British High Commissioner Christian Turner and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
British High Commissioner Christian Turner and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

• Says his meeting with PM Khan was largely around interfaith harmony
• Insists one of the roles of Church of England is to combat Islamophobia

ISLAMABAD: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Monday said though there was a clear commitment by the Pakistani government to religious freedom and belief, minorities of all sorts, and also the Muslim majority, remained suppressed in their daily lived experience.

“There are very clear misuses, as is recognised, of the blasphemy law against minorities; however most of the misuses — well over 50pc — are Muslims misusing it against Muslims,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said during an interview with Dawn.

The archbishop is visiting Pakistan to express support to the Christian community, meet national leaders and highlight the importance of maintaining good relations between different faiths in Pakistan.

His visit also aimed to show support to the Church of Pakistan and the wider Christian community, hear their concerns, spend time in prayers, worship and fellowship.

He also condemned the recent attack on two pastors in Peshawar.

Archbishop Welby said there were also issues on the daily experience of forced conversions, child marriage and access to education and jobs.

This was, in his view, a cultural reality in the same way as in the UK there were different cultural realities.

“The law clearly prevents racism but lived experience of many minorities in the UK is of racism. There remains a deep commitment from many religious leaders, to peace and harmony, to building good communication and making it work. There is a long way to go,” he said.

In his impression of the blasphemy law, Justin Welby argued: “If you are going to have blasphemy law, it is so important that it cannot be misused. One of the things that many religious leaders, including Muslims, are saying is there needs to be a balance between the blasphemy law and its misuse. If one person accuses someone of blasphemy falsely and with malicious intent, they should have a criminal penalty, in the same way as when there has been blasphemy, and the blasphemer should have criminal penalty.”

In response to a question, Justin Welby shared concerns of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was worried about Islamophobia in the West.

“As in all communities there are religious leaders who are Islamophobic. They are not major religious leaders and not well known, but it exists. There is also racism and the two were often interlinked in a really bad way but there was genuine Islamophobia,” he said, explaining how it had now gotten worse in recent years along with anti-Semitism and racism.

“One of the roles of the Church of England was to combat Islamophobia, which the Queen and I often speak about following her example, is that the church exists to protect minority faith. Our job is to speak up for the minority faith,” he said.

The archbishop said he and his wife joined the Muslim community in Central London to reject the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“When people express Islamophobic views in the church they are told how wrong they are in no uncertain terms,” he added.

He said his conversation with Prime Minister Imran Khan at a meeting on Monday was largely around interfaith harmony.

“We talked particularly about education and its role, ensuring that education is used creatively and constructively, which is clearly what he wishes for, and not used as a tool to impose particular views,” Justin Welby said.

He also met Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa to congratulate him on the success of Pakistan Army against the insurgency and at the same time condoled with him on the terrible casualties suffered in Pakistan in the battles in the last eight years.

In response to another question, Archbishop Welby said his favourite story from the Bible, particularly from the Old Testament, was the Book of Ruth - beautiful, profound and on interfaith harmony.

“From the New Testament there is one of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, which is the image of the way in which God is compassionate and merciful, reaching out to the world in love,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2022

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