Pakistan (MNN) — Although Lahore seems calm today, it's been three days of anything but calm in Eastern Pakistan.
On Friday, an argument started between a Muslim and a Christian in the Joseph Colony, a Christian area in Lahore. After prayers that same day, thousands of Muslims took to the streets and took up the call of blasphemy. By Saturday, says Christian Aid Mission spokesman Bill Bray, "There were 170 homes in Lahore, in that area–Joseph colony there, that had been destroyed."
The story spread, as did the arson attacks. "The rioting had spread to Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, and Rawalpindi. In all those cities, burnings and looting of Christian homes and shops" took place. Because police had done little to stop the violence, Bray says, "On Sunday after church, the Christians went out and began to demonstrate and call for police protection."
Police arrested 150 suspects following the arson attack, which was sparked by accusations of blasphemy. Bray notes, "The problem is these terrible blasphemy laws. Their legislature needs to rewrite the blasphemy laws. We just really need to pray for Pakistan."
Law 295a — blaspheming Islam, and Law 295b — blaspheming the Qur'an, are criminal offenses. Law 295c makes blaspheming Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. It takes very little to stir whole communities to riot. The accusation itself is hard to disprove.
The good news: "None of our missionaries that we support in the projects that we support have been killed or destroyed in this violence." In fact, police had evacuated the area prior to the Muslim rampage. While frustrating, authorities say the move kept the number of casualties to a minimum.
Still, the emotional scars of the attack will remain vivid for weeks to come. The physical damage is heavy, too. These attacks took place in a poor part of the city. Bray says by yesterday, they were already overloaded by requests. An assessment is underway to determine the best ways Christian Aid can help. "We're getting calls for help to rebuild churches, help to rebuild homes and families," explains Bray. "The average Christian probably sustained about $10,000 USD damage, which would be a lifetime's savings."
Christian Aid supports indigenous missionaries in Pakistan who provide relief aid in the midst of disaster, distribute Christian literature, and open up Christian schools to educate the poor, all while living with the threat of persecution and violence.
Although Pakistan promises religious freedom for minorities in its Constitution, in practice minority religions are fiercely persecuted. The Rimsha Masih case prompted a debate on blasphemy laws, but others still face charges, and extremist groups continue to incite hatred for Christians. Still, it's an opportunity for the story of Jesus Christ to be told. "Probably, it helps the Gospel more than it harms it," Bray observes. "I think that it helps people be sympathetic to Christians. In quiet moments, it promotes the dialogue between Muslims and Christians."
Pray that Christians in Pakistan will have a bold testimony to those around them. Pray for protection for Christians facing intimidation and threats. Give thanks that the Christian population is growing and a steady but significant trickle of Muslims are joining churches.