The “situation in Pakistan is, in many ways, a microcosm of the experience of Christians throughout the Islamic world,” writes Casey John Chalk in his new book. In The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute Press) he gives valuable insight based on his personal experience in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Thailand.
Having learned local languages in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a Department of Defense linguist, Chalk met Pakistanis again while working in Bangkok in 2014-2017. Facilitated by easy entry requirements into this tourist mecca, between 7,000 and 12,000 mostly Christian Pakistani asylum seekers and refugees reside in Thailand. “Many Pakistanis in Bangkok were best identified as economic migrants seeking a better opportunity,” he writes.
For one woman, the “reasons she gave for coming to Thailand had changed over the years—religious persecution, suffering as a political dissident, a dangerous personal situation. Was all that true? Perhaps,” Chalk says. “I encountered my fair share of heroes and villains caught up in the asylum-seeker crisis,” he adds; “it required effort and shrewdness to determine how desperate and needy such people truly were.”
One desperate Christian fell prey to a huckster who promised asylum in Poland, so Chalk’s donated “money had evaporated, squandered on a reckless, ill-conceived scheme.”
Nonetheless, Chalk amply documents how persecution is genuine for many Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Pakistani founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah promised a secular state following independence and Indian partition in 1947. Yet “as was so often the case during the postcolonial era, this (ostensibly) secular nationalist movement proved fertile breeding-ground for Islamism,” Chalk says.
Today “anti-Christian riots, kidnappings, bombings, murders, theft, and destruction of property have become common experiences for Pakistani Christians,” Chalk observes. In 1999, some journalists even claimed that Pakistani Christians were “worse off than the untouchables of India.” He particularly noted that a “terrifying trend is the prevalence of the abduction, rape, and forced marriage of Christian girls to their rapists,” about 1,000 annually. The “girls are forced to convert to Islam, which makes their coerced marriages legal under Sharia-influenced legal codes.”
Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law with its death penalty as well as vigilante violence against any Christian transgressors of Islamic piety are described in the book. In Pakistan’s first blasphemy case involving a Christian in 1991, the presiding judge attested that the accuser had the “beard and outlook of being a true Muslim,” Chalk recounts. “Perhaps one of the most dramatic signs of Christian pessimism in the face of rising Muslim antipathy,” he adds, “was the shocking May 1998 suicide of Rev. John Joseph, Catholic bishop of Faisalabad (and the first indigenous Catholic bishop).”
Self-appointed guardians of Islamic faith post wanted posters on Pakistani mosques for Christian miscreants, Chalk examines. The reach of these enforcers extends even longer, as a “Pakistani Christian asylum seeker…had been killed in Thailand in 2019 by Pakistani Muslim extremists,” who “accused the man of blasphemy and murdered him in a remote Thai province,” he adds.
Another Pakistani Christian asylum seeker also faced a shocking visit from home during a Bangkok interview with American officials. A Muslim interpreter working for the United Nations told the Christian in Urdu that he “should go back to Pakistan and become a Muslim, which would solve all his problems.”
Chalk advised one Christian following a near fatal assault in Pakistan:
to grow a long beard and wear clothes like the Muslims who attacked him. Blending in and apostasy are two entirely different things; there was no reason to draw attention to himself in a city full of men eager to make examples of Christians.
Asia Bibi, who suffered her own years-long ordeal of a Pakistani blasphemy prosecution, buttresses Chalk’s case. Pakistani Christians like her “have to state our religion on our identification papers, and our passport has a different color: black,” she has written, “as if we have a mark in the middle of our faces.” Due to widespread discrimination, the vast majority of Christians are limited to cleaning the streets, and they are called choori, an extremely demeaning, even insulting, nickname that basically means toilet cleaner.
Chalk traces the doctrinal origins of Muslim persecution of Christians in Pakistan and beyond back to Islam’s founding prophet Muhammad in 7th Century Arabia, the period of supposed pre-Islamic ignorance or Jahiliya. Muhammad “began a campaign of revenge aimed at those who had either mocked him or promoted pagan customs” and “ordered the brutal murder of his enemies across Arabia,” Chalk writes. Likewise, “Muhammad upended ancient Jahiliya custom among Arabs that had promoted the ransoming, rather than the killing, of prisoners of war,” as Quran 8:67 indicates.
Such Islamic doctrinal dangers might not remain isolated Muslim-majority countries, Chalk warns. “Islam as a religiopolitical force once threatened the gates of Europe at Vienna. A new extremist strain has emerged that is a global threat to Christianity worldwide,” he writes. As “Michel Houellebecq’s frightening but brilliant 2015 novel Submission reminds us, the very word Islam means ‘submission,’ and that is exactly what many who practice it seek to achieve: unconditional submission,” he adds.
Chalk particularly worries that “current Western immigration policies, as they pertain to those suffering religious persecution, seem to me ill-considered.” The West “had so readily accepted the Muslim refugees,” he notes, even though one Pakistani Christian warned Chalk that some of these Muslims will simply become “troublemakers.” “All pro-immigration policies, especially those that threaten the physical or economic security of a nation, are not inherently divinely sanctioned,” Chalk concludes.
In contrast, Chalk advocates prioritizing persecuted Christians in refugee policies. Therefore, “while the suffering of Muslims should not be diminished, Christian minority populations across the Muslim world,” he writes, “are in a categorically different position: they are increasingly unwelcome in their ancestral homes.” Yet his Capitol Hill experience with American lawmakers like the Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has “demonstrated how woefully ignorant many of our representatives are about the fact that Christians are the most persecuted religious group on the planet.” To counteract such ignorance, Chalk’s book shines a penetrating light on Christians suffering under sharia.