The attack on a church complex in Mardan in the Diocese of Peshawar on Friday is an extremely unfortunate inter-religious incident in the turmoil of Pakistan this week related to the anti-Islam video that has provoked demonstrations worldwide.
It is the one specifically anti-church incident that has come to my attention as hundreds of demonstrations have occurred in cities and towns across the country, coming to a climax on Thursday and Friday, and it has been noted in the national press. Mardan is a major city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, located about 38 miles east of Peshawar. Local authorities say they have arrested about 50 people in their investigation.
We are grateful that no one was hurt in the destruction of church buildings. Yet, like many other incidents over the years, especially since the 1980s, this attack is bound to remind Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities of their de facto insecurity in a nation where the constitution provides to all religious communities the same freedoms de jure as are offered by, for instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Significantly, groups of Christians in various places over the week made common cause with Muslims in demonstrating against the anti-Islam video. For instance, Dawn, the major national English daily, reported yesterday:
Elsewhere in Balochistan around 100 Christians denounced the film in their own protest in the border town of Chaman, where trucks supplying NATO troops cross into Afghanistan. They carried placards and banners that read: “We are with Muslims against blasphemous film” and chanted “Down with America.”
This particular expression was especially sacrificial on the part of Christians in light of the continuing controversy about the application of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to religious minorities, most recently in the case of 14-year-old Rimsha Masih, a Christian whose case has actually offered some ground for modest encouragement.
There have been a number of other instances of Christians marching with Muslims in various places. In fact, Bp. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters of the Diocese of Harare told me today that it was Christians who actually launched the first protest in Peshawar against the anti-Islam video – a gathering about 10 days ago at the Peshawar Press Club.
Commenting skeptically on protests generally in yesterday’s News International, another national daily, Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani Ambassador, nevertheless noted:
It was reassuring to see a group of local Christians standing beside some very Islamic-looking protestors outside the Karachi Press Club. Whoever planned that demonstration deserves credit for his political savvy and for putting on a much-needed display of unity between Pakistani Christians and Muslims. The presence of members of the Hindu community among the placard-wielding demonstrators was another good sign because, if nothing else, it showed there are still enough Hindus around to participate in city activities.
Our hope and prayer is that even amid the current turmoil we can continue to build interfaith understanding and cooperation in this riven nation. It is possible. The other evening an instructor of Islamic studies here at Edwardes came up to me and urged, “We must get together soon to discuss interfaith cooperation.” “Absolutely!” I responded.
Meanwhile, the weekly offerings from the Edwardes College Chapel will be devoted to assisting the church in rebuilding the parish buildings in Mardan.
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Here is the Anglican Communion News Service press release about the church attack:
Bishops condemn attack on church compound, request Communion prayers
Posted On : September 21, 2012 4:10 PM | Posted By : Webmaster
Thousands of people today broke into a church compound in Pakistan, burnt down the church, and destroyed the homes of two priests and the school headteacher.
The motivation behind the attack in Mardan, near Peshawar, is not yet clear, but the school was looted with newly installed computers being stolen and the building was set alight. No-one is reported to have been injured in the attack.
The Bishop of Peshawar Rt Rev Humphrey Peters has appealed for support from the Anglican Communion condemned the attack: “The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers.”
The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Most Rev Samuel Azariah Samuel condemned the attack: “This news is very damaging to relations between the communities in Pakistan and around the world. The government and faith leaders in Pakistan have a role to play in education people that they have the right to protest, but to damage property and terrify people in this way is completely wrong. The government and faith leaders should provide the lead in preventing attacks.”
The Diocese of Peshawar, where the attack took place, provides education and health services to the local community – Muslim and Christian alike – and provided substantial support to victims of floods and a major earthquake in recent years, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Indeed, please pray for the Diocese of Peshawar as Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters seeks to mobilize recovery in Mardan; for Edwardes College as a community of interfaith understanding and cooperation; for all churches and religious minorities in the country; and for Pakistan in these days of unrest.