Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fatwa proves costly for ministry in India's Kashmir region

India (MNN) ― A self-styled Sharia Court is doing its best to silence the Gospel in India. The panel of Muslim clerics expelled three pastors from Kashmir state over allegations of forcible conversions.

However, the row created by the situation has believers raising the alarm. In mid-January, Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against them for "luring the Valley's Muslims to Christianity."

David Bast with Words  of Hope says, first, "The Sharia court is not an official institution. It's not a government court. This is simply a group of Muslim clerics who set themselves up and say, 'We will dictate what happens because Kashmir is Muslim.'" 

Second, the current crisis was sparked by video, posted in October 2011, of a pastor baptizing Kashmiri Muslim youth. There were calls to kill the pastor and to burn down churches and schools in the Valley.

Within hours of the warning, the pastor was arrested. The panel also accused two other Christian workers of being accomplices. As a result, says Bast, "Active ministry has ceased for the moment, as far as we know, and the Christians who were involved in that have had to flee for their lives."

Specifically, the expulsion is costly in terms of outreach. "Our team has experienced directly the results of that ruling because one of those three was heading up the work that we're involved in. The report we're getting from the direct for South Asia where Words of Hope is involved is basically that Christian ministry has shut down in Kashmir."

Bast goes on to say that before this happened, there was one above-ground church in the capital city. Now, there are none. It's unlikely that the situation will improve much. The Sharia court has also called on the government to take over management of missionary schools. There are several media reports indicating the Sharia court wants to introduce Islamic prayer and to allot classes for Islamic studies at these schools.

Jammu/Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state; Muslims account for 67% of its population. In the Valley, Muslims are the overwhelming majority constituting 97% of the population.

Bast notes that although there is dispute with Pakistan over the region's identity, "Legally, it's part of India, so it should be governed by the constitution of the state of India which guarantees religious freedom, but that's not happening there right now."

Words of Hope's ministry includes Gospel broadcasts in eight languages to four countries. It is the only region where Words of Hope broadcasts to audiences which are predominantly Hindu (Hindi, Bhojpuri, Dogri, Garhwali, Nepali), Buddhist (Tibetan, Dzongkha) and Muslim (Kashmiri).

Please pray for Words of Hope's continued efforts in South Asia. Bast requests, "Pray for the believers that are still there. They are very much under pressure. They're probably mostly underground. They're being intimidated, so pray that they'll be strengthened, that they'll be courageous, that they'll be able to stand."

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