Asylum seeker who fled extremists becomes Church of Scotland minister

Raheel Arif
Raheel Arif outside Denny Old Parish Church


A former asylum seeker who escaped Islamic extremists in his native Pakistan is today being ordained as a minister in the Church of Scotland. 

Raheel Arif fled to Scotland in September 2011 with his wife Humaira and two children, Rhea and Roshaan, after they received threats because of their faith from extremists. 

He was serving as the vice-principal of a secondary school in Peshawar when he says a plot to have him arrested for blasphemy was mounted against him by local radicals. 

He was the only Christian out of a staff of 52 at the school and while the blasphemy plot failed, his enemies did succeed in having him demoted to his former role of biology teacher.

In a bid to lay low, he and his family came to Grangemouth in Scotland to visit his cousin, the Rev Aftab Gohar, minister of Abbotsgrange Parish Church, in the hopes that the extremists would lose interes.

But upon their return to Peshawar, he found this was not the case.  Afraid for their lives, he took the family back to Scotland to seek asylum. 

“We were living a good life in Peshawar,” he says.

“We had a nice home and my wife and I both had good jobs but extremists kept threatening us. It was a terrifying, horrible situation and I was very scared.

“At first the threats were only directed at me and I thought things would calm down in time. But when people came to my house and threatened my family I knew that we had to leave.

“I had heard the stories of how non-Muslims were killed by extremists– butchered with their bodies put in sacks and thrown in fields.”

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan and many Christians are the victim of false allegations, resulting in imprisonment and the threat of execution. 

Even those who are not targeted with blasphemy accusations are at risk of harassment and violence for their faith.  For Christian girls, the dangers include rape, kidnap, forced marriage to a Muslim man, and forced conversion.

After returning to Scotland the second time, the family applied for asylum the day they arrived in Glasgow and were granted refugee status 18 months later, allowing them to stay in the country for five years.  Later, they were given indefinite leave to remain.  

Raheel Arif
Raheel Arif said his faith has only increased as a result of the difficulties of the past few years

Last year, he graduated from the Highland Theological College in Dingwall and carried out his 15 month probation at Zetland Parish Church in Grangemouth under the tutelage of Rev Alison Meikle.

Today he is being inducted into Denny Old Parish Church, near Stirling, which is linked with Haggs Parish Church.  He is the church’s first full-time spiritual leader for five and a half years.

“I have been on an amazing journey and my ordination is affirmation for that call and God’s plan for my life,” he said.

“When we came to Scotland the circumstances were very difficult but God’s hand and grace was upon us which further increased my faith and trust in Him.

“Since the time I preached as sole nominee, I, along with my family have been overwhelmed by the welcome and love.

“I love both congregations and I hope and pray that we will walk together, laugh together and share tears together on this journey of faith under the umbrella of God’s grace, love and mercy.”

The adjustment to Scotland and its climate has been surprisingly smooth, with Mr Arif saying that it reminds him of Peshawar.  

“It is a lovely country and it reminds me of my province in Pakistan because it is similar in terms of the landscape and the weather,” he added.

The family have now applied for British citizenship.