“...the most cold-hearted person in the world”
Upon our arrival at our hotel in Islamabad, we were scheduled to meet with a group of Christian Pakistani women whose husbands had been imprisoned under sharia (Islamic law) on frivolous or trumped-up charges. Because it was next to impossible for women in this society to find work that could support their families, the men’s prison terms were just long enough to force many of these families literally into starvation.
Thus, though the sentences for the incarcerated men could be portrayed to the world as mild, they were tantamount to death sentences for the families left behind.We found our way to the room that had been set aside for this meeting. There, waiting for us, were twenty-two Pakistani women, with at least as many children clutched to their waists and clinging to their ankles.
As heartbreaking as this was, the meeting we held among ourselves afterward was even more difficult. We huddled in our hotel rooms, emotionally drained from our encounter with these broken and pleading families, and began to talk about what approach we ought to take in our forthcoming meeting with General Musharraf. It was one of the most difficult meetings of my life.What could we do? We were all absolutely clear that we simply had to bring up the issue of these twenty-two women and their families. Yet our experience told us that this was precisely what we could not do. I was the one who gave voice to this awful thought.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” I said. “I don’t think we can bring it up.”The others stared at me as if I were the most cold-hearted person in the world.
“I know, I know,” I said miserably. “Of course we all ache for these sweet, wretched people who are so innocent of any crime and are being treated so badly. How could our hearts not be breaking right now? But we have to remember that behind these twenty-two families, there are twenty-two hundred more that we have yet to meet. And behind them, twenty-two thousand.”
What was I suggesting, exactly? I thought again of Ananias. “Saul was sent out to talk to kings. Well, we’re only going to have one chance with this particular ‘king.’ It seems to me, we have two choices. We could try to exercise the power of what we can see and touch, and throw our agenda down before him in the manner of a demand. Or we could throw our lot in with the unseen and do as Ananias was instructed, as Jesus taught…‘Love your enemies.’
We could go before Musharraf in a mission of pure goodwill and unconditional love. . .”“And let God set the rest of the program,”“The next day we met with Musharraf. When he asked us what was the purpose of our visit, Joe told him that we had no agenda; we had come from America to see his country and simply wanted to be his friends.”“
You want to be my friends,” Musharraf repeated, as if he weren’t sure he had understood us correctly.Joe nodded. “Yes, in the spirit of Isa of the Qur’an.”Musharraf visibly blanched. “You know the Qur’an?”
Sure enough, General Musharraf’s entire posture changed.At this point, our two friends from the human rights organization began passing notes to Joe, urging that he bring up the issue of the husbands of the twenty-two women and ask for their release. “It’s going so well!” they scribbled. “Now’s the time to ask!
The issue of the twenty-two suffering families was not raised, not a word, during the entire time we were there. Not, that is, until the very end of our meeting—and it was not raised by us.
After nearly an hour had passed.. we all prayed together— The chief executive of Pakistan motioned us to be seated again.“Wait,” he said. We sat. “I know that you have some concerns, about some men who have been incarcerated under sharia law.” He stopped. The four of us sat frozen. Musharraf continued. “Twenty-two men, I understand.”And now Joe decided to go for broke. It was Musharraf who had brought the subject up, after all, and not us. That made it fair game, it seemed to Joe, and at this point I was having the exact same thought.
“Yes, your Excellency,” Joe replied. “In fact, we did have the opportunity to meet with the wives of these men.”
The country’s head of state listened and nodded, noncommittal but open. After that, our audience was over.
Several weeks after our visit, the twenty-two men were released.
Congressman Mark Siljander recounts his spiritual odyssey from an anti-Muslim Christian conservative to a pioneer in discovering ground-breaking common roots between Islam and Christianity, while trailblazing a unique diplomatic path for bringing the two communities together on the principles of Jesus.
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