Tag Archives: peace



Yesterday evening seventy citizens of Pakistan were blown apart by a suicide bomber at a park in Lahore.  The death toll will rise.  It always does, especially when seriously wounded people are left to the tender mercies of Pakistan’s healthcare system.  Many were women and children.  Families were enjoying the cool spring weather, taking advantage of a day of rest to push their children on the swings and buy ice creams.  It must have been a wonderful time.

Then a suicide bomber parked his car near the gate, next to the swings, and detonated his device.  Now those same families are ripped apart; their laughter transformed into screams and terror by means of twenty kilos of explosives and a bag of ball bearings.

Many of those killed were Christians.  They, like my family and me, spent Sunday morning at church rejoicing in the glorious triumph of Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin.  They, like us, shared lunch with family and friends.  They, like us, went out to celebrate in the evening.  Yet we were not attacked and they were.  The same people who laughed and rejoiced in the victory over the grave are now, themselves, in the grave.  Life beat death, and then death came back in the darkness of a bomber’s heart and in the shape of chemicals and ball bearings.

And yet this is not over.  After the attack messages started circulating asking for donations of blood for the wounded.  A Lahore taxi firm offered free travel to anyone going to hospital to donate blood.  People of all religions are united in condemning the attack.  The condemnation even united India and Pakistan: the hashtag prayforlahore is trending in India.  Hospitals in Lahore are crammed – literally crammed – with people queueing to donate blood.  Probably most of them are Muslims.  I am crying for gratitude as I type.

Still the pain remains.  This is a profoundly beautiful and deeply misunderstood country, full of polite, kind, honourable people – and yet a country bedevilled by violence perpetrated by a minority of deranged lunatics who kill indiscriminately.  They target Christians, and Hindus, and Shias, and Sunnis, and the Pakistani soldiers who give their lives to protect Pakistani civilians: they are against everyone, except their fellow bigots.

And yet they will lose.  Pakistanis are too good, too decent, too strong to give in to this mass murder.  Love will win in the end, though the path to that victory may be littered with more bodies.  Life will triumph over death.  Easter is not the end, but the beginning.

I have learned a lot from living in Pakistan over the last four years.  Among other things, I have learned not to take things for granted, such as electricity, green grass, and proper cheese, since these are things that you really miss when they’re not available.  I have also learned a new language (Urdu) and am starting another one (Farsi), an appreciation for new styles of music, and also that Islamabad International Airport is to be avoided unless absolutely necessary (not for nothing was it recently declared to be the worst airport in the world).

Yet Pakistan has taught me a lot more than just these things.  Here, as a tribute to the people of Pakistan, is the single most important thing I have learned since moving here:

People Are People, Not Stereotypes.


When we look at the world it is so tempting to deal in generalisations.  The world is so infinitely complex, so varied and confusing, that it is simply too much for most of us to cope with.  A common response is to retreat into stereotypes and generalisations as a way of imposing some kind of order on the vast and bewildering morass of humanity with whom we share this planet.  Think about any country, any nationality, and it is a pretty safe bet that the images which pop into your mind owe more to stereotypes than to reality: British people are all awkward and cook badly, Americans are all arrogant and insular, French people are always on strike, Germans don’t laugh, Koreans eat dogs, and so on.  We use these stereotypes as a way of feeling superior, feeling more knowing and more important, than others.

I remember having this stereotyping influenced resoundingly shattered when I visited the USA for the first time.  British TV and culture in general had given me the impression that Americans are all dumb, overweight, and arrogant – and then I encountered actual Americans, all of whom were polite, hospitable, funny, kind, and genuinely interested in the rest of the world.  Except, perhaps, for US Border Control agents, who, to put it mildly, are not the best ambassadors for their nation.

This lesson has been reinforced time and time again during my time in Pakistan.  For the first time I have lived among a Muslim majority, surrounded by Muslims all day, every day, for four years.  Even as I typed the world “Muslim” the same lazy stereotypes popped into my mind: 9/11, Islamic State, Iraq, Afghanistan, religious homogoneity, oppression of women, and all the other crude and malicious labels which the Western media casually slaps onto the faces of the couple of billion Muslims in the world.  I probably expected to encounter devout Muslim men, quiet and submissive Muslim women, and that all of them would exhibit a vague sense of distaste for me, a Christian, living amongst them.

