Editor’s note: The following account was written for RaymondIbrahim.com by an American teacher in the Muslim world.
Even though I have been living in the Islamic world for almost three years, the events in this story surprised even me. I guess the idea of being betrayed by a friend or a co-worker with whom I have had a long and cordial relationship is still hard for me to accept. So, when I heard that a group of Muslim women double-crossed their Christian colleagues to secure permanent positions for their co-religionists nurses, I was stunned.
The events that led to this betrayal began in March 2014 in a government hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, where Muslim and Christian nurses had worked together for several years without any major problems. In an attempt to save money, the government decided to not renew the contracts of the nurses classified as temporary (the nurses were either classified as permanent or temporary – with renewable yearly contracts).
For obvious reasons, the entire nursing staff was unhappy by that announcement. The temporary nurses would be out of a job while the permanent nurses would have to add the workload of the laid off nurses to their own without extra compensation. In a move of solidarity, the Muslim and Christian nurses decided to protest the staff cuts in the front of the hospital (Ruth and Sandra represented the Christian nurses).
Shortly after the protest began, the police arrived and asked the protest leaders the purpose of the manifestation. Ruth explained the situation to them, but was told that they were in the wrong and that they should all go home. Then, the representatives of the Muslim nurses told the police officers that they were only bystanders and not part of the protest. Upon hearing that, the police captain ordered the arrest of the Christian nurses, who in complete shock by their Muslim co-workers betrayal shouted, “Look around! You can see that they were protesting with us.”
The police ignored the obvious and arrested the 17 Christian nurses for disorderly conduct. The next day, local Muslim politicians visited the nurses (who had been released on bail) and told them that if they resigned, the charges against them would be dropped. The Christian nurses then realized that somewhere down the line, the protest turned into a plot to replace the Christian nurses on permanent status with Muslim nurses on temporary status. They refused to resign and said they would fight this injustice in court.
Interestingly, their unfair treatment got the attention of some people in the Muslim media who sympathized with them. They joined forces with Christian organizations and succeeded in pressuring the government to immediately drop the charges and give the Christian nurses their jobs back. A week later, the Christian nurses were back at the hospital and everything seemed normal (the government also renewed the contracts of the temporary nurses).
Sadly, the Muslim nurses were angry that their Islamic sisters with temporary status did not get permanent status and spread rumors that Ruth and Sandra blasphemed against Islam. Within an hour, the two women were forced to leave the hospital because of the violent threats they received from staff members. Sandra’s husband, who worked as a lab technician at the hospital was also forced to leave.
Knowing very well what was about to happen, they withdrew their children from school and emptied their bank accounts. During that time, Ruth’s husband phoned to tell her that he had just been fired from the hotel management job he had held since 1999.
That night, while sitting around a table at Ruth’s house and trying to make sense of the day’s events, they received a phone call from a friend warning them that a mob was heading their way to kill them. They took all of their valuables and fled to one of Ruth’s relatives in the countryside. There, they applied for visas to Thailand and a week later, they joined the more than 7000 Pakistani refugees now living in Thailand who have also fled Pakistan because of religious persecution.
As Amnesty International reported back in 1994:
Several dozen people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan over the last few years; in all the cases known to Amnesty International, the charges of blasphemy appear to have been arbitrarily brought, founded solely on the individuals’ minority religious beliefs. . . . The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities . . . hostility towards religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage. As a consequence, Amnesty International has concluded that most of the individuals now facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges, are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs in violation of their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. (Crucified Again, p.136)
Author’s note: The names of the individuals in this article were changed to protect their relatives who remain in Pakistan.