Pakistan: Churches and Christian homes burned

politics | Aug 01, 2009 | By Aftab Mughal

Urged on by calls from their mullahs, Muslim mobs burned down more than 50 homes of the Christian community in a village of the province of Punjab. A house of worship of the Anglican-affiliated Church of Pakistan, as well as another belonging to the New Apostolic Church, were both put to the torch in the evening hours of July 30 following a reaction to a supposed desecration of the Koran. Around 1000 Muslim believers, bearing firearms and explosives, also attacked numerous Christian homes and burned them. The village of Kolyat, where the attacks occured, is home to some 100 Christian families who had been living there for several decades. As the attacks widened, Christian men, women and children fled the onslaught and hid themselves in nearby fields.

According to eyewitnesses, the attackers burnt everything belonging to the Christians, including clothes, food, utensils, beds, school books and Bibles in the houses. Even their animals were consumed by the blaze. There are reports that in some cases marauders stole some of Christians’ livestock as well.

The problem arose following a dispute between Muslim and Christian boys. Even while Christian and Muslim elders of the village settled the issue, some relatives of Muslim boys decided to pursue the matter. They spread a rumor that a Christian, Talib Masih, had burned pages of Koran during a wedding ceremony on July 29. The Christians of the area said that this was a false accusation. However, tensions rose, according to the Daily Times, after pages of an Islamist book were found outside a Christian house on July 26.
Denunciations arose against Christians and rang throughout the mosques of nearby villages as they did at the local mosque. After the announcements, Muslims from various villages gathered and attacked Christian houses. Chanting “Allah is Great” and “kill the infidels,” they blocked the main road and for hours did not allow the fire brigade to enter the village to douse the flames.

“After some time, police and district management reached at the spot but the uncontrolled mob continued their actions,” Atif Jamil Pagaan, a Christian social worker from Faisalabad reported. "They used trucks to break the walls and petrol to start the fires. We saved our lives only by hiding in the fields until three in the morning, when relatives arrived with vehicles to collect us. The children cried all night," according to Shubaan Masih, a local Christian. Interfaith League chairman Sajid Ishaq, a Muslim from Faisalabad, says it is condemnable to make religion a basis for committing acts of violence.

Meanwhile, local police have charged three Christians, Mukhtar Masih, Talib Masih and Imran Masih, with blasphemy against Islam. However, they were not arrested until the actual filing of the report. Another Christian, Mehnga Masih, submitted an complaint against 22 people for attacking Christian homes. No action has yet been taken by the police on his compliant. “There is widespread fear among Christians in Punjab province for safety and security of their lives from attacks of extremist Muslims and misuse of blasphemy laws,” said Christian social worker Saraphine Rubab.

This is the second incident in the last two months in Punjab province in which Christians were attacked following charges of blasphemy. In each case, mosques were used to mobilize Muslims to attack Christians, who make up 1.5 percent of the total population of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Aftab Mughal is the Editor of Minorities Concern of Pakistan.



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