By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
CHAKWAL, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Protestant Christians in Pakistan’s Punjab province were searching for a place of worship Wednesday, February 3, after angry Muslims apparently attacked their partly constructed church, injuring scores of worshippers.
Christians told BosNewsLife that Muslims armed with clubs and iron rods on December 24 stormed their church in the town of Kalar Kahar in Chakwal District — viewed as a hotbed of Islamic hardliners — some 90 kilometers south-east of the federal capital Islamabad.
“At least 65 worshipers were severely injured,” said Xavier William, who participated in the worship service and witnessed the violence.
Pastor Naveed John told BosNewsLife that the attackers were angry that his congregation had begun building a church on a small piece of land given by the local government.
The church already had a “boundary wall”, he said, but was still lacking a roof, doors or windows. Christians placed Christmas decorations and lights at the construction site and erected a temporary tent for worship services, the pastor explained.
“Our daring steps to celebrate Christmas and conduct Sunday services at the church, which was still under construction, infuriated Muslim fanatics. During a Christmas related service on December 24 a mob, most of them wearing green turbans and chanting Koranic verses, arrived brandishing clubs and iron rods,” he added.
“They wrecked our make shift Church and desecrated the holy books of Psalms, Hymns and the Bible and thrashed us and spat on us,” John said.
Among those injured in the attack was Bashir Sahotra, who said he sustained critical head and leg injuries. “Countless Muslim men attacked us including men, woman and children. There was a scene of great devastation and several members of the church laid here and there on the carpets moaning with pain, sorrow and shock,” he recalled.
“The standoff continued for almost an hour and then they went away but threatened to killl us if we dared to continue the services at the church,” Sahotra explained.
None of the assailants have been identified or detained by local police, BosNewsLife established.
Williams said the attack came as a setback for Christians in Kalar Kahar, a mainly Muslim area with only a few Christian families, most of them sanitary workers. “There was no church in the area before. That’s why, on the request of local Christians, the government allotted a piece of land at Kalar Kahar for the construction of a church.”
Although all Christians who were hospitalized have been released, the future of the church remains uncertain, Williams said. “Christians of Kalar Kahar still receive threats of “dire consequences” [if they continue with the congregation] and therefore they can not hold worship and praise services in the half-constructed Protestant church.”
He said church members have urged local authorities to “put aside personal interests” and investigate this “atrocity and barbarous crime and provide justice.”
Christians are a minority in Islamic Pakistan and rights activists say there has been an increase in anti-Christian violence in the country, with at least 130 Christians reportedly killed last year.