PAKISTAN – “Convert, leave or die” – rioters threaten Christians
This threat to Christians: “Convert, leave or die” has often been heard in the Middle East as Islamic State jihadists overran villages in Iraq and Syria. However, this time it is Pakistani Christians who are being threatened by Islamic fundamentalist groups which, although not officially part of Islamic State, share a similar ideology – exterminate or drive out anyone who isn’t the right kind of Muslim.
It is the Christians in Chak 44, a village in Punjab with a population of around 3000 of which a tenth are Shia Muslim or Christian and the remainder are Sunnis, who are bearing the brunt of religious fanaticism.
Tensions first boiled over after a Muslim man accused his Christian friend, 24-year old Imran Masih who worked as a hospital cleaner, of insulting the Prophet Mohammed because of a video which had autoplayed on his Facebook feed. Imran responded that it was not posted by him and that he had never seen it. Family and co-workers stated that Imran is illiterate and does not even know how to use many of the functions on his phone.
Imran and his family were forced to go into hiding as rumours quickly began spreading around the village that he and his fellow Christians were blasphemers. Islamic scholars in the city immediately issued a fatwa against him, whilst a local businessman put a bounty of 1.6 million rupees (£10,400) on his head. A local mosque put out another bounty, with a committee member pledging to hunt down Imran “at all costs”.
A fatwa was also issued against the other 35 Christian families in the village. Since then the entire Muslim community in the village have begun boycotting the 45 Christian families, refusing to buy from or sell to them and threatening to attack their homes and churches.
After Imams used Friday prayers to incite local Muslims, a lynch mob of more than 1,000 angry men turned up outside the Christian enclave in the village of Chak where Imran lived, demanded that he be handed over to them, so that he could be executed. The mob threatened to torch the houses of all the Christians in the village and were only prevented from killing the community after Government riot police intervened and drove them away. Those Christians still left in Chak say they now fear for their lives.
Following the Easter bombing in Lahore, this recent attack on Christians should be a major story. Yet local Christians say it was not even mentioned on the news in Pakistan. It is only Pakistani Christians who know what happened and are trying to make the international media aware of this latest incident.