Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 14 May 2007
Written threats to Pakistani Christians: close churches and convert to Islam
Christians in Charsadda and Mardan, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, have received letters threatening that they must close their churches and convert to Islam within ten days. Although some letters did not say what the consequences would be if Christians failed to comply, others are reported to have threatened bombing or the execution of all Christians. Police have increased security at churches.
The unsigned handwritten letters were delivered to churches and Christian homes in the two towns on 7th May, giving a period of ten days for compliance. Several Christian families have already fled since the letters were distributed. Others have said that they know the militants could kill them, but they are trusting God for His protection, and will not yield to the threats. Shahbaz Bhatti, head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, commented: "These extremists are asking us to change our religion. We will not do it, even if we have to die."
Christians all over Pakistan will observe a period of prayer and fasting from May 17th (the date on which the ultimatum to the Christians expires) until 27th May.
Around 500 Christians live in Charsadda, where Islamic militants are using intimidation and violence to try to enforce a strict Islamic life-style, resembling that advocated by the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The militants bomb music shops, put pressure on barbers not to shave beards, and are trying to have girls' schools closed. It was in Charsadda that Pakistan's Federal Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, narrowly escaped death in a suicide attack last month which killed 28 people.
Bible Institute also threatened
Rt Rev. Mano Rumalshah, the Church of Pakistan Bishop of Peshawar, in whose diocese lie Charsadda and Mardan, spoke to Barnabas Fund of his grave concern about the threats to Christians. Furthermore, in the city of Peshawar, two Taliban-style militants visited the Pakistan Bible Institute in the same week as the threatening letters appeared. No senior leaders were present at the time, so the militants held a gun to the head of a junior staff member and began to threaten him, saying, "We hear you are converting Muslims." They were on the point of shooting him when a noise disturbed them and they fled.
Amidst much pressure for increasing Islamisation in Pakistan, there is a new threat to Christians from a Muslim background. Until now such converts have not faced any legal penalty, though harassment or violence from family and community are commonplace, and sometimes other legal pretexts are used to put pressure on them. Now, however, Pakistan's National Assembly is considering a draft Apostasy Bill, moved by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party. The Bill, which has been sent to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for consideration, would impose a death penalty for adult men leaving Islam and imprisonment for adult women leaving Islam, in line with the dictates of shari'a (Islamic law).
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments: "Shocking in themselves, these threatening letters to Pakistani Christians are even more alarming because of their similarity to what is happening in other countries at present. Threats to convert to Islam, to leave or be killed are being made against Christians in Iraq, sometimes written, sometimes verbal. [Link] . In Egypt last Friday leaflets were apparently the trigger for violence in the village of Behma, south of Cairo. The leaflets condemned a church building project, and the result was rioting in which Christians were injured and Christian homes and businesses set on fire. The incident at the Pakistan Bible Institute is reminiscent of the killing of three Christians at a Christian publishing house in Turkey last month. Their throats were slit, apparently by those who resented their outreach to Turkish Muslims. [Link] . Is this simply copy-cat terrorism, or could there be an organised international strategy against Christian minorities in the Muslim world and against Christian evangelism in Muslim contexts?"
1. The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance has asked concerned Christians to pray for the protection of Christians in Charsadda and Mardan. Praise God that the Christians â€œare undefeated spiritually and continue to uphold their faith in these difficult timesâ€. Pray also for the Pakistan Bible Institute and all other Christian ministries in the country.
2. Pray that the government of Pakistan, the various state governments, and the local police and judiciaries in every part of the country will act with wisdom and courage to prevent violence against Christians and all other minorities.
3. Please continue to pray, especially as the deadline of 17th May comes on Thursday this week, after which the militants in Charsadda and Mardan have threatened to punish any Christians who have not converted to Islam. Keep praying as Christians in Pakistan pray and fast from 17th to 27th May.
4. Pray that the proposed apostasy bill will be rejected, and that Muslims in Pakistan will be free to choose another faith if they desire. Pray that the Lord will watch over and keep safe all those who have left another faith to follow Him.
5. Pray for peace and stability in Behma, Egypt, after the anti-Christian rioting there. Pray for a complete change of attitude amongst the Muslim community in Egypt so that there will be no objections to expanding church buildings or even erecting new ones from scratch.