With great sadness, Clergy Beyond Borders announces the death of Pakistan Federal Minister of Minority Affairs, the Honorable Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti (1968-2011), an activist for inter-religious understanding and peace, in Islamabad on March 2. May perpetual light shine upon him.
Bhatti was a colleague of CBB friend Reverend Majid Abel, of the Naulakha Presbyterian Church in Lahore. Bhatti was Chief Guest, for example, at an interfaith prayer for peace organized by National Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism (NCIDE) on August 7, 2010. Minhaj-ul-Quran International reports:
Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti then spoke to the entire community gathered on the importance of peace as the sole need of the hour where all communities must be represented equally and given equal opportunities along with building a spirit of coexistence and acceptance in order to maneuver the nation towards a bright future. With this, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti lit the seventh candle for peace in Pakistan.
After shooting the Minister outside his home, assailants reportedly left behind Taliban literature warning others from opposing Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law. (See Al Jazeera English, e.g.)
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz condemn the killing. The officials visited the hospital and offered condolences to Bhatti’s grieving relatives. The Prime Minister promised, according to numerous reports, that “such acts will not deter the government’s resolve to fight terrorism and extremism.”
Fight Against Anti-Blasphemy Laws Continues
A close colleague of Bhatti shared with Al Jazeera a video interview in which Bhatti speaks of threats against his life. In the Dec. 2010 interview, he says: “I know the way of the Cross. I am ready to die…for the justice of my community.” The video was to be shared in the eventuality of his assassination, the colleague told Al Jazeera, with this message:
“It is with the Muslim world I want to share the message of love. That is the only message that can bring the Muslim world out of the circle of hate and killings.”
Bhatti’s death follows that of Punjab Governor Salaman Taseer, killed by religious extremists on January 4 for opposing the anti-blasphemy law and advocating for Asia Bibi, sentenced to death under the law.
Javaid William, Executive Secretary of NCIDE, adds this:
A great friend of mine, Shahbaz Bhatti, died today….His work for human rights and minority rights is well known. He was a strong and courageous person who believed in the rights and dignity of all the religious communities living in Pakistan. He received special blessing form the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to continue to promote peace and human dignity. With his death this cause must not die.
William concludes with a call for solemn protest in the wake of this tragic death. Rev. Abel agrees: “We have lost a hero. It was not easy to reach the heights that he reached. Truly he died for a cause. I agree with you that his cause should continue as will his legacy.”
Pakistan and the world have lost much today. May God have mercy on the soul of Shahbaz Bhatti, send comfort to all who mourn, and strengthen those who labor for human rights and understanding amid violence and fear.