Lahore (Fides Service) – While in the world signals of co-existence between religions are multiplied and Christian/Muslim relations are strengthened along the lines of peace and dialogue, in some areas of Pakistan groups of fundamentalist Muslims are spreading alarm among the Christian community. In Kasur, diocese of Lahore in Punjab state on the border with India, there have been a series of incidents of violence by fundamentalist Muslims against Christians who are “peace loving citizens, who live their faith showing love and solidarity with their neighbour while respected followers of other religions” Father Inayat Bernard of Lahore diocese tells Fides Service.
The fundamentalist group responsible for this violence is led by Ahmed Ali Tolu who has publicly told all the Muslim citizens in the town to exclude Christians, refuse to let them work in the field, or sell their farm products essential for their livelihood. After a few days during which the people obeyed these orders the situation is concerning. The shortage of food and work is creating tension which observers fear may result in Muslim Christian clashes.
“Episodes of violence between the communities could start a chain reaction across the country and seriously damage the international image of Pakistan. The civil authorities should intervene to relieve tension and restore normality in social life. If the situation is allowed to deteriorate we may soon have direct clashes” says Father Bernard.
The latest attack was on July 21, the victim was Ahmed Din. A group of extremists broke into his house and set it on fire. In late June a Christian family in Kasur was attacked. The men broke into the home while the father Mr Salamat Mish was not there, terrorising his three children and sacking the home.
Also in Punjab, at Renala Khurd, in the diocese of Okara in the diocese of Faisalabad, a Catholic priest, Father George Ibrahim was murdered on July 5. After the episode a group of Christian and Muslim members of parliament promised to bring the case of Father George to the attention of the Assembly of Punjab state. During the priest’s funeral organisations for minority rights such as Christian Liberation Front, denounced persecution of the Christians and announced a the launching of an awareness campaign for the defence of rights of minorities and religious freedom. On 6 July Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan said “We Christians are people of peace. We are known as such. We call on the civil authorities to stop the fundamentalism that threatens us. We will carry on with our mission, to do the will of God and bear witness to the Gospel”.
In Pakistan there is a population of 156 million, Muslims are 96% and Christians are 2.5%. There are about 1.2 million Catholics. PA (Fides Service 1/7/2003 EM lines 30 Words: 331)