By ADIL JAWAD
Published on May 31, 2015 7:04 AM EDT
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Now towering over this violent port city in Pakistan, where Islamic militant attacks and gangland shootings remain common, is an uncommon sight in this Muslim-majority country: a 42-meter (140-foot) Christian cross.
The cross, being built by a businessman who said the idea came to him in a dream, is rising as Christians here often face discrimination. A tiny minority of Pakistan’s 180 million people are Christians who eke out livings in menial jobs like garbage collection.
Christians have faced mob violence in blasphemy cases, which often turn out to be false allegations over personal disputes. Under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad or other religious Islamic figures can be sentenced to death.
Christians also face extremist attacks. A Taliban suicide attack outside two churches in Lahore in March killed 15 people during services. In 2013, another Taliban suicide attack killed over 80 people at the All Saints Church in Peshawar.
The persecution has forced some Christians to flee, though some remain, like businessman Parvez Henry Gill. Gill said he had a dream some two years ago in which God told him to do something for his community.
“I want to show the world the Christian community in Pakistan has religious freedom,” he said.
Gill said some people have criticized the cross, but “I leave that to God.”
Likely to be completed in a few months, the cross stands at the entrance of a Christian cemetery in the center of Karachi. The cemetery, built under British rule, is nearly 200 years old and its administrators will take care of the cross once it’s constructed.
The construction of the cross came as a surprise to many living around it, neighbor Adnan Ali said. But Bishop Sadiq Danial of Church of Pakistan, an Episcopal church, said he offered to demolish the cross if it becomes too divisive, though he doubted it would come to pass.
“We spread peace,” he said.
Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.