A minister whose mother and 19 other family members were murdered by terrorists a decade ago has told of how he was able to resist revenge.
Rev Aftab Gohar says he found peace through Jesus Christ after a double suicide bomber attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan on September 22 2013.
There were 122 people killed and 250 injured in the bombings.
The parishioners had just left the church for a meal in the grounds when the bombers struck.
Among them was Mr Gohar’s 79-year-old mother, Iqbal Gohar, as well as his nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts and friends.
The minister, who oversees Eddleston, Peebles Old Parish, and Stobo and Drumelzier churches in the Scottish Borders, said his relatives “died for their faith”.
Although Pakistan’s official religion is Islam, the country’s constitution gives citizens freedom of faith.
However, religious minorities are often attacked and the country’s blasphemy laws have been used to discriminate against non-Muslims.
Mr Gohar believes the law is used as a means to justify attacks, such as a number of church and house burnings in Jaranwala near Faisalabad, Pakistan, last month.
Open Doors, a charity that supports persecuted Christians around the world, ranked Pakistan in seventh place in its top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most rife.
Reflecting on the attack, Mr Gohar said: “It was a very hard time for us all and I was questioning ‘why did it happen to those who were very regular churchgoers?’
“Those who didn’t go to church on that day, did they do the right thing?
“The Bible says ‘when you are persecuted because of your faith in Jesus, you are blessed’. They all died for their faith.
“It was hard for me to forgive those responsible but with the strength of God I did so and freed myself from the extra burden of hatred and revenge.”
He added: “On the cross, Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him: ‘Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing’.
“Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ – a lesson that some people find impossible to follow.”
Last week Mr Gohar and a number of campaigners handed a petition to Syed Zahid Raza, consul general of Pakistan for Scotland and Northern Ireland, at the Consulate of Pakistan in Glasgow.
The petition called on Pakistan’s government to improve safety for religious minorities, and for the blasphemy law to include punishing those who destroy Bibles or burn down churches and homes.
Mr Gohar says he was inspired by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who helped Jewish people escape the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The minister commented: “She said ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuff of hatred’.
“It is a power that breaks chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
The minister was ordained into the Church of Pakistan in 1995, having come to Scotland to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1998-1999.
He later came back to Scotland to work as a full-time minister in 2008.
Mr Gohar and his wife Samina and their two adult sons, Shahan and Zeeshan, are now British citizens.
Shahan married in Pakistan last year.
Mr Gohar says the loss of his family was felt strongly at the wedding.
Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan as they mark the anniversary of this horrific and unjustified attack on peaceful churchgoers.
“We are united in sorrow as we reflect on the impact this atrocity had on the families of the victims and survivors and sadly Christians continue to be persecuted today.”
She added: “The Church continues to engage with ecumenical and international partners on the misuse of the blasphemy law and we call on the government of Pakistan to redouble its efforts to protect minority groups.”
The Consulate of Pakistan in Glasgow was contacted for comment.
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