RELIGIOUS leaders in Pakistan have gathered to unite against last week’s mob violence against Christians, when 21 churches and the homes of at least 100 Christian families were burned to the ground (News, 18 August).
At a press conference in St John’s Cathedral, Peshawar, on Monday, several Muslim scholars, including Chief Khateeb Maulana Muhamma Tayyab Quraishi, expressed solidarity with the Christian community. The Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Humphrey Peters, thanked the scholars for attending.
Chief Khateeb said that, just as the Christian community had condemned incidents involving the desecration of the Qur’an, he was expressing solidarity with Christians. He demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.
The violence was sparked by allegations of blasphemy against two Christian brothers, after torn pages of the Qur’an were allegedly found with blasphemous content on them near a Christian community in Jaranawala.
Speaking at a press conference in Jaranawala on Saturday, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Dr Azad Marshall, who is the Bishop of Raiwind, called for equal laws for equal citizens.
He said: “My community, people who have suffered, people who are crying, they are angry . . . it is beholden to the Muslim community to come forward; we need other Muslim scholars to come and say, Yes, we consider you one of us. This division needs to be met with peace and with love. As long as there is difference in the law, the way it applies to Christians and Muslims, this will not happen. . . That is why our Bibles will be burned, and there will not be equal punishment.”
On Monday, the caretaker Prime Minister, Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, visited the town and spoke to the Christian community, promising that perpetrators of the attacks would be brought to justice. During a visit to the town, the caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab, Mohsin Raza Naqvi, announced compensation for at least 94 families. He said that the main suspects had been apprehended, and that damaged churches would be restored.
Police said that they had arrested 145 suspects, including a cleric who had allegedly called on people to attack Christian homes and churches. Last Sunday, hundreds of Christians gathered in the destroyed churches for services, where they were guarded by troops.
On Sunday, Dr Marshall said in a statement on Twitter that there must be an end to the “judicial apartheid” experienced by Christians and other minorities.
“Today, I revisited Jaranwala, and observed the Sunday alongside my fellow brothers and sisters,” he said. “Our gathering took place at the Salvation Army church, where dedicated members persevered, despite the absence of water and electricity. Their building remains unusable, yet a sizeable gathering came together. With tears, we sang, prayed, and read scriptures, seeking understanding and experiencing the presence of Jesus among us.
“While approximately 20 churches continue to endure challenges without basic amenities, one church was singled out and minimally restored for the Chief Minister’s visit to Jaranwala.
“The town, after facing immense tragedy and violence, requires substantial efforts for recovery. The Chief Minister, whom our team met at the second church for comfort and encouragement, is a kind and compassionate man. With an extensive experience in acknowledging poverty and suffering, he has played a pivotal role in drawing global attention to the struggles of those without a voice.
“Following his reassuring speech, brimming with promises of support, he was caught off guard by a young girl from Jaranwala, who broke through the Cabinet members around His Excellency Mohsin Naqvi Saab. Her questions continue to resonate: ‘Can you guarantee this won’t happen again? Can you ensure our safety? Can you confirm that I, as a Pakistani Christian, am valued?’
“Her query has sparked numerous additional questions in my mind, too. It demands an answer: equal laws for equal citizens.”
In London, Christians from the Pakistani community, including Mgr Michael Nazir-Ali, a former Bishop of Rochester, gathered outside the Pakistani High Commission to protest against the attacks.
The diocese of Leeds has a link with the Bishop of Faisalabad. During Friday prayers at the Makkah Mosque, in Leeds, Imam Qari Asim, who chairs the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, strongly condemned the attacks on churches. “It is against the established principles of Islam to desecrate any religious scripture or places of worship. People of all faiths should be free to worship without any restrictions or fear in Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan.
“An attack on any place of worship is an attack on all people of faiths. People of all faiths and beliefs must stand together and unite against all forms of intolerance, injustice, and terrorism.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: “We cry out for justice for our brothers and sisters. We appeal for greater law enforcement to protect innocent victims of mob violence. And pray that people of all faiths will respect and protect each other.”