Pakistani group spreads message of interfaith harmony


They prefer villages and schools with crowded stadiums, their audiences are mostly workers and bricklayers, and their songs are inspired by Sufis and revolutionary poets. In addition, their concerts are free.

Meet Laal (Red), the only rock band to perform Christmas concerts in Pakistan’s Punjab province since 2016.

The band’s lead guitarist Taimur Rehman plans to host seven concerts this Christmas season.

On December 19, more than 400 villagers from Chak 11 4L gathered on the grounds of Al Qalm Girls’ High School on a cool morning. Among them, Emmanuel Masih, 70, visibly excited, was waiting to attend the very first Christmas concert in his village.

“This is the first live concert we are attending. The kids have been preparing all week to find Santa hats and practice dance steps, ”Masih told UCA News.

The whole family came to watch the show. “For us, Christmas arrived early this year,” he said.

We are all brothers and sisters and part of a family. Both Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad spoke on behalf of all mankind. Beware of hate makers

The village of Okara district, Punjab province, 119 kilometers from Lahore, is home to some 350 Christian families.

The welcome banners featured photos of local priests, including Father Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the National Commission of Catholic Bishops for Justice and Peace, as well as Rehman, who is also general secretary of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (labor and farmers).

The musical event began with readings from the Bible and the Koran. The students also recited naat (a devotional hymn to the Prophet Muhammad) and Christian songs.

“We are all brothers and sisters and part of a family. Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad both spoke on behalf of all mankind. Beware of hate mongers, ”Rehman said, concluding with slogans for farmers’ rights. “Jehra Wahway, Ohee Khavay“(Those who cultivate the land should reap the produce),” chanted the farmers.

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Okara is one of 10 districts in Punjab province that have struggled for land ownership rights since Pakistan’s creation in 1947. At stake is 27,000 hectares of agricultural land currently held by the military. Farmers from 22 neighboring villages have worked hard on the land for generations.

In 2018, old Masih was jailed for refusing to share his performance with the military. He was released four months later.

“It was a question of property or death. Rehman helped mobilize the movement and changed the focus of our fight against religious discrimination. We are now a political force. With just one guitar, he toured 10 villages and spread radical slogans, ”Masih.

In 2000, the military changed the nature of their agricultural lease, reducing sharecroppers to sharecroppers without occupancy rights.

Two decades later, Rehman and his band are greeted with the same unfailing love and affection.

The ongoing struggle has claimed the lives of 14 peasants, including a young Catholic, in clashes with the security forces. Christians and Muslims organize joint memorial services for these “martyrs” every year.

Our popular music campaign is entirely new while being as old as the Sufis who have performed their poetry and songs from village to village for centuries.

The Christmas concerts are part of the Laal “Music for Peace campaign” launched in 2016. This year alone, the group has organized more than 300 concerts. The songs are punctuated with messages about peace, tolerance and unity as well as the importance of education.

“Our popular music campaign is entirely new while being as old as the Sufis who have performed their poetry and songs from village to village for centuries. For me, it’s a homecoming, ”Rehman told UCA News.

He said the Church should hire traditional artists to spread the message of interfaith harmony. “The Church should invite artists and athletes. These celebrities can amplify the message further through social media, ”he added.

Father Mendes, who attended Laal’s concert in a nearby village last week, wished the band every success.

“Laal moved from human rights to interfaith harmony. Their songs inspire us. We thank them for reaching out to Christians who live on the margins of mainstream society, ”he said.

The concert ended with the cutting of cakes and the distribution of gifts, including the traditional mehndi or henna paste (applied to the hands and legs especially by women to draw temporary tattoos), a memory of the wonderful time they spent this Christmas.

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Corina C. Butler