Muslims Fight to Keep Church Out of Village

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pastor threatened with death; Islamic fundamentalists file case to take control of land.

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) -- Muslim fundamentalists in a village 192 kilometers (119 miles) north of the capital have threatened to kill a pastor as part of an effort to keep his church from constructing a church building, according to the head of the Isha-e-Jamat Bangladesh (Jesus' Church) denomination.

Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, chairman of the Dhaka-based denomination, said the Muslims are trying to wrest land from the congregation in Lokmanpur village, Gaibandha district. The church planned to erect a worship building on the land, which the denomination purchased in January.

“We enclosed the land with a brick wall after buying it from a believer,” Chowdhury said. “The local Muslims came to know that there would be a church inside the enclosure, so they demolished the boundary wall in February 11.”

Upon learning of the damage, that same day 30-year-old pastor Rezaul Karim went to the site, where local Muslims and supporters of the country’s largest Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, beat him and threatened to kill him if he pursued plans to build a church in the village, Chowdhury said.

“They drew a dagger at my chest and threatened to kill me if they see me in this place again,” said Pastor Karim.

Pastor Karim filed a case over the assault at the local police station, Chowdhury said, “where he mentioned that he had been threatened to be killed if he built a church on that land in the area. One month later, we withdrew the case by mutual understanding with the local Muslim leaders.”

The land and property coordinator of Isha-e-Jamat Bangladesh denomination, Monilal Byapari, said the local Muslims told the Christians that with the withdrawal of the assault case they could go ahead with the construction plans, and that there was no conflict with the Muslims. But in the third week of March, when members of the congregation went to the land with cement, sand, brick and iron rods to start begin construction, area Muslims said they would not allow them to set up a church.

“They said, ‘We have filed a pre-emption case against this land,’” Byapari said. “The Muslim leaders warned us that until the court gave a verdict, we should not do anything on the land, though they had told us to do our activities freely.”

Immediately after Pastor Karim had withdrawn his assault case, Byapari said, Muslim villagers had begun holding meetings, collecting money they gave to a close Muslim relative of the previous landowner to file a pre-emption case to reclaim the land.

The lawyer retained for the Muslim claim, Mohammad Abdul Halim Pramanik, told Compass that a co-sharer by inheritance of Abdul Motaleb – the previous owner who had sold the land to the Christians – had filed an ownership pre-emption case in a Gaibandha district court on March 13. The co-sharer with the previous owner, plaintiff in the case, submitted 124,000 taka (US$1,840) in court to reclaim the land, said Pramanik.

“There might be possibilities of the plaintiff to get back the land,” said Pramanik.

The court will summon the Christians in July 16, he added, to be informed that a case has been filed against their land. The court had summoned them to appear in the court in May 14, but the address on the notice was wrong so they were given the new date.

Attack on Pastor, Others

Pastor Karim told Compass that 70 to 80 area Muslims beat others the day they chased, struck and threatened him.

“As soon as I reached the land, a few people came to me and started beating,” he said. “Later 70 to 80 people gave chase to me at the behest of local Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh leader Bakkar Miah.”

Fearful of losing his life, the pastor took shelter in the nearby house of Hazrat Ali, also a Christian. When Ali locked the door from inside, his wife was still outside.

“The enraged attackers kicked and landed knock-down punches on her cheek, and her face was smeared with blood,” Pastor Karim said. “They broke the door of the thatched house and entered into the house and started beating me and Hazrat in the same way.”

As the Muslims broke furniture, two sons and a daughter in-law of Ali arrived to help defend the family but were in turn attacked. “Everyone received multiple wounds in the body by their savageness,” Pastor Karim said.

After threatening to kill the pastor at dagger point, he said, “They said, ‘If you come to this place to set up a church, we will kill you like a cattle.’”

In all, six Christians were assaulted, some of them receiving medical treatment form a doctor near the pastor’s house in Maryrhut village, three kilometers (nearly two miles) away from Lokmanpur.

“Police told me to stay hiding for few days in my house for safety,” Pastor Karim said.

Police Deny Savagery

When Lokmanpur villagers learned that Christians were planning to build the church, they found it “extremely perplexing,” local police inspector Nikhil Chandra Mondol told Compass.

“Local people say, ‘Allah said to set up more and more mosques and madrassas [Islamic schools]. There will be more mosques and madrassas here. Why should a church be set up here? It is like raising hand against Allah,’” Mondol said.

The police inspector said all village residents “were against” Pastor Karim when he came to examine the damage to the boundary wall on February 11, “but the agitation took place under the aegis of local Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh leader Bakkar Miah.”

“They struck fear into Rezaul by saying if you make a church here, you will be in great danger,” said Mondol.

While acknowledging that Pastor Karim said that village Muslims had threatened to kill him, police denied any beating or other savagery of Christians by Muslims.

'Deep Conspiracy'

The case secretly filed by area Muslims to reclaim the land reflects deeply-rooted resolve to keep a church out of the village, denominational leaders said.

“The pre-emption case filed by the local Muslims against the land is a deep conspiracy to stop building a church in the locality,” said Byapari. “They told us that they would not allow Christians to build any place of worship there.”

The chairman of the Isha-e-Jamat Bangladesh denomination also expressed his concern.

“They do not want our mission to be established here,” said Chowdhury. “The attack on the pastor was their ground plan in advance to frighten off the believers not to build any church here.”

Around 500 local Muslims, including activists of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, were involved in meetings the afternoon of February 11, immediately after the attack on the pastor, and the next morning, he said.

Chowdhury said area Muslims beat Christians last August, as well. “They settled everything down with the help of the local government council chairman, who told the Muslims to let Christians practice their own religion peacefully,” he said.

The mission of Isha-e-Jamat Bangladesh has been working for five years in four villages in the Palashbari sub-district of Gaibandha district. Dozens of people have received Jesus as savior in that time.

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct News