The cross he has had to bear

Bishop Alexander John Malik at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore – Photo by Saba Eitizaz for
Bishop Alexander John Malik at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore – Photo by Saba Eitizaz for

He carried a dream from his mother’s womb into the world. His mother, who had a vision of a blindingly radiant preacher amongst a heavenly audience, offered her unborn child’s life in the service of God. He lived his mother’s dream for 46 years - a life time – studying Arabic, the Quran and Sunnah. He was studying at the Islamic Research Center in McGill University, Canada – where he worked on his PhD thesis based on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – when called back to serve his country. This is not the story of an Islamic scholar. It is the story of Alexander John Malik, the Bishop of Lahore and his mission to unite Pakistan under the flag of compassion and inter-faith harmony. It is the story of 65 years of broken promises to those representing the white strip of the green flag and the lost vision of the Quaid-e-Azam.

Bishop Alexander John Malik is at the eve of his long career, set to retire by the end of September this year. Having served 32 years as the Bishop of Lahore, he wears the mantle of longest serving Bishop in the history of the Anglican Church of the sub-continent.

When I sit with him to discuss his lifelong commitment to the Christian community and Pakistan, it is only natural that we start off with Quaid’s August 11, 1947 speech where he explicitly gave equal rights and freedom to the religious minorities of Pakistan.

“You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Bishop Malik highlights his struggle and the nation’s journey since that address to the first constituent assembly 65 years ago. “The religious forces that were against the very creation of Pakistan, hijacked it.” Bishop Alexander is sorrowful.

“They took control of events and no particular regime had the power to contain them. When successive martial laws came, dictators were keener to hold on to their seats rather than face issues.”

It was not always this way. Resplendent in his semi-formal church attire, Bishop Malik recollects glowing vignettes from his childhood in Rawalpindi. With his mother’s dream and her promise to God, his path in life was clear. “When I was still a little boy, people used to call me ‘paadri sahab’ (priest).”  He also learned lessons in tolerance and co-existence on his mother’s knee. She insisted that he study Islam along with his own faith. He was sent to an all Muslim school in the 1950s.

“I was one Christian among 2,000 Muslim students, and nobody ever threatened me, everyone accepted me.”

He still considers himself a student of Islam.

When Bishop Malik travelled to Calcutta, India  to study theology at Bishop’s College, it was there that he was asked to contemplate his life’s purpose in an isolated room. Without human contact for 10 days, he finally found his mother’s dream. “I realised that she had dedicated a child to God without even knowing what kind of child would be born to her.” He says, “Her blind faith, at that moment, became mine.”

It is this blind faith that has helped him guide a beleaguered community through consequent decades of social, political and economic apartheid. It has formed his deep-set convictions that only inter-faith harmony and dialogue is the  way forward. It has earned him disapproval from extremist elements on both sides of the religious divide. “Some Christians think I’m trying to dilute the Christian message and some Muslims are suspicious of my message.” He walks a thin line, promoting humanitarianism. “The only way is one of co-existence; respecting each other’s religions and giving each other space. Loving humanity is the only religion there is.”

Since 1949’s Objective Resolution where religious identity was introduced to the Constitution, and the Christian members of the parliament walked out lamenting Jinnah’s original vision, consequent legislation has only served to marginalise minorities further. “People have drifted away from the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan as an open, liberal, nation-state.”

He was vociferous in speaking up for Christians as an integral part of Pakistan’s identity, during the 1980’s regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, which he considers the most challenging era for the  country, when radicalism began to take root in the socio-political system and eventually tainted mind-sets.

He was quick to expose the irony of the separate electorate system for religious minorities which was introduced by General Zia on the demand of conservative Islamic lobbies in the country. However, it was conveniently forgotten when Zia conducted a consolidated voting referendum to stay in power; Malik made sure the world saw the contradiction by leading the media to it. “When Zia wanted his own votes, suddenly Muslims and Christians became the same again.” He scoffs. He has registered his protest against this political Catch-22 situation by refusing to vote when the system is in practice, along with thousand of other minorities.

“We all voted together for the creation of Pakistan. We are one nation, our ballot boxes should never be separate.”

Over the following decades, Bishop Malik led his flock, through craggy terrain. Political and social isolation added fuel to repressive manipulation of laws such as Article 295-B and C, which has led to the documented targeting of thousands of Christians since its inception.  Several accused were murdered before reaching trial.

In 1998, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad shot himself on the steps of the court room that was to see another Christian, Ayub Masih accused under the blasphemy law. Bishop Malik is haunted by his friend’s loss of hope.

