Firestorm in Pakistan

March 14, 2013

Christian Aid Mission sent emergency assistance to help displaced families whose homes and businesses were torched by an angry Muslim mob in Lahore, Pakistan, March 9.

Hundreds of Christians were left homeless in the wake of that Saturday´s fiery riots. A local church-planting ministry supported by Christian Aid began hand-delivering food packages and water to victims the day after the attack. Christian Aid sent funds to the ministry last Tuesday, but much more is needed to assist men, women, and children who have lost everything.

On March 9, some 3,000 Muslims went on a rampage through Joseph Colony, setting fire to every Christian home and business in the community. More than 100 homes, over a dozen stores, and two churches were destroyed in the carnage. No injuries or deaths were reported.

The riots stemmed from an argument earlier in the week between two friends, one Christian, the other Muslim, and from allegations that the Christian made derogatory comments about the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The Christian was arrested and charged with blasphemy, a crime that carries a death sentence in Pakistan. As word spread of the incident, enraged Muslims turned their fury on Joseph Colony, a nominal Christian enclave where the accused man and his family live. Most of the residents had already fled by the time rioters began systematically moving through the neighborhood, burning every building that belonged to a Christian and leaving Muslim homes untouched.

Our South Asia Director has been in almost daily communication with the local Pakistani ministry. The leader emailed photographs of the destruction and sent out an urgent message Tuesday saying,“The Christian community here is in dire need of prayer.”

In the appeal he wrote,“Christians were threatened to leave their houses; otherwise they would be burned alive. They were frightened and left, only to stand by and watch as their homes were looted and burned by the unscrupulous elements. The local police stood by and watched silently. The whole locality became a heap of rubble. It was turned to ashes within a few hours, while the local police watched. Over 120 families have become homeless and are sitting in the open sky.”

Speculation persists that the large-scale attack was driven more by political and economic gain than for religious motivations. Authorities are investigating whether extremist Muslim businessmen in the area used the blasphemy charge as an opportunity to instigate violence against the entire Christian neighborhood so their land could be seized and turned into commercial development.

“It is hard for those of us who live in the western world to understand what it means to be persecuted because you bear the name of Christ,” said our South Asia director.“We have the freedom to exercise our faith. But for most of our brothers and sisters in the world, it is not so.”

As rebuilding efforts begin in Joseph Colony, Christian Aid may have the opportunity to assist these families through the ministry we support in Lahore. Food and water are the most immediate needs, however. A week´s worth of emergency supplies costs approximately $100 for a typical Pakistani family.