28 May 2014, The Tablet

Welby to challenge blasphemy law on pastoral visit to Pakistan

The Archbishop of Canterbury flew into Pakistan amid tight security this week to encourage the country’s embattled Christian minority and express his concern over the country’s oft-abused blasphemy law.

Archbishop Justin Welby was also due to assure Muslim leaders of his commitment to developing relations with Islam, and meet senior government officials during his week-long visit that was also due to take in India and Bangladesh as part of his plan to visit every Primate of the Anglican Communion by the end of 2014.

On Tuesday he met Bishop Samuel Azariah, the Moderator of the 800,000-member Church of Pakistan, which includes Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans. There he assured Bishop Azariah, of Raiwind, of his whole-hearted support for Pakistan’s Christians in the face of last September’s bombing of an Anglican church in Peshawar which killed 127 people, and other attacks such as kidnappings, rapes and forced conversions of young women. Mr Welby was to attend services with bishops from the Church of Pakistan’s eight dioceses.

Speaking to Muslim leaders, he was to say he was determined to improve relations between Christians and Muslims in Britain and the West. He was also due to brief Pakistan’s Muslim leaders on the efforts under way in Britain to reach out to Muslim communities and to counter Islamist extremism. Many imams in Britain’s mosques are recruited in Pakistan.

He was also due to meet the Punjab governor Muhammad Sarwar, and speak to Muslim and Christian leaders about interfaith relations. He was to raise his concerns about the notorious blasphemy laws, which are often used against Christians and among Muslims to settle scores. He was also to urge Government and religious leaders to do more to counter discrimination against the country’s Christians, many of them poor and able to find only menial jobs.

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