Anglicans around the world are expressing concern for, and solidarity with, fellow-Christians in Pakistan, particularly in view of the recent violence in the area of the Diocese of Faisalbad.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, issued a statement on August 4 2009, stating that, ‘The recent atrocities against Christians in Pakistan will sear the imaginations of countless people of all faiths throughout the world… I appeal to the Government of Pakistan to spare no efforts, not only in seeing that justice is done in the wake of these terrible events, but also in continuing to build a society in which all faiths are honoured and in which the most vulnerable can be assured of the protection of the law and the respect of their fellow-citizens.’ (The full statement of the Archbishop can be found at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2509)
There has also been a letter sent to the President of Pakistan, Dr Asif Ali Zadari, by the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Sam Kobia, appealing to Sr Zardari to ensure the ‘safety and security’ of Christians in Pakistan, particularly in view of the recent incidents in the Punjab. (The text of this letter can be viewed at: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/messages-and-letters/letter-to-the-president-of-pakistan.html)
The incidents to which these statements refer are described by members of the Christian community of Pakistan as follows:
The Frontier News of the Diocese of Peshawar reported that, ‘On the night of July 30, 2009 in the village of Korian Toba Tek Singh, that falls in the pastoral and episcopal jurisdiction of Faisalabad Diocese – Church of Pakistan, some Muslim extremists set on fire about 75 houses of the Christian community and two Churches of the locality were also damaged.’ Two days later The Frontier News reported that extremists had also attacked a Christian neighbourhood in the town of Gojra, seven miles away from Korian on Saturday August 1, after a false report surfaced that some Christians had desecrated the Holy Qur’an, burning more than one hundred houses. This has resulted in at least seven people, including two children, being burned to death.
Gojra has been a major headquarters of the Anglican Church of Pakistan for 150 years, and the Bishop of Faisalabad of the Church of Pakistan lives there. A leading member of the local Christian community in Gojra said, ‘We are in great distress and helpless. We have no protection or resources to help our Christian community. I saw, today, the homes of our church members being destroyed and Christians being shot. Please pray for God’s mercy and protection for us.’
These incidents are the latest in the ongoing series of attacks that Christians in Pakistan have had to endure in recent years.
The Revd Patrick Augustine, now a priest of The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin, United States, but himself born in Gojra, where his father and grandfather ministered, writes that in such attacks, ‘The Muslim attackers have often justified the persecution of Christians in Pakistan on the basis of the draconian Blasphemy Law section 295–B and 295-C passed in 1982. These two laws make anyone deemed to have insulted the holy prophet of Islam or dishonoured the Holy Qur’an liable for capital punishment and life imprisonment and fines. In its selective application it has provided a pretext for private vendettas, but its victims almost always have been Christians.’
Bishop Mano Rumalshah of Peshawar Diocese in Pakistan commented, ‘It is horrible to have to say this - but at least these latest incidents have led to somebody – both in Pakistan and outside the country - hearing our cry. Such episodes occur again and again, and their nature is always very similar: false accusations being made against Christians, and Muslim militants being stirred up by the voices of extremist preachers.’
Commenting from the perspective of his work as the inter faith officer of the Diocese of Lahore, and a NIFCON correspondent for Pakistan, the Revd Rana Youab Khan noted on Monday 3 August (after describing the incidents in Korian and Gojra):
‘Now the situation in Gojra is a little calmer after registration of First Information Reports (FIR) yesterday against 20 people from that vicinity. District police and administrative officers have also been reported for their negligence. Yesterday the Rt Revd Dr Alexander John Malik Bishop of Lahore called a press conference at Lahore Press Club and from today (3 August) all Christian educational institutions (Roman Catholic and Church of Pakistan) in Karachi and Balochistan will be closed for three days in condolence. Last evening in Lahore representatives of civil society and human rights organizations also demonstrated against the Llasphemy Law and in solidarity with the victims of violence in Gojra.
In spite of the violence and the attacks, the presence and assistance of peaceful and friendly Muslims can not be ignored. During the attacks a number of Christians in Gojra were given shelter by their Muslim friends. Yesterday a significant number of local people from the majority community (in Gojra) were showing their solidarity with Christians during the funerals and through demonstrations against religious extremism. It clearly expresses that there is still hope. Major political parties especially those which are in government offered their support to Christians.
A major factor in the explosion of violence was incitement by preachers in the mosques. A criminal case has been registered against the people who led these violent activities. It is very important that they should be given a proper trial. On the one hand it would build the confidence and feeling of security of the Christian community, and on the other hand people would become more aware of the consequences of over reacting and such violent attacks. What is needed is a joint strategy on the part of the churches for following up of the cases, and national and international pressure on the government for a fair and rapid trial.
Most of these violent incidents happen in villages and remote areas. Poverty, the class system, religious discrimination, lawlessness, and extremism are factors that contribute to them. Segregation and the division of communities at the religious level is also involved Christians living in Muslim majority villages are often socially, economically, politically and educationally underprivileged. These conditions can become hindrances against social integration of Christians with the Muslims in these areas. It is important that churches and human rights organizations research ways to alleviate such problems and encourage a sense of local community across religious boundaries.’
For more information - contact NIFCON (the Network for Inter Faith Concerns for the Anglican Communion) at the Anglican Communion Office: Clare.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com