|(Cover image by Wikipedia. Story image by World Watch Monitor)|
Pakistan (MNN) ― Police have arrested around 150 men a day after a mob set fire to homes in a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan. The Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony in Lahore came under attack on Saturday after a Muslim accused a Christian of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed.
No one was killed in the attack because police had cleared most of the Christian families from the area. When it was over, the mob had torched over 170 houses, 18 shops, and two churches. Christians protested on Sunday over the lack of protection and the existence of the blasphemy laws that have caused them no end of trouble.
Speaking on a spotty cell phone connection, we reached Hana*, a Christian from Pakistan involved in ministry there that encourages and equips the local church to face persecution. She explains, "Most of the blasphemy accusations in Pakistan have been false. This one is debatable, and there's been a lot of speculation on it. We would hope that there would be some further investigation into the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. We don't know what it holds in terms of a repeal of this law."
Hana goes on to say that even though the area has calmed, "Christians are constantly on edge. In this particular case, Christians were vulnerable because it was a low income area, and there is a problem of alcoholism."
In the aftermath, a committee comprised of Bishops, Muslim legal scholars (called Ulema), and Christian leaders was established to assist in the rebuild. The Muslim scholars, often connected with the enforcement of Sharia law, condemned the attacks in Badami Bagh--the neighborhood within the network of Christian communities within the Joseph colony in Lahore.
The Ulema also termed the attack an anti-state, anti-humanity, and anti-Islam act of violence, setting aside March 15 as a Day of Solidarity with Christian Community in mosques. On March 17, churches will return the favor and mark it as a Day of Tolerance. Government officials also pledged to help residents rebuild their homes and offered $2,000 compensation to each affected family.
Unintended unity sparked by the arsons may eventually impact the upcoming elections. Already Pakistani Christians are conditioning their support at the polls on the repeal of the blasphemy laws. Hana says there's no way to know what that will look like by the time May rolls around.
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. Christians are regularly barred from jobs or face troubles from their employers and co-workers. Christian merchants are often harassed. Cases surrounding the use of the laws earned Pakistan the 14th spot on the Open Doors World Watch list of countries known for their persecution of Christians.
The next question is a hard one to answer, says Hana. "'What now?' We don't know ‘what now.' We do know that Christians in the area are called to proclaim the Gospel. They're called to live for Christ. They're called to be the light and the salt in that area, and there are those that are faithfully doing that."
Christians are wrestling with whether or not to flee the country, says Hana. "We are asking for prayer that Christians would know the peace that passes all understanding at this time, keeping in mind that this has been years of the extremists selling this story that Christians do not belong. "
In the meantime, they're praying that the rebuilding of Badami Bagh will go forward unmolested. Hana says it's especially risky for the teams who will respond to the needs there. "Pray for the protection of the teams that are at work. Once you start working with a group of people that have been accused of blasphemy, you are in essence saying, ‘I will take the flak for this blasphemy case.' You are in essence saying, ‘I'm part of this.'"
*Name changed for security reasons