This year Christmas in Pakistan which is usually distinguished by Christmas plays, fairs and festivals, bore a somber, yet solemn tone. The echoes of great joy and celebration which used to reverberate through the various churches and schools in Pakistan took a bereaved tone in solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar attack.
As the festive tone of Christmas changed so did the focus of the occasion from a time of celebration to a time of contemplation. When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, a sleepy little Palestinian town, there was nothing to rejoice for the Jewish people. They had yet again lost their freedom and were under the rule of the fierce Roman Empire. It seemed to them that the promise made to their forefather, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, David and Solomon were all things of the past and that nothing was remaining. The glorious past was just a vision and only servitude was their future. It was in these dire conditions that Christ was born in Bethlehem.
The birth of Christ, in a lowly manger surrounded only by his mother, foster father and farm animals was as low a birth as one could imagine. The only people the heavenly angels could muster for homage were the sleepy shepherds and their slightly confused flock. This was certainly, by all counts, not the expected birth of the long awaited Messiah who was supposed to deliver the Jewish people from their slavery.
However, this is exactly how the glory of God was shown — in a very powerful manner — to the Jewish people. Christ was born in a lowly state so that the lowest of the low do not feel separated from the Kingdom of God; he was surrounded by farm animals to exhibit how the animals we mistreat almost every day were the first ones to behold the Messiah; and he was given homage by shepherds who were generally considered dim — indeed his birth had turned the world upside down.
By all accounts Pakistan is in dire straits. Nothing is going as it should have been — the glorious vision of our founders (according to some) has been distorted beyond repair, there is little worth of a human’s life, let alone care of animals, and recently even our future has been brutally attacked. Indeed our condition is not better and perhaps even worse than that of first century Palestine.
In these times, therefore, we first need to take stock of what has happened. Rather than knee jerk reactions, which actually serve no purpose except for an adrenaline rush, we need to understand what exactly — especially focusing on our own actions — has caused this situation.
Today in Pakistan, we are ready to blame everyone else for our misery — the Indians, Americans, Israelis, and perhaps soon enough even the Martians, but we never consider if our condition is the result of our own actions. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is the first step towards the solution of any problem.
Secondly, we should only take clear, logical and thought out actions. The recent decisions of the government are good, but they will only bear fruit if we implement them in letter and spirit. For example, choking funds for extremist organisations also means blocking funds and other support from the Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. It also means that we need to stem our support for any extremist measures in Indian-held Kashmir since extremism and terrorism has no friends, and we will all suffer again if we make such distinctions.
Thirdly, we must not indulge in expediency. History has clearly shown that decisions which bring quick short-term gains but adverse long-term results are never a good idea. For example, the setting up of military courts will certainly be a clear setback to the evolution of a people-centred judicial system in Pakistan. The current judicial system is deemed broken by a lot, so why not fix it rather than just skipping the step and handing over charge to the military. Do people who have other kinds of criminal or civil cases not deserve speedy, fair and effective justice?
Fourthly, as a nation which does truly believe in the saving power of God — be it Muslims, Christians, Hindus of Pakistan — let us turn to God in prayer and contemplation and seriously reflect on ourselves. The basic message of Christmas is the extension of God’s hand towards humankind and it is our responsibility to worthily respond to his call.
In this season let us look towards Christ — Jesus, Issa — for help and guidance for whom the Quran has clearly said: “We gave him the Gospel and put compassion and mercy in the hearts of his followers.” (57:27).
Today in Pakistan we indeed need this compassion and mercy.