But Muslims downplay the June 17th violence
By Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan
FAISALABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Describing an attack launched by Muslim residents of a Pakistani village in the province of Punjab, the Christian residents have said that Muslim residents mounted the attack in a bid to force them to cancel an Salvation Army evangelistic convention that was scheduled for June 17th.
The Christian residents of a predominantly Muslim village named Bismillahpur Kannanth chak (village) no. 248 RB had put up posters advertising the event. This angered the Muslims and they vent and they tore up the posters.
ANS interviewed both Christian and Muslim residents of the village on Saturday, June 23. Speaking to ANS, Shahzad Masih, Secretary of the Convention Committee, said that some Muslim residents made forcible entry into the home of Christian, Sardar Masihâ€™s home, and left his son Shahbaz Masih and daughter Nabeela injured.
He linked the attack to the convention that was scheduled for June 17th, adding that the Muslim attackers also ransacked Masihâ€™s house.
Nazir Masih is living through psychological trauma after his head injury
â€œThey had launched the attack to harass the Christiansâ€, he remarked.
ANS learnt that the June 16 attack failed to dent the determination of the Christian residents and they continued preparing for the June 17th evangelistic convention.
Not knowing that they had yet to confront Muslim fury of a graver nature the Christians went ahead with their plans of staging the convention.
â€œWe were sweeping the Church at 5:00 PM on Sunday, June 17th, when a Muslim mob comprising of 41 men stopped us from dumping the trash. They were armed with axes, clubs and gunsâ€, said Shahzad Masih.
In reply to a question, Masih said that choir rehearsals had angered the Muslims. He said that the Muslims equated the hymns to those of â€œordinary songsâ€. He said that the Muslim residents mocked the believers who had gathered for rehearsals for the well-advertised June 17th event.
Christiansâ€™ Houses Attacked
Shahzad maintained that the angry Muslim mob attacked some four Christian houses. They pelted the Christian residents of the houses with glass bottles and bricks. ANS learnt the assailants made forcible entry into the Christiansâ€™ houses and violated the sanctity of the four walls of the houses. The situation forced several Christian families to flee the village to safety. Expressing his disappointment over June 17th attack, Shahzad said that they had arranged two buses to ferry believers and evangelists from different cities of the province of Punjab.
Shahzad said they had brought a rented trailer for use as a stage. The Muslims, he said, had threatened to set it ablaze.
â€œThe incident hurt the religious sensibilities of the Christian residents. They are in a grip of fear and uncertainty after June 17 attack,â€ he said. â€œWe had secured permission from the head of the local government for staging the event, he informed.â€
The Christian residents of the village showed ANS shards of glass and bricks that caused injuries to some eight Christian people including two women. Those who were injured on June 17th included Gulzaran bibi, Nabeela, Shahbaz Masih, Imran Masih, Nazir Masih, Maqsood alias Kolhu, Shamoun, Ijaz Masih, Arif Masih and Sharoon.
Injured Christians talk about Muslim attack
Shamoun, a Christian youth said: â€œWe were preparing for the evangelistic convention when we came under attack. Our elders and many Christian men had gone to the house of the Nazim [local government head] for reconciliation after the June 16th attack. We were few and unarmed. They hurled bricks and stones at me causing me head injury. Two of my brothers also received injuries to their head.â€
The Christian youth alleged that the police demonstrated a â€œdiscriminatory attitudeâ€ to them. Unveiling the reason of the police tilt toward the Muslims he said the villageâ€™s headman had called up the police authorities asking them not to heed to the complaint of the Christians.
â€œDoctors at the Dijkot civil hospital also denied treatment to the injured Christians,â€ he said. â€œThe medical examination was not conducted properly. The reports did not show all the injuries that were caused to the Christians during June 17th attack.â€
He alleged that the police didnâ€™t insert the section 452 of Pakistan Penal Code in their First Information Report (FIR) â€œdespite the fact that the Muslim residents had made forcible entry into the Christiansâ€™ houses and attacked them.â€
The Christian youth maintained that he, as well as some six Christian families, had fled the village fearing trouble. â€œI want to go back to my home but I sense fear from the Muslim residents. This does not let me return to my villageâ€, he said. Unmasking his fears over going back to the village, he said some Muslim residents may file a â€œfabricated blasphemy caseâ€ against the Christian residents.
â€œLike other Christian residents who have fled the village I want to go back to my home,â€ he said. â€œI just want that things get back to normal. Of course, I want peace, harmony and tolerance to prevail in the village.â€
FIR Lodged against Muslims after English daily newspaper ran the story
He told ANS that the Police only filed the FIR after the Daily Dawn, a reputed English newspaper, ran the story describing the June 17th attack launched by the Muslims against the Christian residents of the village. He said that the police did not refer the injured to the government hospital so they rushed the injured to the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad where the victims were given medical treatment.
Nabeela, a Christian woman who bore the brunt of Muslim anger on June 17th, said: â€œThey [the Muslim assailants] hit us with bricks, clubs, bottles and bricks. One of the brick hit my belly and the other on my chest causing me injuries. The accused entered our home forcibly. They even tore my clothes and started hurling threats at my family.â€
Elaborating on the threats, she said that the charged Muslim men threatened to kill her brothers. She alleged that two Muslim men, Abdul Jabbar alias Jada, and Arshad, were holding guns. They took rounds in the streets that sent a wave of fear among the Christian residents.
She maintained that several Muslim men maintained their menacing presence outside her home throughout the night. She disclosed that the armed Muslim men fired into the air and then said that Christians had done the shooting.
Pointing to the animosity created in the wake of June 17th incident, Nabeela said that the Muslims shopkeepers stopped selling goods to the Christians. She said this left the Christian residents further alienated and scared. ANS learnt that when the Christian residents approached a brick kiln owner to get advance payment, the village headman asked the brick kiln owner not to make any payment to the Christians.
Nazir Masih, another victim of Muslim fury showed ANS injuries to his head and shoulder. His brother Irfan Masih disclosed that Masih was going through an emotional and psychological trauma after the June 17th attack.
â€œHe cannot make much of what is happening after the incident. He seems lost,â€ said Irfan, 26.
Gulzaran bibi, an injured Christian woman who received head and arm injuries, said the male members of her family had gone to attend a meeting that was called by the local government head in a bid to broker a compromise between Christians and Muslims after June 16 incident. She said Muslim men entered her house after scrambling wall. She alleged that the angry Muslims clubbed her. She went on to say that they also hurled death threats. â€œWe will kill you whenever we grab a chance even in five years timeâ€, she quoted one Muslim assailant as saying.
Muslim residents downplay the June 16-17 incidents
Two Muslim residents of the village, named Tahir and Zohaib, alleged that it was only a minor dispute and the Christians residents gave it a religious tinge by stating that the Muslims had tried to prevent the Christians from staging the convention.
Talking to ANS, Ferhan Mazher, Chairman of Rays of Development (ROD), who went to the village, 248 RB, along with his team, categorically condemned the June 16 and June 17 incidents. He called for efforts to promote interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Ferhan said he was appalled to see a roofless Church in the village. He also appealed to believers across the world to extend financial help for the treatment of the injured Christians.
â€œI appeal to the concerned Christians to give financial help for construction of a roof over the building of the Salvation Army Church in the 248 RB village, which is north of Faisalabad.â€
He added that if â€œGod moved somebodyâ€™s heart for the help of the Christian residents of the village, then they could send financial help. ROD Account number 13849901 Habib Bank Limited Satellite Town Branch Sargodha, Pakistan. For online donation please visit their website: www.raysofdevelopment.org.