Well, it didn’t happen, and I feel ashamed of even harbouring such suspicions.  I have encountered devout Muslims, atheist Muslims, rich Muslims, poor Muslims, Muslims from areas so remote that they don’t know how to use an escalator, Muslims so Westernised that they know more about London than I do.  I have met Shias, Sunnis, Ismailis, Muslim missionaries from the Tablighi Jama’at, Muslims from sects I have never heard of.  I have met quiet and meek male Muslim scholars and bold, vivacious female scholars.  My Christian faith has been both an item for polite concern (“why don’t you convert to Islam?”) and also for genuine delight (“I knew that there must be religious people in the West!”).  I have been robbed at gunpoint, had my pocket picked, had my laptop stolen at a Lahore bus station, and have frequently been offered tea, vegetables, and taxi rides, all for free, all from poor people, simply because I am a guest.  Interestingly, I often feel as though the people I meet are also having their preconceptions challenged: a Westerner who is polite?  A Westerner who learns our language and respects our culture?  Hmm, perhaps these goras (foreigners) are different from what I had been told…


The infinite variety of the world’s inhabitants cannot be reduced to a series of clumsy labels.  It is stupid and arrogant even to try.  God has created a world of immense and delightful variety, too diverse ever to become boring, and in boiling it down to a string of lazy clichés we are insulting both him and his creation and widening the divisions between people of different cultures

People are people, they are not stereotypes.  In a world of growing division, a world in which hostility and suspicion grow day by day, we simply must stop treating our fellow human beings as though they were one-dimensional stereotypes.  We can each do a huge amount to promote world peace by simply stepping across the cultural chams which divide us and getting to know one another – as Muslims, as Christians, as atheists, as human beings.

It is fitting that I learned this lesson from Pakistan, a profoundly misunderstood country.  Thanks for the hospitality, Pakistan, and for the mangoes, and for the hospitality.  I love you all very much.

Even you, Mr Lahori Laptop Thief.


In Pakistan the backs of houses are usually where laundry is done.  Guests would be invited into the front rooms, which are decorated and furnished to honour those visiting the family, while menial tasks such as cooking and washing are done at the back.  The rear of our house backs onto the rear of the houses on the street above ours, and so it is that when I go out to put in laundry or check to see if the hot-water boiler is still functioning I inevitably encounter our neighbours.  Their balcony is where they, too, do their laundry, hang their clothes, or come out to lie on a charpai (traditional bed) to warm themselves in the sun.  I try not to linger; the rear of the house is normally the place where women come to relax, and I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by intruding on their private space.

Our bedroom is also at the back of our house, meaning that our bedroom windows looks out over their balcony as well.  Every morning and evening while tackling the stream of emails that ping into my inbox I look out to the our neighbours come out to pray.  They take down their prayer mat, orient it towards Mecca, and kneel down to go about their prayers.  They close their eyes, their lips moving in silent piety, they bow down, they look left and right, and they go through the simple routine just as millions of Muslims do several times a day, in Pakistan and around the Muslim world.  Their prayer routine is simple, undemonstrative, calm, elegant, and peaceful.

Islam has come under intense scrutiny in recent years.  The actions carried out by a tiny minority of Muslims have resulted in every single Muslim in the world being viewed with suspicion, as if 1.2 billion Muslims are somehow responsible for the violent fanaticism of a few thousand.  No matter that this is blatantly illogical and deeply unfair; no matter that this is akin to considering all Indians culpable for the actions of a handful of rapists or blaming every single Chinese person for the corruption of a few Party officials – this is how the world seems when you absorb the crass and foolish generalisations of the media.  Islam, it seems, stands accused of having a problem.

Except for the overwhelming majority of Muslim people, that is.  After living in Pakistan for four years normal Islam seems, to me, pretty normal.  Quiet, pious, polite, undemonstrative, peaceful.  Confident, yet humble.  These are the characteristics of Muslim people as I have come to know them after living amongst them for four years.  It is a long, long way from the violence and intolerance flaunted around the tabloids of the Western world.

I go out to get the laundry out of the washing machine and my neighbour looks up from his chair where he is sitting to read the newspaper.

“Salaam aleikum!” he calls cheerfully.  “Peace be upon you!”.

And upon you too, friend.


I have spent the last four years of my life living in a country that is 97% Muslim.  Before that, I frequently travelled to Muslim countries such as Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, and Zanzibar (a strongly Islamic island belonging to Tanzania).  I have studied the history of Islam extensively.  My landlord is a Muslim, most of my friends in Pakistan are Muslims, many of my friends back in the UK are Muslim, and in the UK I lived in a town which was 25% Muslim.

I am also a committed Christian.

Is there a contradiction here?  Not a bit of it.

We live in turbulent times marked by division and mistrust. People in Europe are increasingly wary of Muslim people – in recent elections nationalist parties made large gains in the UK, France, Netherlands, Greece and Austria.  Many people watch the news about Islamic State and terrorism around the world and link it to the Muslims they see in their neighbourhoods, even though only a minute fraction of Muslims worldwide are involved in terrorism.  I have heard several Christian preachers give talks on Islam which are brimming with suspicion and hostility.  So you might think that a committed Christian like myself would be similarly brimming with hostility towards the Muslim people among whom I live.

But I’m not.  Not at all. Not even close.

So why not?  Among the many reasons I could pick to answer this question would be the following:

1. Because Islam and Christianity are really quite similar.  Shocking, isn’t it?  Yet they are both monotheistic religions, share a number of fundamental beliefs, and recognise characters such as Abraham, Moses, Job, David, Solomon, Mary, and Jesus.  We have different opinions on the nature of Jesus, and that is important – but I have so much more in common with a Muslim than I would with an atheist.

2. Because Muslims are wonderful.  Anyone who is surprised by me saying that has probably never travelled to a Muslim country.  The hospitality, the kindness, the instinctive respect for Christianity (yes, I mean that!), the constant, unfailing kindness.

3. Most importantly, because Jesus commands his followers to treat others with love.  This is the Golden Rule, the chief summary of the teachings of Jesus, whom Christians recognise as the son of God. We are to love others and to live in peace with them.  Does that mean that we are to hide our own faith?  Not at all; we are called to be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have, and to do so with gentleness and respect.  Am I less of a Christian for loving Muslim people?  Well, was Jesus any less of a Christian for loving Samaritan people, the enemies of his day?

If we continue to love only our colleagues, our friends, our families, the people who share our nationality or skin colour or religion, the world will continue to be a divided and suspicious place.

If, on the other hand, we are able to overcome the fences that divide nationalities and religions, we might become agents of transformation, and the age-old mistrust between Islam and Christianity might finally be bridged.  Do I love Muslim people?  Yes, I do.  And so should you.  If Jesus had lived six hundred years later then he would have done so too.

Damascus: the Jupiter temple (III A.C.) in front of Omayyad mosque

Back in 2007 I went to Syria and Jordan on holiday.  I flew with a friend to Damascus, travelled to Hama and Homs, visited the astonishing Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, and wandered around the old city of Damascus with my jaw hanging down.  I had long been interested in Byzantine history and the history of the Middle East and the experience of seeing everything first hand was unforgettable.  We walked, took buses, ate in local restaurants, drank mint tea, and gaped at such a remarkable and historic country.

What struck me most was the hospitality with which we were greeted.  That trip probably marked the beginning of my love affair with the Islamic world.  Even in 2007 Syria was reckoned, at least in the West, to be a dangerous and hostile place – not quite noxious enough for Bush to include it in his notorious “Axis of Evil” speech but certainly worthy of an Honourable Mention.  The reality we encountered was entirely different.  On our first night we stayed at a Catholic guest-house run by nuns – and quite openly too, there being little to no hostility between Syrian Muslims and Christians.  Armenian and Orthodox churches were everywhere.  We walked down Straight Street in Damascus, site of St Paul’s historic meeting with Ananias, and were greeted warmly and with no fear whatsoever.  We visited Christian monasteries which didn’t even bother to post security guards at the gate.  Everyone we met was kind to us.

That was when I began to realise that we needed to start distinguishing between the politics of a country and the opinions of its citizens.  The Syrian government was a long way from a democratic haven but I realised how unjust it was to connect those policies with the Syrian people.  We Westerners affix labels to places like Iran, Syria and Pakistan and lazily assume that the labels are also transferable to the people of those countries – but this is not so.

And now I read the news and am heartbroken by what Syria has become.  Millions of refugees forced from their homes by the barbarity of Islamic State.  Thousands killed.  A civil war that shows no signs of ending.  Fundamentalists from around the world seemingly in competition with each other to reach new heights of murderous savagery.  Who would have thought, in the aftermath of 9/11, that new evils would arise to make even that mass slaughter seem civilised by comparison?

I want to remember the Syria I encountered in 2007, a place of remarkable harmony and welcome, not the Syria that we see now.  I also want to remember the words of Habbakuk, a prophet in the Bible, who looked at similar cruelty and barbarity and received consolation from God:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

“Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.