False accusations of blasphemy against Christians and other vulnerable minorities can only be prevented by improving education, according to the head of the Church in Pakistan.
The importance of education cannot be overstated in a country where 40 percent of the population is illiterate, Archbishop Joseph Arshad in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, Pakistan told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Speaking during a visit to ACN’s (UK) national office, in Sutton, Surrey, the President of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference said that there are dozens of Catholic schools in the diocese, providing quality education and forming students with good human values.
These schools also foster better relations between Christians, Muslims and other faiths in Pakistan.
The archbishop said he believes that education is key for the improvement of the situation as “through education, a sense of justice develops in human beings”.
He stated that the country’s Christian community is “poor and marginalised”, and families “struggle to provide a good education to their children.”
He added: “Other challenges they face are social discrimination and false accusations of blasphemy.
The archbishop also said that “many people exploit the law and accuse each other of blasphemy”, stressing that many accusations are motivated by personal disputes.
He said: “The Catholic Church from the beginning has taken steps to promote education in Pakistan.
“In our diocese we have 70 schools, and 48 of these are under the diocesan education board.
“With the income from eight of these schools, we are subsidising the other 40 schools, which are purely for poor people.”
The archbishop highlighted that the majority of the 40,000 pupils attending Catholic schools in the diocese are Muslim, which provides a great opportunity for fostering interfaith tolerance and mutual understanding.
He said: “Naturally, those who have studied in our schools have a broader vision of life.
“They respect other faiths which is very beneficial for the progress and building of a better society.”
He explained that the diocese offers “a course for Catholic youth to help them get prepared for the “Central Superior Services” exam a requirement for joining the civil service, because it is very important that we also serve the nation.”
He added that the diocese is also helping “the youth to get a higher education, and in this regard the scholarships funded by ACN, to give them a better chance to develop careers to serve the nation and the community.
The archbishop thanked the charity for providing “much assistance and help”.
He concluded: “As a society we need to grow more to respect each other, especially the minorities.
“We have to create and promote a culture where everyone has the same opportunities for employment and careers and a right to justice.”