Pastor among three charged with Quran sacrilege

Monday, August 28, 2006

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

OKARA, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Muslim cleric has accused three Christians including a pastor of the village, 55/2 L, some 2 Kms from the city, of blaspheming the Quran, the Muslims holy book.

Abid and Gulshan pose for a photo
The residents of the village told this correspondent on August 24, Thursday that Christian Abid and Gulshan had wanted to marry but failed to bring their parents round on this.

Gulshan eloped with Abid and converted to Islam on May 24, 2006. They married eight days after their conversion in Badshahi mosque Lahore. The couple stayed in Lahore in the Badami Bagh area for a couple of months and returned back to 55/2 L village.

The Evangelical Christian Assembly, Beit-el Church in 55/2 L village

Not knowing that their next move could be hazardous for them as well as for the other Christian residents of the village, the couple one day visited the Evangelical Christian Assembly Beith-el Chruch where Pastor Akram Masih shepherds the faithful.

The news of their visit to the Church traveled to the central president of Idara-e-Tahfuz-e-Nou Muslameen (Institution for the protection of newly converted Muslims) Mian Arshad, who visited the couple on August 7, 2006.

The couple told ANS that the Muslim cleric expressed his anger at their going to the Church.

“You should not have visited the Church since you are Muslims now”, the couple quoted the Muslim cleric as telling them.

Pastor Akram, Bashir Masih, Rashid Masih, Abid and Gulshan

Levelling charges of Quran sacrilege against three Christian men Mian Irshad submitted an application with Deputy Superintendent Police Okara, Younis Butt against Rashid Masih, the father of Abid, Bashir Masih, the councilor of the village and the pastor of Evangelical Christian Assembly Beith-el-Chruch, Pastor Akram Masih on 10-8-2006 vide application no 204/CC3.

Mian Irshad claimed in his application that the accused were already present at Abid and Gulshan’s home when he went to see them on August 7, 2006.

“…The accused used derogatory words against Islam. They said that the couple had not accepted Islam. They said that the prophet Muhammad was a false prophet but Jesus Christ was the true one and that we are the followers of the true prophet”, Mian Irshad wrote in an application submitted with Deputy Superintendent Police Okara, Younis Butt.

“When I (Mian Irshad) showed them the certificate endorsing Abid and Gulshan’s conversion to Islam they engaged in a scuffle with me. … During the scuffle Pastor Akra m pulled out Quran from my pocket and hurled it towards Bashir, who in turn directed it towards Rasheed but I (Mian Arshad) pounced upon and caught hold of it”, he wrote in the application.

When asked if there had been desecration of the Quran, Muhammad Shahbaz, 28, a resident of 55-2 L told ANS that no such incident had taken place.

Maulana Muhammad Arshad, the prayer leader of mosque in 55/2 L village

Maulana Arshad, who is the prayer leader of the mosque in the village told this correspondent that he let Mian Arshad address the congregation, claiming that he did not know any ulterior motives, if any, on the mind of Mian Arshad.

Muhammad Nawaz, 50, a resident of the village told ANS that he lived next to the mosque, saying no such incident had taken place in the village. Disputing Shakeel who was sitting next to him, a stiff Nawaz said he saw it merely a bid to create Christian-Muslim conflict for certain vested interests.

Coming hard on the D.S.P Okara, Younis Butt, Bashir Masih told ANS that instead of launching a probe into the incident immediately the D.S.P had summoned them to the Police station on 19-8-2006.

“Upon arriving at the police station we learnt that the D.S.P was not available there”, he said.

The Christians accused of profaning Quran told this correspondent that one Capitan Dr. Liaquat Ali Kousar, who is the president of six party religio-political alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal ( MMA) Okara was probing the matter and that the D.S.P’s further action was contingent upon the findings of Liaquat Kousar.

Asked why the Okara Police were not investigating the matter on their own, they said they did not know.

“We would like justice to prevail”, they said.

Talking to ANS Liaquat Ali Kausar said he had called both parties on Wednesday, August 30 in his office to probe the matter.

It is pertinent to mention here that among the Human Rights Organizations working in the country, the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP) claimed to have approached the accused before any other organization.

Talking to ANS the Chief Coordinator of the SLMP Sohail Johnson told this correspondent that his team’s findings revealed that the Muslim cleric had filed a fabricated case against the three Christian residents of the village. He said SLMP would continue to make follow-up visits to Okara.

Pakistan Blasphemy Laws are seen by the Human Rights Organizations as well as the concerned citizens of the c ountry as a tool to settle scores against the weaker segments of society.