FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) — A pastor in Pakistan has asked his fellow Baptists around the world to pray for the nation’s beleaguered Christian community as it faces increasing pressure from the Muslim majority.
In an e-mail to the Baptist World Alliance, Pervaiz Khokhar said prayers are needed after a series of violent incidents in the summer threatened the community’s tenuous safety. In late July, Khokhar said, hundreds of members of Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Muslim group banned by the Pakistani government, killed Christians in the city of Gojra and in the nearby village of Korian. The murders stem from allegations that Christians had been defiling a copy of the Koran.
Between 60 and 70 Christian homes were torched. Khokhar said it is thought that at least nine Christians were burned alive, four of whom were children.
He said the allegations apparently stem from an incident in which a young boy attending a wedding ceremony was accused by Muslims of burning pages of the Koran. Local Christian and Muslim leaders established that the accusation was false, but Sipah-e-Sahaba urged Muslim villagers to attack Christians anyway.
Khokhar asked for prayer from the worldwide family of Baptists. “These people need your support and prayers. Please remember them in your prayers and if possible support them,” he wrote.
He also referred to similar incident from earlier in the summer, when a mob attacked the homes of Christians after charges of blasphemy in another part of Punjab province.
In yet another Pakistani incident, Christians are protesting against official accounts of the death of a 19-year-old Christian man being held in a jail cell. Fanish Masih was arrested on blasphemy charges after he fell in love with a Muslim woman. According to the local police superintendent, he committed suicide 24 hours later.
But Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, accused the police of killing him. “The boy did not commit suicide,” he told Ecumenical News International.
“Media reports say he was tortured and his ribs were broken…. The situation is dreadful,” he said. “We condemn this heinous act carried out on a Christian in jail.”
Catholic and Protestant leaders in Pakistan have made plans to call an emergency meeting of all church leaders to organize protest action in the face what they believe is a worsening situation for Christians.
Pakistan, with approximately 180 million residents, is home to fewer than 3 million Christians.
–Mark Woods is editor of the Baptist Times, the newspaper of the British Baptist Union. This story includes information from the Baptist World Alliance.