“He did it out of frustration, that people are not understanding our point of view.”

His path continues without his friend by his side. Advocating a review and amendments in the Blasphemy Law, he only wants it to stop being used as a tool of manipulation by malicious or exploitative elements. “We are not against the law, we are against the misuse of the law at the hands of people,” he adds, as his own hands tremble slightly.

At a very personal price, Bishop Alexander John Malik only sees light where others might despair. His residence has seen angry mobs outside, venting anger at Christians, or Western policies, often unable to differentiate.

“Sometimes we had to leave our homes and go and live elsewhere for a little while.”

His compound has been pelted with stones on a number of occasions. Receiving threats is nothing new.

He continues his battle of ideas. “To my Muslim friends and society I say that we are humans just like anyone else.” His voice cracks with emotion. “To my own people I say, look here, come out of your shells and engage your Muslim neighbours, participate in their lives so they may know you. But they are afraid when they are rejected.” It reminds him of some Christians from Pattoki who told him a story that reflects the road ahead. Having tea at a public tea-house, they were made to pay for the cups along with the tea, since the cups were to be discarded after being used by ‘untouchables’. There is no bitterness in his tone when he relates these stories.

The chronology of the last four years is a reflection of what forces Bishop Malik is up against. In 2009, 100 Christian Houses were burnt and looted in Gojra. In 2010, two Christian brothers, were shot in Faisalabad, after being alleged of blasphemy.  Minorities Minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011.

What binds him to the land despite these circumstances, despite the fact that most of his family is settled abroad, is a fierce love that a child carries for a mother. “Pakistan is my country. I was born here. I owe something to this land.”

He has been an ardent defender of Pakistan’s image at various international forums. His beloved country came under fire at a recent conference on the future of Pakistan in London.

“I said that Pakistan may have drifted away from the vision of its founding father, but there are people here who will bring it back.” He says with calm confidence. As he nears retirement, I ask the only question that he finds difficult to answer. Is he leaving with a heavy heart or hope? He hesitates for the first time.

“It is both. I want to leave with hope, to hang onto hope is the only solution.”

The author is a Lahore-based broadcast and print journalist.

