Seventeen-year-old Sharoon Masih was beaten to death by Muslim classmates after only four days at a new school in Punjab, the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) reported. The teacher said he did not notice the attack because he was reading a newspaper. The story has attracted global attention, sparking at least one vigil in Australia.
“You’re a Christian don’t dare sit with us if you want to live,” one boy reportedly told Sharoon. Razia Bibi, the boy’s 30-year-old mother, said he was isolated from the very first day at his new high school and was the only Christian in his class.
“Sharoon and I cried every night as he described the daily torture he was subjected to,” Bibi said. “He only shared details about the violence he was facing. He did not want to upset his father because he had such a caring heart for others.”
Muslim boys reportedly called Sharoon a “chura,” a derogatory term against Christians. They also repeatedly attempted to convert him to Islam, but the boy held fast to his Christian faith, only making the Muslim students more angry.
Muhammad Ahmed Rana confessed to the murder, a bludgeoning that killed Sharoon on August 27. Students initially claimed that Sharoon was killed for bumping into Rana’s foot, but Rana insisted that the Christian boy smashed the screen on his smartphone. He has said other boys were involved, but has refused to implicate them, and no other students have pointed fingers.
Students at first reported that the teacher overseeing the classroom ignored the brutal murder of this despised Christian, but the teacher himself claimed that he was reading a newspaper and did not notice the attack.
This would have been impossible, as reports state Sharoon was beaten to a cacophony of insults. The inactivity of this particular teacher is not the only concern — BPCA reported that police are asking why other teachers in classrooms nearby did not rush to Sharoon’s aid. Not one of the teachers reacted to the noise from the melee.
The head teacher backed up the teacher in question, arguing that the attack occurred between classroom sessions and that one teacher was late to arrive, so the incident took place without notice. This head teacher has since been fired by the school’s governing body.
Both the head teacher and the classroom teacher have escaped any criminal conviction for negligence and manslaughter.
BPCA and Sharoon’s parents are considering a lawsuit which could cost £2,000 (The organization is requesting donations here). BPCA paid for Sharoon’s funeral. He was buried on August 28.
“Winning this case would go some way towards highlighting and bringing change to the poor school governance and institutional discrimination that threatens the future of every Christian student in Pakistan,” BPCA argued.
“The parents of Sharoon believe the wall of silence reveals the contempt that these students have for Christians and the low value placed on their lives,” BPCA reported.
“The evil boys that hated my child are now refusing to reveal who else was involved in his murder,” Sharoon’s mother said. “Nevertheless one day God will have His judgement.”
“Christians are despised and detested in Pakistan, they are a constant target for persecution,” BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said in a statement on the murder. “This killing of a young Christian teenager at school serves only to remind us that hatred towards religious minorities is bred into the majority population at a young age, through cultural norms and a biased national curriculum.”
Chowdhry argued that Sharoon’s bullying and murder were “by no means … an anomaly — it is an expectation that Christians will face abuse and violence during the years in the educational system.”
He argued that this is an institutional problem. “The Government of Pakistan failed to remove offensive texts within their national curriculum despite it having been highlighted by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom [USCIRF] and potentially being a bar to foreign aid,” the BPCA chairman said.
Indeed, USCIRF’s 2017 report on Pakistan decried the government’s perpetration and toleration of “systemic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.” These violations included blasphemy laws, under which at least 40 individuals have been sentenced to death or are serving life sentences. Religious minorities include Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims, all of whom face religiously motivated violence.
Two recent USCIRF studies revealed religious bias in public textbooks. The most recent study, in 2016, found that 16 problematic passages reported by USCIRF in 2011 had been removed from textbooks, but 70 new intolerant or biased passages were added. in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, there were 12 such passages.
“Overall, the report found that Pakistani textbooks continue to teach bias against and distrust of non-Muslims and followers of any faith other than Islam, and portray them as inferior,” USCIRF’s 2017 report explained. “Moreover, the textbooks depict non-Muslims in Pakistan as non-Pakistani or sympathetic to Pakistan’s perceived enemies.”
“These portrayals stoke pre-existing societal tensions and create a negative climate for Pakistan’s religious minority communities.”
Open Doors USA has ranked Pakistan the fourth worst country for Christians in the world.
Pakistan has a fascinating and turbulent history, and it was founded when the Muslim section of what was considered to be part of India broke away to found another country. This history leads Pakistan to have a strong Muslim identity, and that helps explain the bias against non-Muslims.
USCIRF has also reported forced conversions and marriages of Hindu and Christian girls and women, and has marked Pakistan a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, since 2002.
BPCA’s Chowdhry blamed the schools and the government for inculcating “generations of Pakistani citizens with false stereotypes that undermine the basic human rights of the non-Muslims in their midst. This miseducation has reciprocally also made Muslims more susceptible to the hate ideology espoused by the many rogue Imams following hardline sects of Islam.”
Bibi and Chowdhry both praised Sharoon as a pleasant, smart, and hard-working boy who will be sorely missed.
“My son was a kind-hearted, hard-working and affable boy,” Sharoon’s mother said. “He has always been loved by teachers and pupils alike and showed great sorrow that he was being targeted by students at his new school because of his faith.”
“Sharoon, a bright and intelligent young boy who had a potentially good future has now been killed,” Chowdhry said. “Yet once again in Pakistan, the debate is not on who is culpable but who is not culpable of a most heinous crime.”
This coming Friday, Australian Christians will meet outside the Parliament in New South Wales to commemorate Sharoon’s life and to highlight the ongoing persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Their candlelight vigil will remind the world of his death and show solidarity with the bereaved family seeking justice. It will also draw attention to the $47 million Australia sends in aid to Pakistan.
“Our Candlelight vigil will allow people of good conscience to mourn for the loss of Martyr Sharoon Masih, who held onto his faith despite knowing it meant he would suffer pain and ultimately lose his life,” Chowdry told PJ Media in a statement.
“We hope by holding the vigil before the Australian Parliament in NSW that politicians in this country will rethink their relationship with Pakistan,” the BPCA chariman added. He noted that none of Australia’s aid to Pakistan “is earmarked to improve the human rights of minorities who are oppressed by the majority Muslim population incessantly.”
BPCA has also launched a petition for Australians to ask their government to provide asylum for Pakistani Christians.