The global image of Pakistan today is unfortunately marred by negativity, not to mention media portrayals that wrongly characterize the country as a lawless breeding ground for Islamic extremism. Many in the West know only of attacks committed against religious minorities, giving the sense that unless one is a fundamentalist Muslim, one has no place in modern Pakistan. But the real story of Pakistan is not this simplistic. Pakistan is a richly diverse country with many religious and ethnic communities living in the country and there are many fascinating stories here.
Just this past week, I had the privilege of eating a delicious traditional Pakistani dinner with one of the top leaders of the Pakistani Jewish community – a community whose existence I was unaware of until a chance encounter at the 9th Annual Interfaith Common Word Conference in Islamabad where I was the only female speaker on a platform of diverse faith leaders and senior politicians. It was here where I met and later received a dinner invitation from Rabbi Aftab Anwar of Rawalpindi at his home, a man born Christian but who converted to Messianic Judaism because of his contacts and connections he made through Facebook. His story, in a country whose Jewish community, one would think, is virtually nonexistent, and where Christians, one may assume, almost exclusively convert to Islam, is extraordinary and is a testament to the power of dialogue, pluralism, and connectivity in the 21st Century. Considering the importance of my being introduced to this community as an anthropologist and field researcher I believe further research is required.
When I first met Rabbi Aftab, I learned he was one of nearly five thousand Jewish believers in Pakistan. A few thousand Jews in an estimated two hundred million is a drop in the ocean. And as a sign as to how small the community is, Rabbi Aftab told me he called himself a ‘bishop’ because he said people here in Pakistan understand the concept better. But through this community we get to know not only about their own history but also the larger society in which they live, we see how different cultures can adjust and accommodate to each other in this case Islamic and Jewish in modern day Pakistan, South Asia.
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