Muslim Protests Stall Church Construction
Pastor says an Awami League Party student leader threatened him.
04/04/09 DHAKA, Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) — Bangladeshi authorities called a five-month halt to construction of a church in northern Bangladesh, for fear of huge conversions. Authorities have said they will approve renewed construction soon.
Forkan Al Mashi, 55, a pastor of Calvary Ishai Fellowship, started building a church in early November 2008 in Palashbari Mondol Para in Kurigram district, 350 kilometers (218 miles) north of the capital city, Dhaka.
Mashi told Compass that, at the urging of local Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, more than 100 Muslims gathered in a mosque on Nov. 7 to protest the church construction.
The villagers wanted to demolish the building, in which four pillars and the floor were completed. Mashi informed police when he heard of these plans.
“I informed police and instantly two platoons of police, around 25 in number, were deployed near the under-construction church building,” Mashi said. “Some of the police also went to the mosque to persuade the Muslims not to demolish the pillars and the floor of the under-construction church building.”
A police official told Compass that Muslims were concerned about huge conversions from Islam to Christianity if the church was built.
“The construction work of the church has been stopped by the protest of the local Muslims. Local people said, ‘Why should there be a church in the predominantly Muslim area?’” the official said. “This church is the first church in this area. Local people protested because they thought there would be huge conversion in this area from Islam to Christianity, and the church would be the center.”
A district official told Compass that construction would resume soon.
“Christians in this country have the right to practice their religion as well as the right to build churches,” the official said. “I think the permission of constructing the church will be given soon from the city council. If anybody actively obstructs the construction of the church, we will protect it.”
After Muslims protested construction of the church, the mayor halted construction. Generally city dwellers need building plans and permission from the city council to build a house.
“The local Muslims fired all the cylinders of the society to stop building a church in this vicinity. They want me not to work for the expansion of the Kingdom of God here. They persuaded the city council authority to stop [construction of] the church,” Mashi said. “The mayor of the city council told me that I did not have any building plan and permission from them to build a house here, so I should stop the construction work.”
One city council commissioner told Mashi that he did not need permission to construct his small, one-room church building.
Mashi wrote a letter to the district administrative chief to ask permission to resume church construction.
“A few days ago, the mayor assured me that he would give the plan and permission of the building and I can resume its construction,” Mashi said.
Mashi said the mayor also told him there was pressure from the government to resume construction soon.
Pastor Mashi threatened
A few days before the construction of the church, a local student leader of the ruling Awami League Party warned Mashi not to build the church.
“If you want to be ‘alive and live here,’ do not build any church in this neighborhood,” Mashi said in quoting the leader.
Mashi, who grew up Muslim, became a Christian in 1984. There are 60 registered members of his church.
“We have been worshiping Christ for 12 years in our house covertly, sometimes on the roof,” he said.
The district administrative chief has previously provided police protection to the church for its Christmas and Easter services, Mashi said.
Bangladesh’s constitution supports religious freedom.