A small Christian community in Pakistan is living in fear after they were reportedly attacked last week by a mob of enraged radicals because a nearby mosque accused its members of committing blasphemy following an altercation with a Muslim man.
The London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association reports that two Christian families in the Arif Wala Tehsil district of Punjab province were forced to flee from their homes after the attack last Wednesday by a mob of about 40 Muslim men and children with weapons.
According to BPCA, which is providing financial assistance to the community, the mob was incited by a local mosque that claimed over its loudspeakers that the Christians had insulted Islam.
The mosque allegedly called for Muslim believers to bond together to force the minority Christian community of about seven families out of the village.
Five Christian men from the community are being held in protective custody at a local police station after they were accused by the Muslim man who started the initial altercation of attempted murder.
“Local police from Arifwala police have confirmed that thus far no blasphemy charge has been made which is comforting for the Christian families,” BPCA field officer Mehwish Bhatti said. “However we call on people to pray for this situation to improve as Christian families are not sending their children to school for fear that they will be kidnapped or attacked or worse still killed.”
Bhatti added that a number of Muslim shopkeepers in the community are not selling to Christian families.
“Some families have expressed their desperate plea for help as they have had to go without food on some days,” she explained. “Shukantilla [a 60-year-old mother] was upset because all the earning hands in her family are in police custody.”
The tensions in the community were heightened on May 15 when a Muslim man named Syed Bashir engaged in a phone conversation outside of the home of a Christian family of eight, witnesses told BPCA.
But as Bashir began shouting and using foul language, family members became alarmed. It was then that 25-year-old son Naveed Masih asked the man to kindly move his conversation further away from the household.
However, Bashir responded by calling Masih a “dirty cleaner,” an expletive used to describe Christians who are often given dirty jobs in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Bashir also reportedly threatened Masih with death and stated that he would carry out his phone conversations in front of the Masih home every day from there on out.
Those who spoke with BPCA said that Bashir punched Masih in the eye, which led Masih to defend himself. Then the rest of the family ran outside to pull Masih back into the house. Bashir allegedly threatened the family with retaliation and left.
Because of the threat, Naveed Masih filed charges of trespassing against Bashir at a police station in Arifwala.
Around 7 p.m. that night, the Masih family overheard an announcement coming from the public address system of the mosque calling for Muslims to push the blasphemers out of the community.
“This was a horrifying moment for my whole family and other Christians,” Shukantila Farzand told BPCA. “In our panic, we started to get ourselves ready to flee our homes and get far away from the village, however, we were all too slow.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith