Bangladesh: Anti-Christian Rumor Helps Fuel Attacks

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Convinced that villagers are being paid to convert, Buddhists and Muslims lash out.

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) -- As Christianity spreads in this Muslim-majority country, an increasingly frequent refrain is heard in various quarters: “People become Christians after getting huge amounts of money as a reward for conversion.”

The rumor is something more than mean; it has served as the rationale for violence against Christians not just from Muslims, but from Buddhists who make up less than 1 percent of the population.

Subash Mondol, a supervisor of the Christian Life Bangladesh (CLB) “Jesus Film” team in Khagrachori district, told Compass that in early September tribal villagers decided to kidnap a CLB worker after hearing a rumor that he had received money for converting. Not finding any money on 23-year-old Cinku Marma, who converted from Buddhism 14 months ago, they instead assaulted him on September 6 as he was en route to a village to show the film.

Marma and team leader Milton Boiragi were trudging up a hill laden with equipment for showing the film that evening when Boiragi pulled further ahead to relieve himself. As Marma was moving alone, two tribal people ambushed him and held him at gunpoint. Perceiving danger from a distance, Boiragi fled.

The attackers threatened Marma, saying, “Your skull will be riddled with fusillades of bullets if you shout,” Mondol said. Four other tribal people joined them as they took Marma deeper into the jungle.

“If we kidnap you, shall we get in touch with your boss?” asked the attackers. When Marma replied that he didn’t know, they told him, “You became Christian and you got a huge amount of money for the conversion. Where is that money?”

“I became Christian willingly, and I did not get any money,” said Marma.

One of them replied, “We will kill you like Jesus if you do not give us money.”

Mondol said Marma reiterated that he received nothing for becoming a Christian, and that it was impossible to give them money he did not have. The tribal Buddhists began slashing at him.

An attempt to slice his throat with a large knife used for cutting through jungle foliage instead cut off part of one ear lobe, as Marma jumped back, Mondol said. They stabbed Marma just above an eyebrow, wounding his forehead. He tried to fend off another slash with his hand, which was severely lacerated.

Another attacker, Mondol said, hit him on the head with log, knocking him unconscious. Thinking he was dead, the attackers threw him in a brook that ran through the hills. He spent the night in the water, unconscious.

Regaining consciousness the next morning, he hiked up to a nearby house, where one of the residents informed Boiragi, who took Marma to a nearby hospital. Because of the severity of Marma’s wounds, Mondol said, he was later transferred to the district’s main hospital.

As Marma’s parents walked long distances through the hills to visit their son in the hospital, Mondol said, tribal Buddhists frequently asked them, “Where is your son, and where is the money that your son got after becoming Christian?”

Convinced that he had received a huge amount of money from Christian leaders to convert, Mondol said, villagers angry with him for leaving Buddhism had schemed with an unidentified criminal to target him for extortion. Unable to persuade him to pay them, Mondol said, they had decided to ambush him.

Marma had baptized 22 tribal people in the area. Community anger over his evangelistic activities has spilled over to his parents, who have been told that their son became a Christian for money. Their repeated denials of that charge, Mondol said, have fallen on deaf ears.

“He would not have been attacked if he had not been Christian,” said Mondol. “They attacked him to get money, as there is a common rumor that people become Christian for money.”

Muslim Misinformation

In Nilphamari district, where 42 former Muslims from 26 families were baptized as Christians in June, educated Muslim Tabligh Jamat missionaries from outside the country are helping to spread the conversion-for-pay rumor, said Abul Hossain, a recent convert in Nilphamari district.

The missionaries are going door-to-door in Nilphamari on a misinformation campaign, Hossain said.

“They tell people, ‘Christians will use you and afterward they will throw you in the dustbin – they dangle many temptations before Muslims to become Christian, and later they will destroy the country,’” Hossain said.

Other comments typical of the Muslim missionaries, according to Hossain: “They will destroy this country as they destroyed Afghanistan. They also destroyed Iraq and hanged Saddam extra-judicially.”

Following the baptisms on June 12, Muslim villagers armed with bricks and wooden clubs savagely beat 10 Christian converts in Nilphamari district on June 26 and threatened to burn down their homes. Within days, authorities at the mosque in Durbachari banned Christians from using the village tube-well, the area’s only source of potable water.

The village Muslims have issued death threats against Hossain and Barek Ali, who were appointed as leaders of the new converts.

Rich and Poor

Area Muslims automatically assume evangelists offer money to lure villagers away from Islam. This was the charge against Nilphamari district evangelist Sanjoy Roy, whom a local government official recently summoned.

“Sanjoy Roy is proselytizing local Muslims by offering money and other financial incentives, and in doing so he is attacking the sentiments of Muslims,” the district official told Compass.

Roy, who denied offering any financial incentives, told Compass that the district official asked him “whether I bring dollars from a foreign country to convert Muslims to Christianity.”

The official, whose name is being withheld to forestall adverse consequences, imposed restriction on Roy’s activities – allowing him to work as a pastor but ordering him not to evangelize. He also forced Roy to sign a statement that he would not go outside the locality and the district without permission, the evangelist said.

Roy asked the official why he had taken a written statement from him. “The commissioner answered that, ‘Everyday I have to listen to many things from the high-ups.’” The official did not elaborate.

The official denied to Compass that he had imposed any restrictions on Roy’s evangelical activities. The pastor, however, told Compass that the official told him, “Whatever you have done, jail is open for you as reward. We will file a sedition case against you for your activities. You will be left in the jail to rot.”

The bitter irony of being accused of receiving money for converting is not lost on the Christians in Nilphamari district, who are lacking in income and basic necessities since the villagers ostracized them in June.

Most of the Christians are farmers who sell fruits and vegetables on the street, but the local people no longer buy them.

“If we got money from the evangelists or missionaries, we would not live in such miserable conditions,” said Hossain, the new convert in Nilphamari.

In Bangladesh, where half of the population of 144 million earns less than a dollar a day, villagers have no economic incentive to leave Islam.

“We do not have money to make a small room to worship God,” Roy said. “Paradoxically, people spread rumors that we convert people by giving money.”

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct