Muslims rush to aid Christian victims
Arson outrage prompts clerics to demand action on blasphemy law
Senior Islamic clerics joined Christian church leaders to form a committee to aid victims of a mob arson attack on a Christian slum spurred by blasphemy allegations that has left hundreds homeless.
“We shall follow up the tragedy and make efforts to support the victims legally, financially and morally,” said Hafiz Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, which represents more than 26,000 clerics in the country, at a press conference in Lahore on Monday.
“All Muslim ulamas strongly condemn this savagery and inhumanity,” he added.
The clerics, joined by Christian leaders including Dr Paul Bhatti, an advisor to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, also announced a day of solidarity to be held on March 15.
The event aims to signal support for the Christian minority and demand swift legal action against 150 people charged in the riot and arson attack over the weekend in Joseph Colony, a predominantly Christian enclave in Lahore.
Ashrafi blamed the country’s contentious blasphemy laws for the attack on Joseph Colony and other similarly violent attacks.
“Recent blasphemy cases in the courts have proven that the blasphemy law is being misused. There is a need for effective legislation to stop this,” he said in a statement.
“We demand the same punishment for false accusers as well.”
Other speakers at the press conference urged the Christian community to remain calm in the wake of the attack, which has spawned protests in several cities that have turned violent. Several people have been arrested for damaging vehicles and public property in protests that have included both Muslims and Christians angered by the weekend attack.
Meanwhile, several Muslim organizations have provided food and other aid to victims.
Among them is the Sunni Tehreek, a political group that said it has since cut short its food aid because other NGOs have set up relief centers near the entrance to the charred remains of Joseph Colony.
“We supplied 25 cauldrons of rice the day after the attack. People were in need of immediate assistance and required basic necessities until their homes are rebuilt,” said Iftikhar Khan, a Sunni Tehreek member.
“The incident is a negation of Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam. Christians are our brothers and we share our concerns together,” Khan said.
“The arson attack is a great blow to the blasphemy law, which was meant to stop violence in the name of religion. Many ignorant people in the guise of clerics have made it controversial,” he added.
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