal war of words between me and the group members. 

Thus began a series of collaborations. As I am writing, he is already working on a project on my behalf just because I asked him to lend his expertise on the subject. 

On the other hand, my first impression of Kashif Shahzada was positive through and through. Given his academic background and speaking/publishing experience, anyone would easily be impressed. And if you read my review, I clearly wrote favourably about him.

But all that changed yesterday when he cancelled the long pending and much hyped exchange between Matt and himself. 

The Call for Debate
It all started about 2 weeks ago when Matthew called and said that he wanted to have a debate with Kashif, but Kashif insisted that the event should take place in Karachi instead of Matthew's home city, Lahore. 

Matthew was ready to travel, and I was willing to accommodate him. But....

A Series of Denials
Mr. Shahzada insisted that since it was the month of Ramadan and that he was fasting, the event should take place in an air-conditioned venue so that he doesn't get exhausted from speaking in the humid climate. Fair enough.

After disconnecting with Matthew, I immediately called an associate who I assumed could arrange such a venue. Note here that Matthew and I have never met since we live in different cities, and this associate (let's call him John) is not a close friend either. We only met once or twice before. 

But the 3 of us immediately got on board. In the days that ensued, there were phone calls, drives, and meetings. Me and brother John set aside our professional and social responsibilities just because a guy from another city asked us to do something!

In one of the air-conditioned churches we went, the pastor in-charge flatly denied our request, not only citing administrative reasons, but questioning the very purpose of such a debate. But no hard feelings, for we found another place where people were willing to support the event in every possible way.

There was no AC, but we arranged for a portable unit. All was well, but........    

The venue was 'too far' to drive back and forth for Kashif. He forgot that Matthew was coming from another city altogether by rail or road (he couldn't afford a plane ticket since the venue was decided a few days before the debate and the air-fare is higher when you book at the last minute).

So Kashif went on and allegedly booked a hall in a 5-star hotel under his company's name. Matthew called and said since he had to share the cost of the event, he needed some assistance from the partners in Karachi. I said yes, knowing that payday was near and that at least 3 of my brothers were willing to contribute. 


Now Kashif doesn't want to have a debate! He wants an 'inter-faith dialogue' because'the time is Ramadan so sensitive period to engage in a fighting duel'. So there will be individual speeches with no rebuttals. 

He also said that the venue had been paid in full by his company, thereby 'alleviating' Matthew's burden. However, the Christian side was prohibited from bringing any recording devices.

With some hesitation, Matthew accepted the format but insisted on bringing a video crew of our own. Kashif flatly refused, and also demanded that Matthew sign an NOC 'that Matthew does not have any objection to appear in the video recording and its broadcast and

does not have any claim or creative rights on it.' 

Matt replied that if copyright was a concern, he would give full credit to Kashif's media company on the video made by our cameramen. Kashif once again refused, resulting in a stale-mate.

Why This 'Rant'?
Brother Kashif's constant shifts on the terms and conditions and the refusal to debate proved highly inconvenient for us:

  • In the constant search for a venue, I was thoroughly exhausted, so much so that I had to take a day off from work.   
  • Even then I got no rest, for I had to personally visit the person who agreed to lend his venue just before Kashif 'booked' a hall
  • Matthew was willing to travel for more than 16 hours straight, reach my place, go for the debate, and then travel back home the same night. 
  • I was told that many people who received the news of the event actually made it to the venue, but came disappointed in the scorching heat.  

But that is not the point. This post would have never been written if Kashif gave us these terms and conditions the very first time Matthew invited him for a debate. To bombard us with these details at the 11th hour and putting us in an awkward position is, sorry to say, unprofessional. 

And Matthew told me that it is not the first time since he had cancelled a debate. Last time, Matthew actually made the flight to a neutral venue, only to be turned down. 

But there is a more serious issue here. 

Christians, like other minorities in Pakistan, are subject to stereotypes and constant criticism on grounds of religion. And religious debates where the Christian side proved weak in presenting its case are shown on TV. 

Not to mention, this is country where everyone from high-ranking officials to minors are convicted and even lynched for 'blasphemy'. 

In this atmosphere, people like Matthew are willing to come out and present their perspective, putting their own safety at risk. 

And the subject chosen for the debate was the Crucifixion of Jesus. This is a central tenet of Christianity, and Muslims at large deny it. How can such a topic be damaging to the sensitive nature of the Holy month of Ramadan, I fail to understand. If at all, it will be highly offensive to the Christian audience. 

We don't want to hurt the feelings of any religious group, Muslims in particular with whom we eat, work, and live with in Pakistan. We only want to present our perspective to the extent the constitution allows it. 

Kashif Shahzada denied Matthew and his supporting Christian community this chance, for which I see no justification. 

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