Thousands of Muslims went on a rampage last week in the Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad district, in eastern Pakistan, setting multiple churches on fire and vandalising houses and other buildings belonging to local Christians.
Archbishop Joseph Arshad, the President of Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, claimed 21 churches were burnt along with Catholic and Protestant parishes, copies of the Bible and crosses. More than 80 Christian homes were burnt or vandalised.
This spate of violence occurred over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the Quran. Some Muslims living in the area claimed they had seen a local Christian, Raja Amir, and his friend tearing out pages from a Quran, throwing them on the ground and writing insulting remarks on other pages. Police chief Rizwan Khan said this had angered the local Muslims.
- In 1947, 24 per cent non-Muslim minorities stayed in Pakistan
- Today minorities make up for only 2 per cent of the population
- Over 1,000 girls, mostly Hindu and Christian, are abducted & forcibly converted every year
- 11 Hindu shrines attacked and vandalised since 2020
- 14 people killed, 80 wounded in bomb blasts outside two churches in Lahore in March 2015
- 78 people killed, over 130 injured in suicide attacks outside a church in Peshawar in September 2013
- This year, Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission officially banned Holi celebrations. Jamiat-e-Taliba organisation of Punjab University attacked students for celebrating Holi with their Hindu class fellows
Given the extent of violence, the Government had to deploy additional police forces and send in the army to restore order. Hundreds of Christian residents had to flee and are now displaced as their houses are destroyed. They also fear for their lives.
As per Dawn reports, President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall said Christians were being tortured and harassed.
Naveed Walter, President of the Human Rights Focus Pakistan, recently said that since the country came into being in 1947, the population of minorities in Pakistan has plummeted from 23 per cent to 3 per cent.
Even graveyards are not spared. Regular reports of graves being excavated and vandalised appear in the press and via community reports.
WEST A MUTE SPECTATOR
The minorities of Pakistan have faced frequent persecution since its very creation. Yet, the West – which otherwise appears to take the moral high ground on human rights issues – stays strangely silent when it comes to human rights violations and religious persecution in this Islamic country. Is it because Pakistan is a convenient state for the West when it comes to playing geo-politics in South Asia?
Even in the most serious cases of religious persecution, one just comes across protests in the form of prayers and ‘vigils’ from small community groups. Even if the cases pertain to Christian communities, the dominant faith in the Western countries.
This time too, the attack on over 21 churches appears to have elicited no reaction from the Vatican, home to the Pope and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. A web portal called vaticannews.va just reported the incidents of church attacks in Pakistan wherein it interviewed Archbishop Arshad. In the report, the Archbishop of Pakistan appealed for peace, and insisted that those who orchestrated attacks against Christians and Christian churches be brought to justice to prevent similar episodes from occurring again. “Each time these incidents happen, there is no example of a punishment given to these people, and that’s why these things, they are happening again,” he said.
This time though, the US State Department came up with a weak-kneed response when it expressed ‘concern’ over the targeted attacks on churches and asserted that violence or the threat of violence is never ‘an acceptable form of expression’. It further urged Pakistani authorities to conduct a full investigation into the matter.
The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, came out with a stronger condemnation. In a press statement, UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that hate speech and extremism contradict international efforts to spread the values of tolerance, coexistence and peace among peoples.
Earlier this year a Christian priest in Peshawar was murdered and a 24-year-old Christian girl, Anita Masih, abducted from Sindh. She was kidnapped from her home by twenty Muslim men and molested for hours. They were “punishing” the actions of her cousin who allegedly eloped with a Muslim girl, reports said. Several Christian organisations, including the Action Committee for Christian Rights, the Overseas Pakistan Christian Alliance, and the Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), held vigils in Europe in response to these incidents.
A recent report titled ‘Conversion without consent’ lists over a hundred cases of abduction, rape, and conversion of minor Christian girls between 2019 and 2022. An overwhelming 97 per cent of these attacks took place in Punjab and Sindh.
Local Muslims seem to justify the persecution of minorities, and the political and administrative machinery support the perpetrators.
According to the records of Lahore’s Madrasa Jamia Naeemia, an average 55 Christians convert to Islam each month. That is a peek into only one Madrasa in a country with thousands of madrasas and mosques. In Pakistan, Christians have one of the lowest literacy rates. Minority girls drop out of school due to security concerns.
Julie Aftab, a Christian who fled to the United States, claimed that Muslims attacked her at the age of 16 for wearing a cross. The attackers grabbed her by the hair and poured battery acid down her throat. People refused to transport her to the hospital because of her faith, and Muslim doctors refused to treat her. She had lost more than two-thirds of her oesophagus and was missing teeth, gums, an eye, and both eyelids due to acid burn. Her injuries were so severe it took 31 surgeries over 10 years for her to recover once a family in Houston took her into their home.
In 2022, conservative Pakistanis were outraged when the British Government sanctioned one Mian Mithoo for forcing girls from religious minorities to convert and marry their captors.
A few months later, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association invited Mian Mithoo to speak at a seminar titled “Forced Religious Conversion and Its Reality”. Mian Mithoo claimed in his speech that young Christian and Hindu girls willingly accept Islam and marry the elderly Muslim men they love, and the audience applauded Mian Mithoo for exposing false accusations and thanked him for his selfless services.