This slum on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital looks like many others ringing it, with dirt roads and cement-block homes, until a passer-by sees a simple black banner bearing a Bible verse about Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
The Christian Colony on the edge of Islamabad is home to many Christians who once lived elsewhere in the capital, but fled in fear after a string of blasphemy allegations and killings. In this country of 180 million people, where Islam is the state religion and 95 percent of people are Muslims, Christians represent just a sliver of the population.
Most face daily discrimination and eke out a living by holding low-paying jobs, like street sweeping. However, they’ve carved out their own lives in a country that faces near-daily attacks by Islamic extremists.
“I wish to save my people by providing them faith and some education,” said Pastor Orangzaib Maseeh, who teaches locals how to read at his simple, open-air church. “I want them to have a life of a normal person. They used to have one.”
That normal life for many disappeared in August 2012. Authorities at the time arrested a young Christian girl over accusations she burned pages of the Quran. Christians fled, later settling in this vacant spot of land where they’ve built homes out of concrete blocks and plastic sheeting. The girl was later freed and a local cleric accused of planting burned Quran pages in the girl’s bag.
Under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death. However, some Muslims often take the law into their own hands, killing those suspected of blasphemy and attacking Christian neighborhoods or others accused of blasphemy. Some blasphemy allegations also have been made to settle personal scores.
Residents in this area say they are always fearful that the city government may push them out and reclaim the land.
Yet despite those worries, life goes on for Christians here, including Dunya Yacoub, who held her wedding in the dark confines of one concrete-block home.
“Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would get married and put on a nice dress and have a nice party with a lot of people,” the 24 year old said. “But today, my dream didn’t turn the way I imagined it, but there is nothing I can do about it. This is how our lives look like today, and we have to adapt.”
Here are images by Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen of daily life for Christians living in a slum in Islamabad.
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