Ten years on - minister reflects on terror attack that killed his mother
Published on 22 September 2023 4 minutes read
A minister whose mother and 19 relatives were murdered by terrorists a decade ago has told how he has resisted feelings of revenge and hatred.
Rev Aftab Gohar said he found peace through the teachings of Jesus Christ following a double suicide bomber attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan on 22 September, 2013.
Worshippers had just left the building to join the fellowship meal on the lawn outside when two explosions ripped through the crowd, killing 122 people and injuring more than 250.
Among them was Mr Gohar's 79-year-old mother, Iqbal Gohar, his nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts and friends.
The minister of Eddlestone, Peebles Old Parish, and Stobo and Drumelzier churches in the Scottish Borders, said they "died for their faith" and said surviving family members miss them all terribly.
Founded in 1947, Pakistan's constitution gives every citizen ‘the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion'.
However, the official religion is Islam, religious minorities are frequently attacked and Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been used to discriminate against non-Muslims.
Mr Gohar said he believed that the controversial law is used to justify attacks, such as a spate of church and house burnings in Jaranwala near Faisalabad last month.
Last week, he and other campaigners handed over a petition to Syed Zahid Raza, Consul General of Pakistan for Scotland and Northern Ireland, at the Consulate of Pakistan in Glasgow.
It called on the government of Pakistan to improve safety for religious minorities and use the blasphemy law to punish those who desecrate Bibles and burn down churches and homes.
On 22 September, 2013, Mr Gohar was preparing to lead a church service when he received a text message to say there had been a bombing in Pakistan and his mother and other relatives had died.
He did not want to "disappoint" his parishioners and carried on as normal, only sharing what had happened at the end of the service and announcing he was going to Peshawar.
Reflecting on that period of his life, the minister 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.
"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."
Mr Gohar was inspired by the words of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who helped Jewish people escape the Nazis during the Holocaust.
"She said ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuff of hatred," added the minister.
"It is a power that breaks chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness."
Mr Gohar said too many people judge others on the basis of their religion, race, colour, language, ability or disability.
He believes that mass killings can be avoided if people exercise tolerance and accept ‘everyone with all their differences' and try to live peacefully side-by-side.
Mr Gohar grew up in Peshawar and attended All Saints Church with his family.
He was ordained into the Church of Pakistan in 1995 and first came to Scotland to study at the University of Edinburgh for a year in 1998-99.
He returned again to the country to work as full-time minister in 2008, serving Abbotsgrange Parish Church in Grangemouth until his move to the Scottish Borders last year.
Mr Gohar and his wife Samina and their two grown up sons, Shahan, and Zeeshan, are now British citizens.
The minister said the loss of this family was acutely felt at Shahan's wedding in Pakistan last year.
The Church of Scotland has an official partnership with the Church of Pakistan, which is marking the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.
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 church goers.
"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.
"A report to the 2023 General Assembly noted that Pakistan is in political turmoil and blasphemy has been weaponised.
"This law affects everyone but it disproportionately affects marginalised people and communities.
"False accusations can ruin lives, forcing people to leave their homes and go into hiding.
"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."