Friday, August 28, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 9

Muslim Extremist Attacks on Christian Villages,
Churches, Schools, Hospitals and
Church Personnel (Contd.)

A scene of destruction at the Sangla Hill Village
of Nankana Sahib District, Punjab Province
(Nov. 12, 2005)

Photo Courtesy:

Grenade and Car Bomb Attack on the Bible Society Office, Karachi

2004 (January 15): Two Muslim attackers on a motorcycle threw a grenade through the window of the Bible Society building in Karachi, situated in the premises of the Holy Trinity Church, belonging to the Church of Pakistan (a union of Protestant Churches -- mainly Anglican -- with Scottish Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans). The explosion injured Peter Pervaiz, the marketing officer of the Bible Society and destroyed some Bibles and other religious books.

About 30 minutes later, a car bomb exploded at nearby parking lot and injured 15 people, including six policemen and Rangers, who had gathered there to check on the Bible Society damages from the hand grenade thrown earlier. The latter explosion damaged a wall of the nearby Holy Trinity Church and destroyed at least 10 parked cars.

According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization of the Catholic Bishops of Pakistan, the incident was the direct attack on the Bible Society but the attackers could not park the bomb-laden car in a proper place due to the police presence and other vehicles parked immediately outside. It is for this reason that there were few casualties.

Bishop Ijaz Inayet of the Church of Pakistan said that such incidents have tragically became a part of Pakistani society today. Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, head of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said: "This terrorist act has increased the sense of insecurity among Christians. We are shocked, grieved and worried.... These people are hell-bent on creating anarchy in the country."

Muslim Mob Attacks and Torches Sangla Hill Village in Nankana Sahib District

2005 (November 12): About 2,000 enraged Muslims, responding to a public call from the mosque microphone for avenging the alleged blasphemy by a Christian, pillaged and torched properties owned by Protestants and Catholics in Sangla Hill Village in Nankana Sahib District of the Punjab Province. Muslim clerics of the mosque urged Muslims "to do something to defend the Holy Quran from the Christians." The mob comprised mainly of teens, who were madrasa (Islamic religious school) students.

Armed with sticks, hammers and containers of flammable substances (sulphur acid), the mob first swarmed in the Catholic parish compound. They broke doors of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church and smashed the marble altar, pulled down the vestments from their cupboards and shattered the stained-glass windows. They also took away the chalice and ciborium. The Bible inside the church and the altar cloth were set on fire.

They set the parish priest Father Samson Dilawar's residence on fire before moving on to nearby St. Anthony's Girls' High School, torching it, too. Old records of the church dating back to 1911 were also burnt. They also robbed the house of valuables belonging to the parish as well as the priest. They also forcibly entered the nuns' convent but failed to break down the door of an upstairs room where Father Dilawar, nine nuns, four teachers, and 23 teenage girls took shelter during the attack. Father Dilawar later said that the attackers "tried to break the door down but did not succeed. Otherwise, we could have all been killed."

Two other Protestant churches (one Presbyterian and the other Salvation Army) along with half-a-dozen houses of Catholics were also burnt down in the attack. The Presbyterian church was 103 years old.

The allegation of blasphemy and the attack resulted from a gambling of cards. Yousaf Masih, an illiterate Christian cattle dealer, had a habit of gambling with some of his Christian and Muslim pals. On November 11, 2005, he gambled with Lazar Masih (a Christian) and Kalu Suniyara (a Muslim). When Yousaf demanded his winning of several thousand rupees, Kalu got furious and later brought the allegation that Yousaf had set fire to the Quran Mahal (a room where copies of the Quran are kept), owned by an Islamic organization, just a few meters away from Company Bagh, where they played the cards.

Even the police's help was requested before the attack, they arrived only after the attackers left the Catholic church compound after causing their desecration, destruction and looting.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack and said: "Muslims need to show more tolerance toward a smaller, minority community."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws can be invoked on the word of one Muslim witness. These are frequently misused to settle scores, avoid debts or rouse violence against religious minorities.

Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: "The blasphemy law is used and misused to spread fear and terror. It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with."

Later, local Muslims and Christians reached a truce. Christians forgave Muslims and the case against Yousaf Masih was dropped. He and 88 Muslims, who were arrested for the attack, were released. However, local Christians believe that the real instigators involved in the sad incident were not arrested at all. After his release, Yousaf Masih lives elsewhere for fear of being attacked by the real culprits, who were never arrested.

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