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Global Vision - Spring 2012

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Master of Arts graduate holds faith amidst minority identities

by Christine Hallenbeck, M.A. Junior

During college in her native Pakistan, at a celebration honoring a classmate who had memorized the Quran, Noreen Nazir was refused a sampling of traditional sweets. Though many of her Muslim classmates condemned this refusal, for Nazir, the experienced proved to be "an awakening of being 'other' in my own homeland."

Nazir, '11, has always understood her identity as a minority, both as a Christian in Pakistan and now as a Pakistani in the United States, where she has lived on and off since the mid-1990s.

"I have never enjoyed the luxury of being in the majority," she said. "I don't know how it feels."

Yet through this identity, Nazir holds profound faith and deep-rooted convictions for the rights and respect of minority groups, particularly of Christians in Pakistan.

In her youth in Pakistan, Nazir attended Christian schools, whose student populations are still predominantly Muslim. She went on to attend a public university and law school in Pakistan and held several jobs in both church-based interfaith work and in private businesses.

"I never forgot my Christian faith," Nazir said of her various positions in public Pakistani society, "and always felt like an ambassador of my community to the Muslim community."

While Nazir gratefully recognizes the lack of immediate violence and discrimination that she and her family have faced, she acknowledges the fear that embeds the life and identity of Christians in Pakistan.

"We are not discriminated against," Nazir said in reference to physical discrimination, "but the fear is there."

As a result, she said, "You have to think twice before you get into a religious debate with anyone."

Much of Nazir's career and studies have been dedicated to interfaith relations in Pakistan. In the midst of completing a Master of Arts in Islamic studies at Luther Seminary, she served in both paid and volunteer capacities with the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi and with the National Commission for Interfaith Dialogue.

Through this work, she experienced both the hope of interfaith relationships and the acknowledgement that interfaith efforts seem to come only from leaders of the minority Christian groups.

"Christians in Pakistan respect Islam as one of the revered religions," she said, "and we expect them to show the same respect for our faith and religious identity."

However, Nazir sadly acknowledges there is a dialogue barrier due to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law, a law that prohibits, and makes punishable, any blasphemy against a state religion. In Pakistan, that religion is Islam.

While no deaths have been recorded in direct relation to the Blasphemy Law, the decree's effects play out in the lack of productive conversation between religious groups.

For Nazir, this fear has only strengthened her faith.

"I'm proud to be a Christian," she said. And, "I'm proud to be a Pakistani. I don't want to be anything else."

For information on the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference, see www.pcbcsite.org.

For updates on the Lutheran World Federation's work in Pakistan, visit www.lutheranworld.org/lwf/index.php/tag/pakistan.