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ICC Note:

Fifteen Christians in Gujarat, Pakistan have been arrested and accused of blasphemy for publishing a flier that uses the Urdu word for apostle. The Christians were arrested after a Muslim woman complained about the use of the Urdu word apostle for a flier that described a recently deceased local pastor. In the Muslim context, Muhammad is considered the final prophet and apostle, so local Muslims took offence when the Christians used the word to describe a local pastor. Please pray that the Christians that have been arrested will be released and that all charges against them will be dropped. 

8/31/2015 Pakistan (Christian Today) – Fifteen Christians have been arrested, detained and slapped with blasphemy charges by Pakistani police in Gujarat province for publishing a flier that described a deceased pastor as one “who was given the title of an apostle.”

According to World Watch Monitor, which reports on Christians facing persecution for their faith, the word “apostle” is “rasool” in the Urdu Bible. While the title “prophet” is usually translated into Urdu by the Arabic-root “nabi,” “rasool” can also have the same meaning.

The claim of “apostleship” or “prophet-hood” is interpreted as a direct insult to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, as Muslims believe he is Allah’s last and final apostle and prophet. Anything that counters the claim is considered blasphemy, which under Pakistani law, is punishable by death.

Last month, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved a legislation prohibiting the English translation of Islamic terms including sacred Arabic names and words like “allah,” “masjid,” “sala’at” or “rasool,” which mean “God,” “mosque,” “prayer” and “prophet,” respectively, the Catholic news agency Fides reported.

The flier was an invitation to Christians to participate in a memorial ceremony on Aug. 16 for the late Pastor Fazal Masih. It had photos of 15 office-bearers of the “Biblical Church of God,” a Protestant group working in Gujarat.

“The flier’s language looks like it’s been copied from the Internet. It’s language that may be more acceptable in countries where Christianity has more freedom. It suggests that the late pastor practiced the gifts of the Holy Spirit and had a prophetic gift. However this is a concept that does not translate easily in an Islamic context,” said a Pakistani commentator.

The flyers were placed in areas in the city where many Christians live, including in Mughal Colony, the place where Younatan Fazal Gill, the deceased pastor’s son and one of the program organizers, live.

“There are about 200 households of Christians who have reasonable means of earning, and also have their own houses,” said Mukhtar Mughal Khan, a Christian political leader and former local councilor.

Three days before the program, a Muslim woman and a shopkeeper noticed that the flier used the word “apostle” for a Christian.

The shopkeeper reportedly inquired from Younatan’s brother-in-law, Imran Masih, about the title “apostle.” As a reply, Imran told him that Christians could use this “biblical” description, resulting in the escalation of the situation.

Last Aug. 15, it was announced through a loudspeaker of a local mosque that Muslims should gather to discuss the issue and the police were called in.

After the meeting, the police searched Christian neighborhoods and removed the fliers. When organizers of the program were preparing the next day, Pakistani police arrested some of them.

The police registered the cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001.

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