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Daily Times (01/04/06) – A group of Pakistani-American women has set up an organisation to reconstruct the churches destroyed by an angry mob in the town of Sangla on November 12 last year.

The organisers – Nasim Khan, Rubina Bari and Shabana Syed – of the Sangla Hill Rebuilding Coalition are coordinating the effort with local interfaith groups and Presbyterian churches to raise funds to rebuild the places of worship destroyed in the Punjab town.

Khan, from the local suburb of Herndon, says that the effort seeks to “demonstrate to the world that Muslims of Pakistani origin, whether in Pakistan or abroad, stand together in tolerance and respect for all people. The Pakistan government must take the necessary steps to ensure that all Pakistanis regardless of religious affiliation are protected, and those who seek to threaten that freedom of religion are prosecuted accordingly. The people of Pakistan must stand together to ensure the rights of all Pakistanis – Muslim or Christians, Hindu or Sikh, rich or poor, man or woman”.

The effort gets underway with a fundraising dinner at an Islamic centre in Herndon on January 21. Food for the dinner at $100-a-plate is being donated by a local American businessman. Northern Virginia Christian leaders see the effort as a show of solidarity between Muslims and Christians. The organisers in a letter circulated to supporters reminded them that the violent mob in Sangla had destroyed a Salvation Army church and facility, a Presbyterian church erected in 1902, a 68-year-old girls’ school where 90 percents of the students were Muslim, and a home for priests and nuns.

The mob forced almost all Christian families to flee their homes for safety. The preliminary inquiry into the incident revealed that it began over a money-related dispute between two gamblers, a Muslim and a Christian. The Muslim accused the Christian of burning the Holy Quran.

Khan said: “As American Muslims of Pakistani origin, we cannot simply stand by as the level of violence towards non-Muslim Pakistanis continues to rise. We cannot remain silent about the desecration of places of worship, no matter what their creed; nor can we remain silent over the complete failure of local Pakistani authorities to protect religious minorities against senseless persecution. We must take a stand on this issue, which has caused the already-tense relations between Muslims and people of other faiths to worsen globally while also dividing Pakistanis along religious lines. We must take a stand against religious discrimination in all its forms by helping rebuild at least one of the three churches destroyed, so that we may demonstrate to the world that Pakistani Muslims, whether at home or abroad, stand together in tolerance and respect for all people.