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Elderly Convert From Islam Dies From Burns
Muslim villagers angry over faith of 70-year-old woman, son-in-law’s evangelism.

2/4/08 DHAKA, Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) – A 70-year-old woman convert from Islam died on Friday (February 1) from burns she suffered when unknown assailants in a Muslim-majority area about 150 miles northwest of the capital set her home on fire last month.

Rahima Beoa of Cinatuly village suffered burns over 70 to 80 percent of her body after the bamboo and wood home she shared with her daughter and son-in-law, also converts, was set ablaze on January 7, said Khaled Mintu, Rangpur regional supervisor of the Isha-e-Jamat (Jesus’ Church) Bangladesh denomination.

“Before her burial, the family members forgave those who set fire in the house and prayed to God that this kind of incident not occur anymore in this country,” Mintu told Compass. “They also prayed for a situation where Muslims and Christians can practice their own religion side by side peacefully.”

Family members did not file charges with police over Beoa’s death because they could not trace anyone to the arson, Mintu said. He added that filing charges would also hamper evangelistic efforts.

Area Isha-e-Jamat pastor Abdul Mabud Chowdhury said villagers were not only upset over Beoa’s planned February 13 baptism but angry with her daughter and son-in-law, 40-year-old Ashraful Islam, for converting to Christianity and for his evangelistic efforts.

“When he [Islam] went to the church more than two kilometers away from his house, some unknown people set ablaze his house,” Chowdhury said. “His mother-in-law and elder son were present in the house, which was also used as a place of worship and Bible study. The local people also came to know that his mother-in-law is a believer and would be baptized in the next month. So all the factors worked together to take revenge by burning his house.”

Isha means “Jesus” in Bangladesh and Jamat is an Islamic term for “church.” Thus, said a Christian in Bangladesh, in the local context the Isha-e-Jamat church name refers to Jesus’ church of people raised as Muslims. Ashraful was baptized at the end of 2003, and his wife was baptized in 2005, Mintu said.

Beoa received burns on her hands, legs, waist and other areas, Mintu told Compass. He added that she was given a Christian burial attended by about 100 people, including some Muslims.

Noting that Cinatuly village is in Rangpur district on the border with Lalmonirhat district, Mintu said that on the night of the attack, Beoa’s son-in-law Islam had gone to the Isha-e-Jamat church with his wife and two smallest children. The attackers set the home on fire while Islam’s 9-year-old boy and Beoa were sleeping, but the child managed to escape.

No relatives or neighbors came to put out the fire, he said, and the family also lost two head of cattle in one corner of the structure.

In 2006, Mintu said, more than 7,000 Muslims vandalized houses of area Christians. There are 50 Christian families of mostly Muslim upbringing within two miles, he said, including 18 families in the immediate area of Beoa’s home.