November 20 (Compass Direct News) -- Armed and drunken Muslims struck two greeters at a Sunday evening service of a church outside Lahore last week, later returning to pelt the building with stones and bricks.
Led by Zulifiqar Akbar Jutt and Asif Ramzan, 10 men broke fluorescent lights and a cross on the outer gate of the Talab Sarai village Nazarene church on November 12, a Lahore-based human rights organization reported.
This is the eighth attack on a Pakistani church confirmed by Compass this year.
The attack on the vacant church occurred while the congregation was lodging a complaint against Jutt and Ramzan for harassing them earlier that day, according to a Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) report.
According to Nazarene Pastor Rafiq Masih, prior to the 6 p.m. service, Jutt and Ramzan had approached the church intoxicated, singing swear words to the tune of the churchâ€™s hymns.
Two greeters stationed at the church compoundâ€™s outer gate intervened when Jutt and Ramzan began harassing Christian women on their way to the evening meeting, the pastor said.
Jutt and Ramzan quickly left when more members of the congregation came outside to investigate the commotion. Two hours later, however, Jutt and Ramzan returned with eight friends as the service was about to end.
â€œThey all were drunk, equipped with firearms and clubs,â€ Pastor Masih told CLAAS. â€œAsif [Ramzanâ€™s] mother, Wallayat Bibi, was also with them.â€
The Muslim men began to hit Haroon Masih and Ashraf Masih, the greeters who had earlier challenged them, a CLAAS representative told Compass from Lahore.
The entire congregation, approximately 40 families, quickly exited the church, prompting the Muslim men to halt their attack. Pastor Masih urged his congregation to remain calm even as the armed men continued to hurl verbal insults against Christianity and Christian worship.
â€œThey had every intention to use the firearms,â€ CLAAS coordinator Wasim Muntizar told Compass. â€œBut because the Christians didnâ€™t respond angrily, the situation did not get worse.â€
Led by Pastor Masih, the men of the church congregation visited Deputy Mayor Khalid Javed to file a complaint. The pastor also contacted the Muslim menâ€™s fathers in hopes that they could help resolve the problem.
While at the deputy mayorâ€™s home, the congregation received news that Jutt and Ramzan were pelting the church building with bricks and stones. Khalid Javed immediately contacted police at the nearest station, located in Manga Mandi, four kilometers (two and a half miles) away.
According to the CLAAS report, Asif Ramzanâ€™s mother invited the police into her home, located behind the church, as soon as they arrived at the scene of the crime. When the officers came out of the house, they refused to arrest the mob leaderâ€™s mother, Wallayat Ramzan, in spite of the Christiansâ€™ complaint that she had accompanied the attackers.
Instead, officers arrested three young boys between the ages of 8 and 12 who happened to be present, the CLAAS report said. The police then drove to the deputy mayorâ€™s house, where they released the children before returning to Manga Mandi.
CLAAS members visited Talab Sarai on November 13 to help the Nazarene congregation register a complaint with police against Jutt, Ramzan and Ramzanâ€™s brother and mother.
But according to Muntizar from CLAAS, the congregation is not planning to press charges. Instead, â€œThe community is going for a compromise,â€ Muntizar told Compass.
Among other reasons, the Christian congregation consists mostly of brick kiln workers, the poorest of the poor in Pakistani society. By contrast, Ramzan and Jutt belong to wealthy farming families, and are â€œfinancially stronger than the rest of the Christian community,â€ Muntizar explained.
A court case would be expensive and could last months, creating tension with the wealthy suspects who live next door to the church.
The suspects â€œdonâ€™t have direct influence [on the Christians] because the Christians do not work at their farms,â€ Muntizar explained. But the church community apparently feels compelled to work towards a solution in which they can live in peace with their immediate neighbors.
According to members of the Nazarene congregation, reconciliation with the church attackers may prove difficult. They say that the most recent attack is only part of ongoing harassment.
â€œMuslims tether their animals in front of the church and in the Christian graveyard,â€ a 70-year-old church member named Sadiq Masih told CLAAS. â€œThey fly their pigeons on the church roof and [harass] bypassing Christian girls.â€
The elderly Christian told CLAAS that, last Christmas, one of Ramzanâ€™s relatives had thrown fireworks into the church during worship, causing a stampede.
â€œOn the insistence of the deputy mayor and the police, the matter was buried and reconciliation was made,â€ he said.
Copyright Â© 2006 Compass Direct