By Kashif Nawab
An incident of alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and desecration of Quranic pages attributed to Raja Masih, a Christian man, has triggered a wave of violence and attacks on churches and homes in Jaranwala. The event unfolded on August 16, 2023, in Jaranwala Tehsil, located in the Faisalabad District of Punjab, Pakistan. This incident has led to mob violence, resulting in the assault of three churches and multiple homes, creating a tumultuous situation for the Christian community.
Initial reports indicate that pages of the Quran, accompanied by a letter containing blasphemous remarks and the name of Raja Masih, were discovered on the ground. This discovery incited fury and outrage among the local populace, leading to rapid escalation and large-scale protests. The situation took a distressing turn as mobs targeted churches and homes within the Christian community.
Pastor Imran Javed, Coordinator of Voice for Justice, witnessed the alarming attack on the churches and Christian homes in Jaranwala. Describing the environment as fraught with tension, he revealed that many Christians were compelled to flee their residences due to fears for their safety. The incident further spiralled as crowds congregated outside local mosques, demanding swift action in response to the alleged desecration of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad.
In response to the mounting violence, traders staged market closures as an act of protest, and demonstrators blocked significant intersections, including Cinema Chowk. Law enforcement authorities, under the leadership of SP Jaranwala Town, deployed a substantial police presence to restore order and ensure the safety of the public.
SP Bilal Silhari, joined by Mufti Muhammad Younis Rizvi, addressed the crowd at Cinema Chowk, appealing for restraint and reassuring protesters of prompt measures against the accused. Despite these efforts, some factions persisted in demanding extreme actions, emphasizing the need for cautious and judicious responses.
Joseph Jansen, Chairperson of Voice for Justice, vehemently condemned the violent assaults on Christian churches and homes. Jansen underscored the paramount significance of thorough investigations preceding any extrajudicial actions, emphasizing the escalating trend of religious intolerance and prejudice leading to unfounded accusations and persecution against minority religious groups.
Ashik Naz, a human rights activist, called for immediate police intervention and the safeguarding of Christian residences and churches to avert further damage and unrest. The incident in Jaranwala underscores the dire necessity to address escalating tensions while ensuring the security and rights of religious minorities.
This incident further raises concerns about the potential for more violence and persecution under the pretext of blasphemy laws. As staunch advocates for religious freedom and human rights, addressing such incidents expediently and comprehensively remains pivotal.
The Chairperson of Minority Alliance Pakistan (MAP) expressed vehement condemnation of the attacks on Christian churches and homes. Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws, which stipulate the death penalty or life imprisonment for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, have frequently resulted in targeted persecution against Christians.
Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws, often exploited to settle personal vendettas, particularly against religious minorities, have underscored the imperative for comprehensive reforms.
Activists advocating for minority rights urge authorities to ensure justice, conduct meticulous investigations, and prevent further escalation of violence against religious minorities. The committee stands in steadfast solidarity with those affected by these unfortunate events, fervently championing tolerance, understanding, and respect within all communities.
Bishop Iftikhar Indryas (From the Church of Europe, Middle East & Asia) deeply saddened about the terrible incident in Jaranwala, Faisalabad, Pakistan. Where churches were burnt, sacred cross destroyed, Bibles set on fire, and the Christian community targeted. This hurts our shared humanity and the values of tolerance, compassion, and respect we cherish.
Attacks like this on any religion especially minorities are wrong and must be condemned. Christians in Pakistan, like everyone else, have the right to practice their faith peacefully without fear, discrimination and persecution.
I urge the International Church, Leaders, Human Rights organization to step up and appeal to Authorities, law enforcement agencies and local administration to oppose this injustice and bring the culprits to justice immediately.
During this tough time, let’s unite against such acts and support the affected Christian community in Jaranwala and beyond. May peace and justice prevail.