The Crafting of History: Christianity, Pakistan, and colonial narratives

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was created in 1947, but its foundation has roots in the pro-segregationist stance of the British colonial administration, which generally viewed Muslims and Hindus (including also Jains, Buddhists, Animists, Christians etc) as incapable of coexistence. In part, such views motivated the many maps of the subcontinent divided by ethnic or religious minority that were drawn up under British rule, although these are mostly as meticulous as they are hopelessly inaccurate.

Nevertheless, the Wiki page for ‘History of Pakistan’ takes you back to the Neolithic period, telling the story of its people through their vibrant past well before Pakistan was conceptualized, and well before Islam was invented/revealed (whichever your preference). It describes the brilliant achievements of the Indus Valley Civilization, the Buddhist and Hindu dynasties which once ruled the area, and their positive contributions to what is now Pakistan.

A map of ‘prevailing religions’ within British India in the year of 1909. The mapping should be seen as highly speculative at best, since many regions depicted consisted of only slight majorities

By contrast, the Wiki page for ‘Christianity in Pakistan’ starts in the 1800s, and does not go further back than the Jesuit missions in the 1500s. In doing so, it casts Christianity as a foreign and alien import – sometimes explicitly with sentences like this: “The Europeans won small numbers of converts to [Christianity]… from the native populations.”

You will find zero mention of the Apostles Thomas and Bartholomew, who were sent to India through the Parthian Empire, and established Orthodox Christian communities that still exist today (see St. Thomas Christians). Nor will you find reference to any of the role played by ancient Pakistan as the heartland of Nestorian Christianity in the Indian subcontinent, or the ecclesiastical province (headquartered in Herat, but comprising most of modern Pakistan) which was elevated to the highest rank under Nestorian Patriarch Sliba-zkha in order to meet the needs of the local population after they fell to the advances of Islam in the mid-late 600s.

Just like evolution, history selects and rejects.

One thought on “The Crafting of History: Christianity, Pakistan, and colonial narratives

  1. Great article Wael! And thank you for writing on this subject. I am a south asian christian (descended from st. thomas christians/kerala nasranis, but that makes no matter in light of Christ’s “the first will be last and the last will be first”). The details you share about pre-colonial christianity I have only gradually discovered over my lifetime in sometimes tedious ways and encountering a almost purposeful ignorance or outright hostility to christian narratives in non-european lands. Philip’s Jenkins book “Lost Christianities” was a God-send, and really shocked in me on how much suppressed history there has been of the Faith in Asia. Both in pakistan and india, this has been seen as a inconvenient fact of the ancientness of christianity’s contact with the sub continent. That active ignorance is continued even today in both the West and in Asia. Asian/Brown/Black christians seem very disposable in our lives. See most recently the coverage and responses provided for the New Zealand mosque shootings, versus the bombings of christians in Sri Lanka and the massive attacks and murders of christians in Africa. Even when ISIS was in the news of attacking minorities, Yezidis got more coverage (which I agree they should due to the brutality against them) and sympathy from news and celebrity figures,while middle eastern christians who suffered massive displacement and loss of lives, it was much as no coverage as a more subdued coverage that didn’t properly have enough outrage proportionate to what they were experiencing also (they were being attacked or driven away even in the refugee camps). Sorry I needed to vent hope you don’t mind me doing a bit of mental health with this release. Great writing and good article Wael!

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