Pakistan (MNN) – In Pakistan today, crowds of people can be very quickly riled up into a mob in the name of religious zeal, putting anyone in their path in extreme danger.
Bruce Allen of FMI has been keeping us up to date on the struggles Christians in Pakistan face all while sharing ways believers from around the world can support the growth and strengthening of the Pakistani Church. He recently learned of yet another case involving the blasphemy laws.
Patras Masih is an 18-year-old Christian in Pakistan. This month, he was accused of blasphemy for something that happened last month.
Allen says, “Someone had accused him of posting blasphemous content—a photo—on his Facebook page or through his Facebook page to a group on January 16th. It’s really interesting because the accusation wasn’t registered with the police until about a month later.”
The problem with this accusation is that Masih had sent his phone in for repairs on December 8 and because of a lack of funds, he never picked it up. His phone was his sole method of connecting to Facebook.
“The phone wasn’t even in … Patras’ possession. And yet, once it was announced that this young man, his Facebook page had blasphemous content, whether there was evidence for that or not, whether the phone was in his possession or not, didn’t matter to a mob of hundreds of people who stormed his neighborhood.”
They showed up to Masih’s neighborhood, a Christian-majority district aiming to kill.
“This mob of angry Muslims demanded him—they were going to behead him. They said ‘We demand to execute him right now.’ Well, this young kid, he went into hiding.”
The mob lit tires on fire, blocking the roadways out of the neighborhood. They walked around with cans of gasoline, threatening to burn all of the houses in the town.
“There was going to be no trial, they weren’t going to investigate to see if the charges were even true,” Allen says.
Many Christian families fled the area. Fortunately, security forces arrived in time to calm everyone down. They arrested Masih’s father and a local pastor and eventually Masih himself. Allen says it’s possible that Masih was set up. He believes that the technicians at the repair shop or somebody else could have hacked into his Facebook account. But for many, these considerations don’t matter.
“People do not wait for justice, they do not look for evidence. They just want to have this bloodlust and kill people who may think differently than they do.”
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Patras Masih’s cousin, Sajid Masih, was also arrested. During the course of an interrogation at the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FAI) building in Punjab, Sajid sustained critical injuries. FAI officers said he jumped off the fourth floor, hitting the second-floor roof, after refusing to give them his phone password.
Sajid has a different story, claiming that both he and his cousin were beaten and that FAI officials forced him to perform a sexual act on his cousin. The details are cloudy and conflicting, but one thing is certain. Blasphemy is a white-hot issue that can prompt instant rage.
On Monday, Allen received more word from their contact on the ground:
Sajid Masih, Patras Masih’s [hospitalized] cousin, is in high spirits, but still in critical condition. So far some administrative negligence has caused delay of his surgery, which was supposed to start by now. His injuries [include a] dislocated jaw, fractured spine, [broken] left femur, right tibia and ribs. Neither of his surgeries have been done today. Parents of Sajid Masih wait outside the hospital in Lahore for the confirmation of the operation.
Is Islam a religion of peace?
Looking at this most recent event, the question comes to mind: is Islam a peaceful religion? This is a question that has been argued back and forth again and again. But Allen’s interesting take on the subject suggests that maybe there’s an important distinction most people aren’t taking into consideration.
He says, “The late Nabeel Qureshi, who was a dynamic speaker with Ravi Zacharias’ ministry, had explained that you cannot equate Muslims with Islam. And what he meant by this was you may know peaceful Muslims. He himself, Nabeel Qureshi, grew up in a Muslim home, a devout Muslim home.”
Allen explains that Qureshi described his family as peaceful Muslims. But as he studied Islam, he understood it was not a religion of peace.
“So, that’s a statement coming from someone who was a devout Muslim. And it really shook him to the core when he realized the truth about Islam.”
In fact, Allen says if you were to read the Quran chapters in chronological order, you would see an increasingly militant attitude preached by the prophet Muhammad.
According to International Christian Concern, these latest revolts led to about 100 Christian families fleeing the area. The police continue to take up residence in the community in case of more violence.
Masih may have been a particularly easy target for this kind of hatred. In fact, he shares the last name of many Christians in the area. ‘Masih’ means ‘messiah’ and therefore using it as a name is a proclamation of one’s Christian faith.
What’s next for Masih?
While Masih is in custody, tensions have hardly died down. And if his case follows the normal trend of blasphemy cases against Christians, there’s a long, hard road ahead.
“We know that from brother Ahmed’s case in Pakistan that Mission Network News has been following for four months now—just because something gets to the court system in Pakistan, and you may know you’re innocent of the charges, and you may know that there is no evidence to corroborate the charges, there is corruption. There is violence in the judicial system there.”
Beyond that, he says, there are fatwahs issued for extra-judicial killings. This is when the local mosque system calls for the execution of someone without the threat of consequences. They are promised a reward in paradise for their actions.
Knowing that this can happen to an 18-year-old—just a kid—you start to realize just how bad things are in Pakistan.
“It can be a scary, scary place. And yet, there are a lot of Christians living there. And they need to know how to not just survive but how to thrive in this culture and do ministry in this culture.”
Bruce says that Masih’s family is grieving him as if he’s already been lost. That’s how doubtful his future is in the court systems.
“This law is so easily abused in Pakistan because number one, it automatically carries a death sentence if you’re convicted. And number two, to get that conviction, no evidence is required. Then number three, we think about the prevalence of corruption within the judicial system.”
For example, Allen says in Ahmed’s case, the prosecuting team admitted in court that they’d already bribed the judge for a guilty conviction.
Even if someone is found not-guilty after a blasphemy accusation, their life in society will be “fragile at best” Allen explains. People will hunt you down. Another example of this is Asia Bibi. For years, Christians have been praying for her release.
“And yet, prison may be the safest place for her because there are people who are intentionally waiting for her release in order to kill her. It’s a very fragile situation inside of Pakistan,” Allen says.
Interceding for Masih
There are a number of ways to be praying about this situation. Pray for the protection of Masih and his family and that his family would be able to visit him and encourage him.
Pray for Masih’s strength of faith. We don’t know his spiritual maturity, but we know he is young and that his world has been flipped upside-down.
“He’s vulnerable, he’s confused, ‘How did this happen to me?’ But we pray for God’s glory in everything. He’s sovereign over the nations.”
Allen likens his story to that of the biblical Joseph who was abused by his family, sold into slavery, and imprisoned on false charges.
“Genesis repeats that the Lord was with Joseph in all these things—in his slavery, in his imprisonment. These things didn’t happen because God turned his back on him. In fact, God had laser-sharp focus attending on Joseph. So we pray that Patras understands and has the assurance of God’s presence, even in prison.”
Pray for him to be strengthened, not broken. Pray for justice in Masih’s case and that through this trial, people would come to know the Lord.
It is stories like this that motivate FMI in partnering with church planters and evangelists to help train up believers to engage the hostile culture. If you’d like to support their work, click here.