By David Burton
The village of Malik Ibrahim spreads across several square miles, with homesteads separated by their fields, perhaps a few houses belonging to brothers and sisters of the same family gathered together.
We had come to one of these little clusters to find out how much of an impact our work has had. We had given people training in sanitation, hygiene and the safe use of water, and helped them with kitchen equipment and tents to help them through the winter.
We were led through quite a sprawl of houses, scattered with scrub and cattle. The houses were made of mud, and the tents we had given were opened out on the walls to cover gaps that the villagers had yet to repair.
One house was made out of brick, and was decorated with pieces of colored foil. As I walked past, one of the villagers tried to usher me inside. I smiled, and declined, but he insisted, and leaned in to explain. ‘Church,’ he said.
I had to make my interviews, so I regretfully kept going, but I was surprised – Pakistan is a majority-Muslim nation, and I thought the odds of us finding a Christian community would be very small indeed. But here they were.
So I was surprised again to find the men a hundred yards further down the road greeting me with the hearty ‘salaam aleikum’ which I’m used to using at home in Bangladesh with Muslim friends. They were friendly, and welcomed me.
I was confused. I’m used to seeing different beliefs cause people to associate only with people of their own kind; watching religion become ethnicity. It happens all over the world, and it’s tragic, even when it’s peaceful. But here, it seemed there was a community of people of different beliefs living together very peacefully.
I asked my questions, and was encouraged to discover that not only had these men grasped the knowledge they had received, they were keen to pass it on to others. Including the Christians down the road.
I’m reminded of this today (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12617562), as the global story out of Pakistan continues to be about a tiny number of extremists and their divisive, murderous way. I read with sadness about attacks on politicians and citizens in Pakistan, not least because the people I met there were polite, welcoming, and proud of their nation. With good reason. Pakistan is remarkable.
I pray that the Pakistan I saw in Malik Ibrahim is stronger and more enduring than the Pakistan a small number of extremists are trying to make with the blood of others. I believe it is.