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Pakistan Church without loudspeaker despite Christian Muslim compromise

Christians demand absolute religious freedom

By Sheraz Khurram Khan

10/15/07 PAKISTAN (ANS) — The Muslim residents of a Gowind, a predominantly Muslim village, some 1.5 kilometers from Pakistan-India border, attacked the New Apostolic Church to express their outrage against the use of a loudspeaker. The enraged Muslims dislodged the loudspeaker and later subjected the Christians to a “social boycott” for three days.

Tension continues to persist as the Christian residents of the village could not use their loud speaker on Sunday, October 14, despite the fact that a compromise was brokered between the two parties two days earlier after the intervention of Assistant Superintendent of Police, North Cantonment, Lahore .

The Christian-Muslim conflict broke out when some Muslim members of a family living at the backside of the church allegedly attempted to attack the church. The Christian residents of the village told ANS that the neighboring Muslims climbed onto the roof of the church and dislodged the loudspeaker at 5:45 on October 10.

Later, some Muslim clerics allegedly made inciting announcements through their mosque loudspeakers asking Muslims to come out “as war has been broken out between Muslims and infidels.” Hundreds of Muslims then chanted anti-Christian slogans as they marched through the streets of the village.

Police directed a few people from both parties to go to Hadyara Police Station, but hundreds of angry Muslims arrived at the police station with a view to pressure the police. There are 20 Christian families in Gowind village.

The charged Muslim mob led by the hard-line Muslim clerics dominated the scene at the police station and attempted to make Sattar, a Christian leader, sign a controversial agreement that wanted Christians to forfeit the right to use the Church loudspeaker.

Sattar confided in ANS that the Muslim crowd outside the police station chanted slogans against him. “Drag him out we will kill him,” he quoted the mob as shouting.

The two parties returned to the village as negotiations aimed at reconciliation collapsed. The Christian residents of the village Gowind including Sattar Masih, Mushtaq, John Masih, the Councilor of Union Council 65, and others, told ANS that tension in the village escalated on the night of October 10. They alleged that armed Muslims marched through the streets of the village and attempted to attack their houses.

Tension Escalates As Muslims Announce “Social Boycott”

Pointing to the intensity of Muslim acrimony a Shahzad, a young Christian man, said that Muslim clerics provoked the Muslim villagers to initiate a “social boycott” of the Christians.

“We could not buy anything from the village shops. We could not even get fodder for our cattle. The past couple of days have been really tense for us — emotionally and psychologically,” he said.

As the “social boycott” made life more difficult for a few Christian families in the predominantly Muslim village, they contacted an ex. member of the provincial assembly, Mr. Peter Gill, who urged the police high-ups to look into the matter.

The Christian residents are still in grip of fear and uncertainty. Despite brokering of the compromise, they did not use loudspeaker on Sunday, October, 14, fearing more trouble.

Talking to ANS, the Assistant Sub Inspector of Police of Hadyara Police Station, Aftab Haider said that things were back to normal “as the compromise has been reached between the two parties”.

When his attention was drawn toward the fact that the Christians could not use the loudspeaker on Sunday, October 14, Haider said they may have intentionally not used it to avoid its clash with Eid prayers. He said they would ensure that the Christians use the Loudspeaker on Sundays.

Asked what action had been taken against the armed Muslims who the Christians alleged dislodged the Church loudspeaker and attempted to attack them, Haider said the police findings revealed that the Christians “lied” in the report they lodged at the Police Station Hadyara on October 11.

He also refuted the allegation leveled by some Christian residents of the village that one of the Muslim villagers was from a defunct militant organization, Laskhar-e-Taeba. Aftab said there was no truth in the allegation.

However, without naming them, Aftab said there were two anti-social Muslims, who he said were “under observation.” He refused to disclose their identities when ANS pressed him to do so.

The police official said that after the compromise, the police hosted a party on October 12 which he said was attended by the Christian as well as Muslim residents of the village.

Disputed Plot

The Christian residents of the village showed ANS a plot near the New Apostolic Church which they said was used by the missionaries for worship before the creation of Pakistan [in 1947].

The missionaries, they said, would put up tents on this plot and pray. They said since the Christians’ ancestors used this plot therefore, “We wanted to build a kind of Christian community centre or a school here.” They said they constructed a boundary around the plot but a Muslim member of national assembly got it demolished in 1996.

“We had used some 60,000 bricks to build the boundary, but it was razed,” one of them painfully recalled.

ANS learnt that the Christian residents of the village secured a stay from the court which is still intact. Used by neither Christians nor Muslims the plot is a scene of heaps of garbage.

Muslims Turn Missionary School into Houses

The Christian residents of the village Gowind told ANS that Muslims occupied a missionary school which they said was also set up before Pakistan came into being. They said that some Muslims occupied it and now three houses stand on the land where once the missionary school once stood.