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Comments (64) Closed

Aug 14, 2012 10:08am
wonderful to note
Aug 15, 2012 10:00am
Err....He is not Catholic. get your facts about other people's religions straight before you start defending your own.
Aug 14, 2012 11:57am
Christians supported the formation of Pakistan. Now they are reaping the rewards of their folly. Christians are flourishing in India while we are decimating them here and even refusing to recognize patriots like Group Captain (retd.) Cecil Chaudhry
Aug 14, 2012 11:54am
Join the club, Major sahib. :)
Aug 14, 2012 12:15pm
Sharp contrast to our mullahs this great man. Wish him all the best and may Pakistan get out of this chokehold of fanaticism.
Aug 14, 2012 10:41am
Ah! So there is a difference between clerics after all. Don't know the guy myself (met him once or twice) but what we have done to the minorities in Pakistan isn't even shameful anymore. We bask in the glory of us - the upright, staunch, valorous Muslim majority. The residents of the Fortress of Islam - and lets face it; who can tolerate traitors in a fort. Lets exterminate them enmass - once and for all. And then we can turn on Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists... it doesn't matter. The beauty of it is that afterwards we can turn on ourselves. After all, there are a good number of sub-categories of Muslims too. You can't gain independence of action till you are independent in thought. Praxis will always elude the Pakistani nation till it realizes this oft ignored fact and unity will follow the same fate. And we'll still be a murdering mob looking at each other in disgust after the lynching is done - but its all an act. In reality, we can't wait till the next victim.
Gerry D'Cunha
Aug 15, 2012 11:45am
I salute you Bishop Alexander John Malik for your 32 years dedicated service to the Christian communities and as a whole to the nation in Pakistan and in particular to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, as Christians we believe, chaallenges will come our way, we need to face it. God bless our Christians in Pakistan.
Aug 15, 2012 11:39am
The road on which St. Anthony's is situated in Lahore was proposed to be named Cecil Chaudhry road, but the plan was scrapped after some opposition due to his faith, and is now planned to be named Nizammuddin Road
Aug 16, 2012 02:11pm
Having survived in Pakistan for 32 years as a Bishop, he should have been granted Sainthood by the Pope!
Aug 16, 2012 10:06am
I can understand your frustration.....but now time has changed and mindset is changing as well. You cannot change something which has been going through for thousands of years. Effort is required for change. That's what Baba Sahib Ambedkar did. Now the dalits are getting the benefit. They were the one who did not ran away from problems simply by just converting but they fought with the system. And result is for all to see. Surely and gradually mindset will change and so will the condition of all castes and communities in India.
Aug 14, 2012 10:56am
"You can't gain independence of action till you are independent in thought" A good sentence to quote. Just see the whole history of Pakistan viz a viz the efforts made by the nation to achieve what you said. To me all hopes fading and no light at the end of the tunnel.
Sarah Malik
Aug 14, 2012 10:56am
Beautiful article, great message. The light of hope shines even in the darkest of times, and people like him are a blessing for Pakistan. For the record, this is not the Sacred Heart Church. It is the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection.
Aug 14, 2012 12:27pm
If we have such people in pakistan .is there a reason to lose hope!
Raj Paul
Aug 14, 2012 12:17pm
What can I say, all I can and add is that `Majhab Nahin Sikhata Auron Sey Wair Karna''. Jeo aur Jeney Do. There can not be more than One God who has created this universe. We need to think and rethink that we all have come from One Source and would be ending up in One Source. Alas, only if we all could become Just Inssan.
Aug 14, 2012 01:02pm
The Christians in Pakistan have been playing a wonderful and a vital role in the building up of a democartic Pakistan according to the dream and the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam. However, it frustrating to know that the services renered by Pakistani Christians are not being recognized e.g Group Captain Cecil Chaudry, a legendry Singer Saleem Raza who sung more than 300 national and patriotic songs in 1965 and many others professionals in the fields of education, art, medicine and social science! May God bless Pakistan on its Independence Day!
Aug 14, 2012 12:54pm
"You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Quaid-e- Azam Mohammad ali Jinnah August 11, 1947 An open invitation to the entire nation of Pakistan to reflect and ponder! Wishing all you the BEST of Luck and a very Happy Independence Day!
Amir Saeed
Aug 14, 2012 10:45am
God bless you Bishop Sahib
Aug 14, 2012 12:50pm
sab ko maar do........... sab ko bhagha do..... sab ko jala do............ Puri duniya eak taraf .............hum eak taraf...................
Aug 14, 2012 01:25pm
You are a great human being.A son who loves his mother land. My head bows in shame when I see my own country men facing social,economic and political apartied .Let us keep the hope alive against all hopelessness.
Aug 14, 2012 01:34pm
Great job done by the writer , we must highlight the contribution of such honest and well read people belonging to minorities .
Aug 14, 2012 01:55pm
God Bless our Bishop. We need men of his character to move country forward.
Michael V Braganza
Aug 14, 2012 02:17pm
Group Capt Cecil Choudhry's sister Sheila Chaudry taught me at the Presentation Convent Murree ( hope I spelt that correctly !) What is the story on him please. I left Pakistan in 1971 and my family ( lax christians to say the least) left in the 80's as we saw what was coming. But what a wonderful country it was then and what would I not give to see Karachi where we spent so many happy years, and Murree and Abbottabad where I was educated. It is heartbreaking to see how badly the country has gone down.
