Christians living in the world’s second-largest Muslim-dominated country are constantly on guard, worried that their lives could be in danger at any moment from radical Muslims. In the case of Vishal Masih, an innocent arm-wrestling match almost cost him his life simply because of his Christian faith.
It happened in Pakistan on August 2 when 18-year-old Vishal reportedly took part in an arm-wrestling contest with a Muslim boy from an influential family. According to Waris Masih, the teenager’s cousin, Vishal defeated his opponent on several occasions. Instead of being a good sport about it, the Muslim boy flew into a rage, insulting Vishal’s faith and the Christian community.
“How could a man of a dirty community defeat me?” the Muslim reportedly shouted. “A Choora (Untouchable) defeats a Muslim is unbearable, I will teach him a lesson,” he continued. Vishal kept his cool, deciding not to engage his angry opponent, and instead headed home. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), that’s when the situation escalated.
While on his way home, Vishal was followed and viciously attacked by more than a dozen young Muslims enraged over his victories.
“The gang brutally beat Vishal, attacked his family’s house, and beat his family members,” ICC said on its website. “Local elders tried to intervene and resolve the issue, but, after a short period of time, another gang…assaulted Vishal again.”
The Muslim mob wasn’t finished with the Christian teenager. According to ICC, “the gang then kidnapped the severely injured Vishal, locked him in a room at their residence, where they repeatedly beat him for the third time.”
Waris Masih told ICC that although his cousin survived the brutal assaults, “it was as if they left him for dead.” Vishal was later admitted to the hospital.
Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim. Roughly two percent of the population is Christian, and they are often targets of numerous Islamic attacks like this one that happened not too far from the city of Lahore.
“The Christian community is already living in a constant fear and these sorts of incidents develop insecurity and detachment from this Islamic country or society which is sad to note,” Mushtaq, a Pakistani Christian leader, told ICC.
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians.
“Much of the Christian persecution in Pakistan comes from radical Islamic groups that flourish and expand under the favor of political parties, the army and the government,” said Open Doors, which lists Pakistan in the top 10 places in the world where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.
Pakistani converts from Muslim backgrounds are especially vulnerable.
“Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates, and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community,” said Open Doors.
In May, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) cited Pakistan for its deteriorating human rights and religious freedom record.
“In 2017, religious minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims, continued to face attacks and discrimination from extremist groups and society at large,” the commission stated in a report. “The government of Pakistan failed to protect these groups adequately, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations.”