Shahnaz's smile was contagious. Each morning she came and swept our home of the dust it had accumulated in just 24 hours. Dust in Lahore never stops: it gets in your fingernails, your nostrils, in between your toes. She ate from the same plates, and the other servants would sometimes complain about this. In any other household, she’d be given different plates, made from a cheaper tin material. Plates for Christians. But of all the servants, I was most comfortable around her. I felt a bit intrusive, but I finally asked her whether I could go to church with her one Sunday.
I was expecting pews, but everyone in the church was sitting on the floor, like Pakistani Muslims. Like Pakistani Muslims, they were segregated, and all of the women were wearing dupattas or scarves, to honor the sanctity of the space. It was the Christmas celebration, so all the little girls were in their white dresses and the boys in their suits. The celebration included several Christmas carols in in English and in Urdu, a lecture by the priest and a long prayer at the end.
Other than a few large Christmas banners and red rose petals, there were no Christmas lights and there was no Christmas tree. This was Dhala, a village of cooks, gardeners and drivers for the nearby wealthy Modeltown neighborhood.
Like Muslims, all of the adults made their prayers by facing their cupped palms upwards, but the children were taught to pray as Western Christians do, with their palms touching.
Once the church organizers noticed that I was taking more than just a few pictures, they confronted me and made me promise that I was taking them for educational purposes, that I wouldn’t share them with any Pakistani newspapers. There had been too many attacks in recent days and they didn’t need anybody to find them. Once I realized the entire room was feeling endangered, I had to stop photographing.
They were angry with Shahnaz’s family after my visit. It was sad to see a minority group in my parent’s country feel so endangered. I have been too used to acting like an ‘oppressed minority’ as a Muslim in America only because I might get a few looks and questions every once in a while. I should not forget how hard it has become in countries where I am in the majority, where people who practice a faith other than Islam are scared for their safety. This was not the way of our Prophet.