robert owns
Aug 14, 2012 03:15pm
poor fellows lifes work is wasted
Anand Jha
Aug 14, 2012 03:36pm
Very good article about a gentleman who loves his country irrespective of the fact what he receives back. Yes there is a hope and specifically with a news paper like Dawn who has been constantly raising this issue.
Aug 14, 2012 03:45pm
Christians did not support the idea of Pakistan. Please get your facts right. Look at the voting records from that era. Those Christians who remained in Pakistan after partition happened to be "accidental" citizens by lack of choice.
Aug 14, 2012 06:51pm
I am sorry :(
Aug 14, 2012 07:11pm
Now why can't mullahs think and act like this man? Well if your entire canon of knowledge consists of tracts that you can parrot in a foreign language then murder, bigotry and hate is all we can expect from you. May the good Bishop live long and prosper,
Aug 14, 2012 07:16pm
Problem is that the Hindus do not recognize Shudras as "insaan" If the Hindus had not committed such atrocities for millennial , there was no need for the downtrodden to seek another religion. Islam showed the way out to these wretched people. My grandfather was a shudra, and Im so glad he converted to Islam. With the 2000 years of atrocities committed by the higher caste hindus on my forefathers, why shouldn't I hate your religion and your country? Are you trying to wipe out 2000 years of atrocities in a single stroke? Have u shown anything to atone for the sins of your forefathers on my forefathers?? Insha Allah, we will support all your shudras and tribals and enlighten them about Islam.
Aug 14, 2012 07:24pm
When political independence was won by the people of the South Asia in 1947, the organization and activities of the Christian community changed drastically. Christians in Punjab and Sindh had been quite active post 1945 in their support for Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League. Even before the final phase of the movement, leading Indian Christians like Pothan Joseph had rendered valuable services as journalists and propagandists of the Muslim League.
Syed Iqbal Haider
Aug 14, 2012 07:51pm
May God Bless you, Bishop Malik ! People like you are the only hope left, for Pakistan. I still want see the self imposed owners of Pakistan, stop destruction of, Human Beings, Godly Values and Pride of us all the Pakistanis
Mustafa Razavi
Aug 14, 2012 08:24pm
Never heard the name before, but that doesn't make any difference. I would like to know what the Bishop Sahib's reaction was to Pope vitriol against our holy prophet? Did he remind the Pope of religious harmony or tolerance. I won't hold it against him if he didn't, but if he did, that would be a truly moral high ground and an indication of free thinking for his person as well as his church.
edgar khairullah
Aug 14, 2012 08:27pm
Alec, I so love you; why because you are my brother; and why on earth have you not replied to my letters? Lots of my love to Shamim, and I hope and pray you settle down someplace and do deserve a lot of peace and tranquility. May God bless you. Edo Bhai
Aug 14, 2012 08:58pm
As long as the middle class is quiet in Pakistan. The mullahs and their 10% supporters will carry on bullying minorities and the rest of us in Pakistan.
Aug 14, 2012 10:06pm
Salute to you Bishop sahib. I dont believe people generally have gone in any wrong direction but yes they surely are directionless nowadays.
Aug 15, 2012 04:17am
dear sir pakistani christians opted for Pakistan. in 1947 ,all four christian members of Punjab legislative assembly voted for Pakistan. even than vote was 50/ the end MR s.p.Singha SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, who was also a christian, casted the deciding vote, resulting in division of punjab ,into East and West Punjab. without Mr Singha vote the whole PUNJAB would have gone to INDIA!!! these are the facts.
Aug 15, 2012 12:02am
I understand that many liberals deliberately avoid using religious arguments - and who can blame them when you see how many overtly religious people shame their faith. However I often wonder why the liberal media doesnt at least question the integrity of religious Muslims who nevertheless persecute Christians. Surely from an orthodox position, it is kufr to deny Christians the right to live in unmolested and in peace. When Christians are attacked surely it must be a duty to defend the rights God gave them. No?
Aug 15, 2012 12:25am
I don't know who is denying recognition to the great Cecil Chaudhry - stop hanging around the wrong crowd!
Naseem Mian
Aug 15, 2012 01:55am
Excellent man that I know. We salute your courage Malik Sahib. God bless you and your family.
Aug 15, 2012 02:28am
The lives of minorities are not safe in Pakistan.But we are talking about country where people dont have power /light for whole day, where any body can get killed at any time and corruption is at extreme.Common man has nothing to do with it.Just few mullahs who cant tolerate any other view then theirs
B R Chawla
Aug 15, 2012 02:42am
After all the Hindus have fled, after all Christians have been shot dead for blasphemy, after all Ahmidies have been gagged to death shall the Pakistanis realize that bigotry cannot prevent a bloody sectarian wars amongst the Muslims themselves. Wake up before it is too late.
Aug 15, 2012 05:59am
Michael Braganza I remember you from Burn Hall. I have an interesting photo of you in the school play in 1967. You played a villain in Arsenic and old Lace! :) Nasir Ali Khan
Aug 15, 2012 06:03am
