Christians in Pakistan and around the world have pledged to support the Christians of Jaranwala whose houses and church buildings were attacked by a Muslim mob on 16 August.
The venues of at least 21 churches (church buildings and home-based) were damaged or set ablaze. Human Rights Focus Pakistan states that 89 Christian houses were destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged.
The Chief Minister of Punjab, Mohsan Naqvee, also promised displaced Christians that justice would be done and help given to rebuild the destroyed churches and Christian homes.
More details have emerged about allegations of blasphemy made against Christian brothers Raja Amir Saleem Masih and Rocky Saleem Masih (pictured) that sparked the mob attack.
A relative said Rocky was leaving for work when he saw a piece of paper with something written in red ink pasted on the door of a Muslim neighbour. “When he went closer to read it, he was shocked to see a photograph of him and his younger brother Raja, pasted on top of the page,” the relative told Morning Star News on the condition of anonymity. “Beneath the page were some partially burnt pages of the Koran inscribed with derogatory remarks about Islam and Muhammad.”
The source said Rocky, father of a 3-month-old son, panicked after reading the note and instinctively removed the pages from the door. Two Muslims then pounced on him and snatched the pages, accusing him of committing blasphemy.
Rocky (24) works as a cleaner at a textile factory, while Raja (21) works in facilities at a local government school. The brothers are members of a Full Gospel Assemblies church. They went into hiding when the mob sought to kill them, but surrendered to police the day after the attack and were taken into custody.
Attack was well-organised
The attack on Jaranwala began early in the morning and was meticulously planned. The mob, armed with tools and equipment, struck with the intent to destroy Christian homes. Some Christian families left their homes barefoot, women without their customary headscarves and in their nightwear. Before setting the homes ablaze, the attackers looted valuables, breaking into safes and cupboards. In the attacks on church buildings, Bibles were desecrated and church furniture, musical instruments and Sunday school materials were destroyed.
The mob was led by local leaders of Islamist extremist parties Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Movement. Shamroz Masih, a resident of Jaranwala, said many attackers had come from outside the area. “It was an organised attack, and our people have seen the rioters carrying lists of churches in their hands” he said. “They were armed with petrol bombs, chemicals, sticks and batons, and they destroyed anything that came in their way.”
Local Muslims tried to save Christians, he said. “They quickly pinned Koranic verses on the doors of our homes in the hope that we would be spared the violence, but even this did not stop the mobs,” he added.
Shabhaz Masih, another eyewitness, said: “Trucks full of young men stopped at the entrance to the street and they swarmed out. I had never seen so many people in these streets … there were thousands.
“They went into the United Presbyterian Church and pulled out Bibles and burned them on the roads first. After the church, they moved to the homes, first breaking the locks, entering, and taking out valuables. Then they would hurl a red chemical in a bottle on the rooftops and then climb up on the roof using hammers to bring it all down.”
The most destructive members of the mob were children aged 10 to 15 years, according to Shahbaz. “I have never been this scared of children. They would move through homes like they were trained to do this very thing”, he said.
The Jaranwala attack has been widely condemned in Pakistan. Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsan Naqvee (pictured) said the mob attacks were a “planned conspiracy” to “light a fire in the country and sabotage its peace”. Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, a prominent Muslim leader, apologised for the Jaranwala violence and reaffirmed the commitment to protect “our Christian brothers”. “We are ashamed,” he said. “We failed to fulfill our responsibility as an elder brother…We seek forgiveness….” Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Asim Munir also condemned the Jaranwala violence, describing it as “extremely tragic and totally intolerable”.
Open-air Sunday worship
On Sunday 20 August, many Christian leaders travelled to Jaranwala to hold a church service in the open air with local Christians. Pastor Waseem Khokar reported: “Today we have spent time with four churches in Sunday service which were burnt. People were meeting in the streets because of no church buildings.
“Four Bishops, one Christian Minister and Senator Kamran Michael were also with us to console and comfort the Christian people. The Moderator Bishop (pictured) shared the word.
“Chief Minister Punjab Mohsan Naqvee also visited the churches to encourage people and promised to give us justice and help to restore the church buildings and some help to renovate houses which are totally destroyed.
“It was quite an emotional time with the grieved people. Many local people are providing them food and water.”
Pledges of help
In a meeting with Christian leaders on Thursday, Chief Minister Mohsan Naqvee announced that the Punjab government would restore all the churches and homes ransacked in the incident. “Whatever damages took place, as a government, Muslims and humans, we will restore them,” he said. However, NGOs report that detail is sparse and the timeline remains uncertain.
Church in Chains partner organisation the Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance (CLAAS) has visited the area and reports, “The aftermath is heart-wrenching. Christians are left amidst the ruins of their homes, with remnants of walls amidst debris. The residual heat from the fires prevents many from entering their homes, leaving them to seek shelter on the streets.
“Many Christians have lost irreplaceable items, including dowries for upcoming weddings. Many victims, who rely on daily wages, are now without work, grappling with trauma and uncertainty.”
While government aid and compensation is awaited, CLAAS is focused on providing essentials like clean water, food, bedding and baby supplies to the needy Christians.
Church in Chains has made an immediate grant of €3,000 to CLAAS to meet some of these needs and will review the developing situation in the near future.
(CLAAS, Dawn, Morning Star News, Release International)