May 4th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
Fear and tension at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) in Lahore continue to haunt the corridors, even after the hospital’s Christian and Muslim staffers have grudgingly reconciled and signed an agreement on Monday, May 3.
The accord was brokered by a Christian priest and a Muslim cleric with the assistance of the police.
“Everything is not exactly ‘fine’ in the hospital. The Christian staff members are under immense pressure, and they fear mob violence against them. It seems like a communal clash may be on the cards,” a hospital staffer told Voicepk.net.
He said that a group of Muslim nurses staged a protest outside the office of the Medical Superintendent on Tuesday, April 4, demanding the clearing out of a section of the hospital being used as a chapel by Christian staffers.
“Muslim staff members including doctors are acting coldly toward Christian staffers, which is why a number of Christian nurses are not coming to perform their duties,” said the source, preferring anonymity.
The facility currently has an employee count of 700, of which 339 staffers including 105 nurses belong to the Christian faith.
An Undercurrent of Resentment
The issue is not new. Fear of communal violence has been looming at the hospital for the past 10 days after a group of Muslim nurses accused a fellow Christian colleague of allegedly committing blasphemy by sending an ‘objectionable’ video in a nurses’ unofficial WhatsApp group.
In the said video, a Muslim man could be seen urging introspection over treatment of religious minorities in Islamic countries, especially Pakistan.
“The Muslim nurses in the group became agitated with the video, claiming their sentiments were hurt after watching the clip. They demanded the hospital authorities to take action against the nurse who sent the video,” a source privy to the development told Voicepk.net.
The matter came to a head when on Thursday, April 29, Muslim staffers including nurses held a procession within the PIMH premises, chanting slogans against the Christian community. The protesting nurses also went to a multipurpose auditorium which the hospital administration had designated as a chapel for Christian staffers to hold weekly prayers every Saturday.
Demonstrators barged into the auditorium and held a milad, reciting naats. They also demanded the immediate closure of the chapel while simultaneously announcing that Friday prayers would also be held in the same auditorium the following day, April 30.
Bitterness among the Christian staff
The announcement sparked fear and resentment among the PIMH’s Christian staff members, who approached a senior priest and apprised him of the situation. The priest immediately contacted Allama Zubair Abid, the Vice-Chairperson of the Pakistan Ullema Council, requesting his assistance in averting a possible clash between the Christian and the Muslim employees of the hospital.
“The auditorium was an abandoned space in the hospital prior to being transformed into a chapel by the Christian staffers, who bore the expenses out of their own pockets. The chapel has a cross and our scripture has also been placed there,” the priest, who wished to remain anonymous, explained.
He further said that if the Muslims held their Jummah prayers forcibly at the chapel, it would be tantamount to defiling a place of worship which is why the Christian staffers were particularly enraged.
“Allama Zubair Abid played a commendable role in averting a possible clash between Muslims and Christians,” said the priest.
The Allama to the Rescue
Upon being alerted of the situation, Allama Zubair Abid contacted the Hospital’s MS, requesting that he control the Muslim staff members from offering Friday prayers at the chapel. He also contacted the police and higher authorities, urging them to take notice of the deteriorating situation at the PIMH.
“If the Muslims were allowed to hold prayers in the chapel, it would be against the teachings of Islam. Moreover, the situation would have aggravated manifold, possibly leading to communal clashes in different cities,” Abid stated.
The police authorities asked the Shadman SHO to make all possible arrangements in order to avert a law and order situation in the hospital.
“By the blessing of Allah and with the cooperation of all relevant authorities, the situation was diffused and Friday went by peacefully,” the cleric added.
After Friday, Allama Abid arranged a meeting between all the stakeholders which were party to the conflict and urged them to resolve the matter amicably. An agreement was finally reached after several rounds of talks, according to which both parties called an end to their dispute and resolved to refrain from making statements or press charges against each other.
The accord says that the Christian staff members will also be allowed to use the auditorium as a chapel as usual.
Allama Abid assured Voicepk.net that he is closely monitoring the situation, and expressed his hope that both parties will abide by their agreement and avoid taking any step that can disrupt the peace.
According to priest who brokered the agreement along with Abid, the Christian community was appreciative of the cleric’s efforts but much more needs to be done in order to reinstate the trust of Christian staffers with their Muslim colleagues.
Earlier in April, Faisalabad police saved two Christian nurses from an enraged mob at the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital Faisalabad. Both the nurses had been accused of blasphemy for allegedly removing a holy verse pasted onto a cupboard. Both women were later booked for blasphemy and sent to a 14-day judicial remand.