Celebrating difference

Members of the Muslim and Christian communities have been living peacefully in Parachinar, even amid conflict all around

Celebrating difference

On the chilly December 14 evening in Parachinar, members of the Christian community, of various ages, were waiting for their Muslim friends outside the church. Once they arrived, both communities celebrated together. They had won the fifth Saint Paul Church cricket tournament.

The tournament had been played among Thall, a tehsil of Hangu district bordering Kurram, team Hangu and Parachinar. All the matches were played in Thall. The Muslim community had sponsored the Parachinar team that won the final, and now together, the two communities were celebrating the victory.

In Parachinar, every year, the pre-Christmas festivities begin in mid-December. On December 17, a group of Christian women arranged a pre-Christmas party at Ibrar Hussain Jan Turi’s home. Turi is an independent social activist who has financially supported religious festivals of the Christian community in Kurram. Since 2007, women from the two communities have been arranging these parties at home, presenting homemade cakes and exchanging gifts.

The Muslims and Christians have been living in the valley peacefully. Twenty years ago, the political agent had purchased the land for the graveyard from the Turi tribe.

The district administration too supports the Christmas gatherings in Parachinar. Zahid Younas, the Upper Kurram assistant commissioner, says, the district administration provides 25-30 security personnel who man an inner and an outer cordon. The deputy commissioner and his team and the local Army and Frontier Corps (FC) commanders also join the Christmas festivities at Saint Thomas Church at Parachinar. “The district administration helps with lighting and water supply to the Christian colony. Before the merger, the PA had financially supported the Christmas and Easter festivities in Parachinar,” Zahid Younas says.

The Christian community has lived in Parachinar since 1902. James Malik, 70, is the tribal leader and a former Malik of the Christian community. According to Malik, more than 700 Christian families live in the Kurram district. Salman, also known as Sajan in his community, says a majority of the Christians migrated from various parts of the Punjab. “The Christians were attracted by the natural beauty of Parachinar and the hospitality of tribal people. They never looked back and have established a community here,” he says

There are two churches in Parachinar. One is in the Christian colony while the other is inside the headquarters of Kurram Militia. The Christian Community living in Central and Lower Kurram also come to the Parachinar churches for Christmas celebrations.

Many members of the community serve in various government departments. They have been employed in Police, Frontier Corps, Education Department and the tehsil municipal administration.

Maria Kamal, 23, a mother of two, is the only female teacher in the local public school. She has a master’s degree in political science. In June 2021, Naeem Khan Turo, the additional deputy commissioner for finance and planning handed over her appointment orders. “On my appointment in a government school, apart from my family and relatives, those who had shown excitement were the members of the Muslim community,” she says. Maria teaches in Government Girls Primary School Mula Bagh. She wishes to teach at a government college some day.

On Christmas, the Muslims pay a visit to the church. They gift cakes to their Christian friends and eat traditional food. “In Kurram, the Christian community has lived with Muslims for over a hundred years. During the four-year Shia-Sunni conflict in the valley, the Christians were unhurt as Muslims from both sects protected these communities,” says Ibrar Jan.

Zahid Hussain says that on December 24, most Muslims visit the church and participate in the gathering. “The Muslims present cakes and the Christians offer them traditional homemade foods,” he adds.

Ibrar Jan remembers that the Muslims had guarded the churches and Christian families for weeks during the conflict period. “They are constructing a morgue in the Parachinar Church. The Muslim neighbours are also collecting donations,” says Jan. For several years now, Ibrar Jan Turi has been sending gifts to the orphans and widows of the Christian community before Christmas.

According to the data received from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), “The total population of Christians in the Kurram tribal district is 725. A majority of them live in Parachinar.”

Every year, during Muharram, on Ashura the Christian communities serve beverages and drinks on the routes of processions. “On Ashura, they join the procession. The Christian community has dedicated groups that participate in Parachinar Ashura procession and mourn with the Muslims,” adds Jan. To show solidarity with Muslims in Muharram and Safar, he says, the Christians do not host weddings and avoid ceremony.

The author is a radio   producer. He   tweets @daudpasaney

Celebrating difference