Thank you Saba for writing this interesting article. I stand witness to the fact that Bishop Malik immensely contributed for the down trodden and marginalized section of the society. He thinks, acts and preaches in a holistic manner promoting notions such as unity in diversity. Education, healthcare, and interfaith harmony are the focus areas Bishop Malik passionately worked for. Religious scholars are leaders of influence for the masses specially in a society where every thing is seen through a religious lens and in this situations a religious leader like bishop Malik has a big role to play, which he does to promote respect for human dignity irrespective of religious differences
Aug 15, 2012 06:04am
Having been a Bishop for 32 years they should have made him a Cardinal.
Aug 15, 2012 06:30am
Why are his credentials being measured by reactions against other people's fight? And if that is a yard stick you use, then what was your reaction regarding in case of the plight of Kashmiri Brahmins? Hypocrisy at its best. Shame on you.
Aug 15, 2012 06:32am
Brother, the perception we have here, across the border, is that the "silent majority" or the tolerant middle class is not more than 10% in Pakistan.
Abdus Salam Khan
Aug 15, 2012 06:46am
I still cherish the day when you graced my house in Lahore with a visit in the eighties. We are going to miss you, Bshop Malik.
Aug 15, 2012 06:48am
Because they don't wanna become salman taseer.
Aug 15, 2012 07:08am
Mr. Ahmed, Good morning!!!! I think its TIME TO WAKE-UP untill it is too Late for you. How can you say that Christians didn't support the idea of Pakistan and didn't Vote for it? Have you ever heard about Mr. S. P. Singha? the person whose vote decided the fate of West Punjab? Which you now call the "Heart Of Pakistan i'm sharing few lines which i took from net with you. Hope it would ENOUGH TO OPEN UR EYES & MIND & HEART for the minorities. "Sataya Prakash (SP) Singha, the very first Speaker of the Punjab Assembly. He was also a great admirer of Jinnah, and it was on his urging that he decided to support the politics of Pakistan. It was the critical ‘deciding’ vote of this one man that West Punjab came to Pakistan. In ‘legislative’ terms, his vote won the day"
Aug 15, 2012 07:33am
Why are his credentials being measured by reactions against other people's fight? And if that is a yard stick you use, then what was your reaction regarding in case of the plight of Kashmiri Brahmins?
Aug 15, 2012 07:45am
I am lucky to leave and MOVE TO USA GOD BLESS AMERICA> 97% pakistani are MUSLIMS and intolerant. Christians had done too much for pakistan than any Muslims in pakistan today what pakistan facing is because of Muslim community Christians always contributed good to pakistan and being christian I am very proud of my faith and sorry for how muslims are messed up....God Bless America Albie
Aug 15, 2012 09:00am
Zaid Hamid for Amir-ul-Momineen. Only he and his big words can rescue Pak from it's current situation.
Anand Jha
Aug 15, 2012 09:41am
Very good article about a gentleman who loves his country irrespective of the fact what he receives back.
Mustafa Razavi
Aug 15, 2012 03:33pm
ABB; Now that you live in USA, could you leave us alone, the malice within keeps you coming back to our business.
Aug 15, 2012 03:37pm
Lots of Muslim groups did not support the formation of Pakistan, e.g. Jamait-e- Islami was against the idea. But that does not mean that members of Jamait-e-Islami are not patriotic in anyways. However, under the current circumstances Pakistan is not a country of choice for lots of its own Muslim citizens. I believe Christians and other minorities living in Pakistan are more loyal to the country than any mainstream Muslim. Bishop Alexander John Malik is a highly educated individual and has provided valuable to people of Pakistan we should respect him.
Aftab Saeed
Aug 15, 2012 03:43pm
Have a well deserved rest, Bishop. God bless u!
Muhammad Abdullah
Aug 15, 2012 04:01pm
They can strip his name or disallow any road to be named after the great Cecil Chaudhry but can they make us forget our heroes? No sir. He will live in our hearts.
tahir wadood malik
Aug 15, 2012 04:50pm
saba, thank you, bishop malik, way to go. when we were growing up religion had no say in our upbringing - yes we had the molvi come in to teach us the quran, it still happens, we went tot he church on sunday many times to play with our class fellows who would go for sunday service, my best friend still is a christian. in fact we were so close as families even that christians thought i was one of them, and muslims thought he was one of us. where did we go wrong? how did we get vulnerable, where did we loose our tolerance, what led to this radicalization? i am happy that i know the bishops family, and i stand with my friends, our hour of need as a nation needs human beings, not sects.
Sultan Alvi
Aug 15, 2012 06:18pm
Sorry Robert, good work never gets wasted. You may not be able to see it, but it is always there... Law of Karma.
Sultan Alvi
Aug 15, 2012 06:29pm
Well done Raza, couldn't agree more. God bless Pakistan and ALL of its good people, minus these paagal, so-called jihadis.
Michael V Braganza
Aug 15, 2012 06:31pm
Hello Nasir, I dont think this is the right forum for us to renew our acquaintance, but I cant let this oppurtunity pass.My email is If this message is published it would be nice to catch up.
Aug 16, 2012 03:25am
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and muslims are all our brothers & sisters. Full stop.
Uzair Peracha
Aug 16, 2012 09:42am
Excellent article. God bless you Bishop Sahib. A great man indeed. He is a living legend and a passionate humanitarian.
Aug 17, 2012 07:16am
whatever pope said he spoke the truth and reality of the time and Hisory If anyone get offended I like to offer my personal appology God Bless Pope
Aug 19, 2012 11:28am
road naming has always been political, check the political naming of roads in Islamabad and all the controversy around late 90s! Not everything is a conspiracy against Minorities in Pakistan. He is our hero and will always remain so!